The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About

Success in Music.


He only earns his freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew.—“Faust.”

The musician of the present, as the artist in any branch, will find it more and more difficult to preserve an uncorrupted, correct idea of the term “success,” because the undue preponderance of commercialism in these days has well nigh altered the meaning of that word into “acquiring an undeserved amount of money.”

That such a highwayman’s definition of “success” is in the minds of a large number of people now, no one can in fairness dispute; and that the tendencies of the times are therefore not favorable to art and artists is equally true. But these tendencies are and must be transient, for they bear their doom within themselves.

Since the acquisition of undeserved wealth is developing the meanest qualities of the mind, and begets the filthiest kind of competition between minds thus perverted, it must, of necessity, sooner or later lead closer and closer to the dangerous territory of action covered by the penal code. And, though wealth may be able for awhile to tamper even with this, still we all know that even the most thorough knowledge of evil is not wisdom, and that hence there is a limit to iniquity, but not to righteousness of heart, not to virtue. Let the artist never forget that!

“Success” means the favorable issue of an enterprise, if this is a good one in itself. The successful scientist, whose researches in the mysteries of Nature are crowned by a great discovery, thinks not of money, glory, or fame; his first and best reward he finds in the gratification of his own heart. The soldier, too, only thinks of his task when at work; his impelling force, while primarily destructive, still emanates from love, from love of his country, of his home, of his flag. Both devote their “lives” to their profession, the best powers of mind and body, and as achievement comes, honors and money will come—agreeable concomitants, but still only incidentals.

Young men and women turning to art as a profession should seriously scrutinize their hearts before starting, as to whether they feel the inner impulse to dedicate their lives to it, to be, if necessary, contented with a reasonable or modest living, and to make their own artistic growth their sole aspiration, or whether art is to be merely the means for “acquiring an undeserved amount of money.”

The latter course is degrading, both to art and to the person pursuing it. While in a comparatively young country like ours some few charlatans have thrived by practicing imposition on the untutored, they are after all but few,—indeed, a vanishing minority when compared with the vast array of honest musicians who went “west” as musical pioneers, renounced the allurements of the large cities (and incidentally, also avoided their misery), lived amid unresponsive surroundings until they had created a little musical world of their own, and are, if not wealthy, at any rate living in comfortable and financially well regulated circumstances. Small lives, but rich, very rich lives they live! Young as our country is, it grows older day by day, and proportionate to its development in music the chances of the charlatan diminish; the day of his final departure has already dawned in the larger cities, and the smaller cities do not entice him, unless he somehow finds the means to work the “social racket,” and that does not last, as we all know. Society pets rest very insecure; a new fad, a new sensation, the displeasure of a lady, however irrelevant she be musically, dethrones them, and—they have to move.

Of course, there are those who seemingly scorn the acquisition of money as a primary motive, and are instead hunting for fame; but these are either deceiving themselves regarding their ultimate purpose or they have an inordinately developed bump of vanity.

Fame-hunters for fame’s sake alone are insane, and not always harmlessly so.

The honest musician need not fear the money-hunter nor the fame-hunter; they may make it uncomfortable for him for a little while, but he will triumph in the end, and he will conquer the sooner, the less attention he pays to their doings.

The young art-student of the present should bear in mind that the fame and wealth attained by some few artists is not entirely and exclusively of their own making. Of course, they must be fine artists to begin with; but they are not the only ones. In the years of their preparation they have known full many a one who was equally gifted, who had just as strong an individuality, just as much technic, just as much poetry—why have they not become equally famous? Because a large number of circumstances must coincide, and must do it very propitiously, to form a great public career. Ability alone is merely the primary necessity, and even in this matter we may as well remember that in some cases greatness has been thrust upon a pianist by his commercial exploiter, piano-maker, etc.

Instead of starting on the chase after money or fame (synonyms in most cases, either of them a pretext for the other, and both chimeras when forming the primary incentive to art) the young art-students should take a higher, nobler view of their profession. Not “to seem,” not “to have,” but “to be,” to be something, this should be the guiding verb of their lives. To become finer and finer in their self-development; to strive for deeper and deeper understanding; to make themselves more and more useful to their fellow-man; to grow more and more necessary to the culture of their community—and to let “success” take care of itself. Not only this country, but all the world has sore need of honest workers nowadays; fame and money are waiting for those who do not seek it unworthily.

The art-student who comes from a small town to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago to pursue his studies should resist the temptation of remaining there when the studies are ended (as far as this goes, for they never end); he should return to those who directly or indirectly gave him the means and the aspiration to study; he should bring home his learning, digest it fully and at leisure, seek himself, find himself, put his pride in the musical development of his community, and fraternize with his fellow-musicians; if this latter is unfeasible, the fault may not be altogether with the “others,” for a young man just returning from study generally overestimates himself—he confounds knowledge with understanding.

Water finds its own level! If the brook gets too big for its bed, it overflows—but mostly downward, remember.

What Theodore Thomas, Leopold Damrosch, Anton Seidl, William Mason, and a few others have done for this country at large—the enormous spread and growing understanding of music in the larger cities—every returning young art-student can achieve in his own little community! And when the years go by, and the town-folk have progressed from “Rastus on a Spree” to a Beethoven sonata, and cherish and love him who brought it about, respect him for his learning, admire him for his tact, honor him for the purity of his life,—and neither money nor public honors will be missing by that time,—then, aye, then, indeed, his life was a “success”! A great, glorious success! It is then that he should take a trip to a large city and look up some of his misguided fellow-students of yore who wooed success; he should see them in their cramped existence, under the curse of failure (a failure sometimes hidden under a glittering cover and sometimes not even so) with cares, discomforts, possibly debts, and nothing, nothing, to show for it all in the way of achievement, unnoticed, unrespected, retrogressed in their art, still dreaming of fabulous laurels against all hope with an embittered, selfish mind—ah, he will soon go home again and admit to himself that in his small way he did great things; and not in vanity, but in conscious self-esteem he will think, and rightly so, that he is a “success”!

<< Music Sketches.     Musical Items >>

Monthly Archives


You are reading Success in Music. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

Music Sketches. is the previous story in The Etude

Musical Items is the next entry in The Etude.

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music