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Theodor Leschetizky - Studies in Musical Biography.

etude-music-study-clubs.jpgBY ARTHUR L. MANCHESTER.


The historian finds no study more absorbing than that of the correlation of many diverse elements in the development of art or an industry. Music is particularly rich in opportunities for such study. Hardly any form of musical development can be examined thoroughly without involving many other forms, each having its own growth and independent minutiæ. The composer, voicing in tone the thoughts which inspire him, influences and is influenced by technical and mechanical considerations which give rise to vocations and industries demanding the best thought and effort of skilled minds. He is dependent for the voicing of his creations upon interpreters who become able to speak his thoughts clearly only after long training. The interpreter, and again the composer, is helped or hindered by the instrument by means of which the voicing is done. And here is opened up problems of mechanics and art infinitely varied. While the composer is dependent upon these, he is at the same time participating in their development; more than this, he frequently forces them to find the solution for new problems.

The development of piano-playing is a forcible illustration of this fact. Its history is the story of successive advances by composer, technician, and manufacturer, until virtuosity became marvelous. Among the names which stand to-day for unusual achievement in making piano virtuosi is that of Theodor Leschetizky. When Paderewski cast his spell over the pianistic world, the source of his technical equipment became a matter of great interest, and the name of his teacher began to be mentioned in this country with much curiosity. The Leschetizky method was talked about, written about, and advertised. Vague rumors of his professional habits grew into sensational statements which undoubtedly did him injustice.


Theodor Leschetizky was born in Poland, his father being a music-master to a noble Polish family. The father’s marriage to a well-endowed young woman of good family after he had been in the nobleman’s service some time made the relation between employer and employed a very pleasant one, and the boy’s early years were happily spent in the home made for his parents in the castle. The surroundings were well calculated to stimulate the boy’s imagination and arouse his artistic temperament. The wealth of historical and romantic stories which had grown out of the struggles of the fallen, but still proud, country, the folk-songs and legends of cruelty, oppression, and heroic struggle against fate, were certain to appeal to a temperament so ardent as his.

Rides on the backs of his grandfather’s horses amid the beautiful pasture land and rich wheat fields, association with the aristocratic family of his father’s patron, and the atmosphere of song and story, made more real by visits to the armory, in which were stored the weapons and armor of knightly ancestors, and to the picture gallery, with its array of family portraits, stern warriors in their armor, and proud women, made his childhood ideal, and it is no wonder his memories of these days were full of charm. As Count Potocki’s daughters grew older, the winters were spent in Vienna, the Leschetizkies partaking of the luxuries of their patrons. But such days pass all too quickly, and Theodor was so precocious a lad that his very precocity hastened their flight.

Naturally the boy overheard the lessons given by his father to the daughters, and he early became a discriminating listener. His father fearing he would injure the piano, an old-fashioned upright clavecin, locked it and took away the key, but Theodor found a way of getting at the mechanism from underneath, and played without the aid of the keys. Of course, the mother was delighted and the father was persuaded to begin lessons. His progress was rapid; his father was a hard taskmaster, demanding two hours of close, conscientious work each day. There seems to have been little understanding of the boy upon the part of the father, and sharp criticism and lack of sympathy placed a gulf between father and son, and developed an obstinacy which characterized him in later years.

At 7 Theodor was quite well acquainted with the writings of Goethe and Schiller. The first regular schooling was in Vienna, and included French. His aptitude in his studies inclined his father to divert him from music to legal studies, but his mother, who appears to have had a truer insight as to his nature, determined that his musical talent should be developed to the utmost, and devoted herself most judiciously to the supervision of his studies. At 9 Theodor made his first public appearance at Lemberg, playing Czerny’s Concertino with orchestra. His father took him to orchestral concerts, and he and his father played through much of Beethoven’s music before he was 12 years old. This study of music itself gave him a love for the classics which remained with him. Study with Czerny followed, and Theodor was fairly launched upon his career as a virtuoso.

Succeeding years were devoted not only to persistent study with Czerny, but to the gathering of information and experience from the many sources open to him who is eager to make everything serve his purpose. Whether mingling with fellow-students, making little journeys, playing in concerts, or enjoying the social pleasures of the many homes to which he was made welcome, the young pianist added to his knowledge and profited by experience. His faculty for making everything serve his ends was unusual. At 14 he was self-supporting, having many pupils older than himself. It is strange to read that at this early age he rented two rooms adjoining his father’s apartments and established himself independently. His studies were continued, but at this tender age he was really a remarkable virtuoso and teacher, able to play exacting works on short notice, and taking part in important musical affairs. Thus, when 15 he assisted at the first performance of “Tannhäuser,” and a year later went to Budapest to take part in Hector Berlioz’s concerts, winning that genius’ hearty praise. He was particularly fortunate in his faculty for making and retaining friends. All through his life he profited by the warm interest of those with whom he became associated.

An instance of his power to derive good from extraneous sources is furnished by his quick understanding and appreciation of the playing of Schulhoff, whose style was very different from the brilliant virtuosity then in vogue, and of which young Leschetizky was a bright exponent. Schulhoff’s playing was slow in making an impression on many older than the boy, who pronounced it “the playing of the future,” and immediately set himself to the acquirement of the cantabile touch which characterized it.

An episode in Leschetizky’s musical career was his participation in the revolution of 1848. His warlike spirit was quite thoroughly aroused, for he fought a duel and was compelled to make a long journey into Italy to recuperate. The next important step in his career was his settlement in St. Petersburg, at the age of 22. During the twenty-six years spent here, he was very successful, winning fame and a competency as a pianist and teacher. Final settlement in Vienna was made in 1878, from which time his fame as a maker of virtuosi has steadily grown, until he is perhaps the most talked-of and written-about piano teacher of our time.


It is not hard to discover the reason for Leschetizky’s great success as a pianist, a pedagog, and a man of affairs. He was precociously endowed; not only was musical talent very great, he was to a remarkable degree possessed of the power to make and retain friends, and of a business sense rare among musicians. His schooling was thorough and quite comprehensive, including among its studies law. His application to and concentration upon his work was great, and he made use of all the time available. He says: “the day was hardly long enough for all I had to do. My university work took up considerable time. I managed to do all my practicing during the day, but I frequently worked at my books till far into the night.”

The hard work he did was so interspersed with charming social experiences and delightful excursions, and his surroundings were so free from sordid gloom, that it is like a summer holiday to read it. Yet, reading between the lines, there are many lessons to be learned from the personality of the man, the precocity of the musician, and the varied incidents of his career. “Theodor Leschetizky,” by Comtesse Angele Potocka, is an excellent biography.


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