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The Best School for Expression.


If a teacher has in his class “dull and muddy met­tled” pupils who seem to be hopelessly destitute of taste, feeling, expression, and enthusiasm, he cannot do a better thing than advise them to go to the opera as much as possible. There is no form of the musical art which forms such a school of expression as the music drama. A pupil who would tire of a piano-recital or orchestral concert in half an hour will sit through a three- or four- hour opera in a state of breathless delight, imbibing at once musical educa­tion, and learning the language of expression.

Music is the language of the emotions, and nowhere is the emotional side of music so powerfully shown as in the opera. Here we have light, color, an inter­esting story, the wedding of words to the music of instruments, scenic beauty, and marvelous stage-effects all blended together, with the music appro­priate to the scene and emotion.

Instrumental music is all a more or less imperfect imitation of singing, which will always remain the basis of all music. Every great instrumental artist models his performance on dramatic singing, the highest form of expression known to man. The in­strumentalist can learn from the singer and the singer from the instrumentalist. The greatest teach­ers of instrumental music, piano, violin, etc., in the time of Malibran, the great prima-donna, used to advise their pupils to hear her and base their playing on her singing. Malibran often advised rising singers to frequently hear her husband, the great violinist de Beriot, play the violin, as they could learn much from his matchless style. Paganini, king of violin­ists, advised all violinists to take as their model the singing of a great dramatic soprano, if they would excel.

All music is dramatic, and pictures some emotion. In no way can this emotion be so powerfully por­trayed as at the opera. Here we have every means at hand to develop the full meaning of the music; dramatic artists who act as well as sing, a large chorus which gives us sublime masses of tone, an orchestra with various instruments giving us every possible shade of tone-color, and a mise en scene which powerfully excites the imagination and the emotions.

Take the case of a pupil who is studying the “Tower Scene” from Il Trovatore, transcribed for the piano. After having mastered the composition as he supposes thoroughly, let him hear the opera. Now he hears the solemn Miserere sung by human voices instead of by the piano; then he hears the mournful beauty of the tenor solo of Manrico, and the despair­ing response of Leonora. A new light breaks in on the pupil’s mind. Now he knows for the first time what the music is for, and he will play it in an en­tirely different manner hereafter.

Pupils, especially beginners, do not at first grasp the meaning and artistic necessity for the various elements of light and shade, the pianos and fortes, the sfz’s, smorzando, ritardando, accelerando, and the countless other effects by which music is made in­telligible. The average pupil if left to himself will play in dead monotone, without a ghost of expres­sion. It is the necessity of such expression that going to the opera will teach him. He will insensibly learn to associate the increase or decrease in speed or in­tensity, the sudden explosive bursts of tone, the pauses, the tremendous climaxes, etc., with the emo­tions and feelings which call them into being, and will gradually base his own playing on these models of expression, so true to art and nature.

Music is like a language, which one must study as he would Greek or Persian, and it is only after years of study that one can understand a great musical creation in its fullest sense. In no way can this language of expression be so quickly acquired as at the opera. Attending a good opera once a week is a liberal education in music. No matter what branch of the musical art the student is studying, he will find something for him at the opera. The opera-goer hears characteristic music fitted to every possible kind of a scene or phase of emotion, and if he is a student of the least intelligence, he soon learns to recognize its meaning and to adapt it to his own instrument. If a musician knows what a composition represents, he will naturally give it appropriate ex­pression.

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You are reading The Best School for Expression. from the May, 1902 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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