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The Choice of Music as a Profession.


Many adopt music as a profession without duly considering whether they are really fitted for the same and whether they possess the necessary qualifications that will insure success. Before allowing their children to follow music as a profession, parents would do well to be guided by the advice of those competent to judge. It is not an easy task to discover the signs of future excellence. Many mistakes have occurred, the most celebrated being the refusal of Verdi at the conservatory of Milan on the grounds of insufficient talent. Talent presents itself in so many forms as to make it impossible to establish any fixed rules as to its presence. The day Mozart’s father caught the little fellow at the piano at the age of three trying to pick out intervals and delighted when he was successful, Leopold Mozart was justified in exclaiming: “That boy will be a musician!” The evidence of talent was unquestionable. Similarly, the father of Liszt was justified in allowing his boy to follow music as a profession upon hearing him play a fugue by Bach transposed into a different key. Well known is the fact that Richard Wagner’s step-father, Geyer, recognized the boy’s ability for music on hearing him play some snatches from the “Freischütz” on the piano. These cases, however, are exceptional. In the interest of humanity, it is not essential that the world contain exclusively geniuses like those just mentioned. On the contrary, there must be those willing to accept modest positions in the musical world. If all violinists insisted upon playing first violin, how could our orchestras be organized?

Talent being the first essential required in the successful pursuit of a musical career, everything else follows of its own accord. Nor must love of music be mistaken for talent. No doubt, love of music presupposes some ability for the art. In many cases the practiced eye can discover latent talent where only love of the art is perceptible. And every musician knows that talent of that order properly nurtured and carefully developed may produce most excellent results. Too much importance, however, should not be attached to love of music unaccompanied by other manifestations of ability. The passion for music alone is not necessarily an indication of talent. Nor is absolute pitch, the faculty of recognizing notes sung or played without the aid of an instrument necessarily an indication of great talent. Everyone knows individuals whose sense of absolute pitch is perfect, but, nevertheless, undeserving the distinction of being called good musicians. Whereas there are others whose merits entitle them to that distinction, although they are without the sense of pitch. In other words, the faculty of absolute pitch, while desirable for practical purposes, does not necessarily imply good musicianship; while the absence of it ought not to discourage the student, it being by no means indispensable.

* * *

Among the desirable factors are a sense of rhythm and a good hand. Even opinions regarding the latter point vary considerably. Rubinstein’s hands, according to report, were heavily knit and the fingers short. Bülow’s hands necessitated the most ingenious cunning in fingering, while the hands of Madam Essipoff were abnormally small—a fact which the writer is able to corroborate by personal observation. Several years ago a new pianist was heralded with blare of trumpets. Among his various qualifications one was particularly commented upon, and that was an abnormally developed hand supposed to be well adapted to piano-playing. The peculiar anatomical construction of his hand was thought to permit the happy possessor to accomplish the most unheard-of technical feats. Trills in tenths, the most dazzling skips, the widest stretches, were talked about. When the artist finally appeared and his playing was subjected to the usual analysis, it was discovered that despite the wonderful hand, his style was cold, frequently unmusical, and monotonous.

Personality is very influential in determining success. This point is considered of the greatest importance by such an eminent judge as Leschetitsky. The instant a pupil presents himself to the eminent teacher (desiring to hear Leschetitsky’s opinion as to his prospects), the aspirant to public favor is scrutinized by Leschetitsky from head to foot. Leschetitsky, according to his own statements, attaches great importance to personality. Madam Sophie Menter, the celebrated pianist, always appeared on the concert stage gowned most exquisitely and blazing with jewels. Theodor Kullak, in personal conversation with the writer, talking upon the subject, remarked that another Russian female pianist, known throughout Europe and America as one of the best Chopin players visited Paris every year. Not so much for the purpose of concertizing with Pasdeloup and Lamoureux (as she did at the time), but to sit in secret conclave with dressmaker and milliner in order to consult with them as to the effectiveness of their various “creations” and their influence upon the public. While the two foregoing artists dazzled their audience by a combination of genius and dress, a certain female pianist appeared in America in the seventies whose concert costumes were characterized by the ladies as “cautions.” Despite this fact, the mere power of her art, nevertheless, created a furor enabling her to return to her native country with monetary rewards far richer than those bestowed upon her more fashionably dressed Russian rival. All of which proves that even the question of personality presents two sides for controversy.

Nerves of steel, a will of iron, and a constitution of adamant are other desirable requisites for a successful musical career. Many an individual has failed just as he was reaching the goal on account of the absence of these qualifications. Chopin, according to contemporaneous accounts, was one of the greatest pianists the world has ever known. Yet his reputation was really limited to the appreciation of Parisian salons, as his feeble constitution did not allow him to produce his genius before the world at large. In 1837 Moscheles writes of Chopin: “Chopin, who spent a few days in London, was the only one of the foreign artists who did not go out, and wished no one to visit him, for the effort of talking told on his consumptive frame. He heard a few concerts and disappeared.”

Imagination, temperament, love of work, enthusiasm, perseverance, and strength of character are very essential qualities. Strength of character is necessary in order to resist the manifold disappointments often besetting the path of the musician. How many careers are blighted and ruined through disappointment and lack of appreciation! How often do the words of Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister” apply to musicians:

    “Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
       Who never spent the darksome hours
    Weeping, and watching for the morrow,—
       He knows ye not, ye gloomy Powers.”

The lack of fortitude and courage precipitated the fate of unhappy Bizet. The composer of “Carmen” assured his reputation for decades to come; but what a loss the premature death of this musician has been to the world!

* * *

The time to begin the study of music is about the age of seven. Melodies ought to be taught and sung for the children in order to cultivate their ears and sense of rhythm. If these preliminary studies have been productive of good results and all the possible consequences and future responsibilities have been duly considered, music as a profession should be entered upon at the age of from fourteen to sixteen. A good education, comprising the study of languages,—a very important point,—literature, and subjects like æsthetics, history of art, and general history should accompany the course of music. The course of study intended for the average musician should embrace:

1. Organ, piano, and a string instrument.
2. Solo singing and chorus singing.
3. Playing with other instruments.
4. Harmony, form, composition, reading of score, musical dictation, and history of music.

The choice of a teacher is a very important point. For students of the piano it will be advisable to apply to a teacher whose work is characterized by thoroughness, honesty, and efficiency. Fashion is not always a synonym for excellence. Thus, Mr. Blank, whose terms are very high and whose pupils are found among the most fashionable society, may not necessarily be so competent as Mr. Unknown, whose work, on the other hand, is conscientious and thoroughly reliable.

As final advice: only those should devote themselves to music who feel an irresistible attraction toward art for art’s sake. Selfish motives ought not to enter into the consideration of the subject. Musicians are not all destined to be composers like Mozart or pianists like Liszt. A faithful observance of principles prompted by the true love of art will be productive of the highest artistic results.


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