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What Repertory Shall I Teach?


When viewing as a whole the foreign repertory, it is less difficult to pursue the plan suggested in the first article on this subject; in fact, it is common among the American profession to teach a composer’s entire repertory, so far as it suits the pupil, the reasons for which are, first, that only the better writers attract such wide attention as to warrant American publishers making reprints, and, second, the works of the composers who are worthy appear usually in albums, devoted each to a single composer, thus giving the teacher much latitude in selection and greater familiarity with the composer’s style.

The German repertory must occupy a most important place with the well-equipped teacher; nothing is more wonderful than the individuality of a people as displayed in their music. The Germans take their music seriously. In fact, they write and sing with dignity. It is this element of lofty dignity which attracts the more musicianly American teacher to the German models. One can not estimate the benefit to be gained through a study of the five great German song-writers,—Schubert, Schumann, Franz, Kücken, and Brahms,—Ries, Bohm, and Helmund coming next in order, affording delightful material for stimulating a correct taste in the pupil. It is a pity so few teachers study with the pupil; there is hardly a worthy song but reveals new charms at each repetition, and in this respect the teachers and taught are in the same attitude to the composer.

Art is a great leveler, and never more justly so than when an earnest teacher and an earnest pupil are looking deeply into a composer’s life and motives as revealed in his music. There are those who say, “Give me the song if it is a gem; I care not who wrote it.” This is not truth to self; if it be a gem he should care who wrote it, that he may pay homage to the motive that prompted the song or made it possible. It is this element of personalism that stirs the heart of the student and awakens in him an interest in his work that no amount of merit in the abstract could inspire.

Imagine, if possible, a song of superlative excellence, the authorship of which was uncertain; there would immediately arise discussions, and it would be ascribed to this writer and that, with equal reasons for each, until the true writer revealed himself.

The reason the standard German repertory is not more generally taught is that the average teacher is afraid of it. He hesitates about teaching it in the original language, and, as a rule, disapproves of translations. Between the two evils,—singing the original tongue incorrectly and accepting an unscholarly translation,—we would select the former. Every earnest student will at least learn the meaning of the words of the song he is to sing, coming as near to the correct pronunciation as possible, and before he is aware of it he has some knowledge of the language. This, with a few hours’ study every week, and intelligent criticism on the part of a native occasionally, will finally give him a fair insight into the language—at least, enough acquaintance with it to save him the loss of self-respect which is sure to accompany an attempt to sing a song in a foreign tongue when the meaning of the text is obscure.

A significant fact in connection with the German repertory is its value as a test of the stability of musical character in a student. This, of course, can not be determined at the outset; but after careful study and familiarity with this school of writing, properly graded, of course, to suit the pupil’s attainment, if increased interest and appreciation manifests itself, the returns for the effort are highly commensurate. Therefore, we urge both teacher and student to familiarize themselves with the world’s best models in song as exemplified through the German school.

(To be continued.)


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You are reading What Repertory Shall I Teach? from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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