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Repertoire and Program-Building


“Finishing” the Education.

Pianists, of who are about to “finish” their education in the private studio of a master, or graduate from a conservatory of music, are apt to look upon that event as “the end of all things.” It is, however, only the close of one chapter of their careers, and proves often to be only the preface, the beginning, rather than the finish. It is the period of dependence. One submits to the teacher and is led. But for many of us the school-period is decidedly limited. There comes the time, alas! all too soon, when one must discontinue regular lessons and give his best time and attention to making a living.

Then begins the real self-development. So far we have leaned upon the master. We must leave him now and go on unsupported. Up to this point we have depended almost solely upon his judgment and decision. “Shall I study this piece, or that technic?” “You shall work on this!” Now we have left him and must be our own dictator. Dangers arise at this point—either stagnation, ruts, or too highly magnified self-importance.

The Great Minority.

To make a living we must choose between playing and teaching, or as others do with success, combine the two. Those who make a competence through concert playing alone are so few that one may easily count them on the fingers of one hand. The number is so small because the combination of many things must be exceptionally happy to produce great results. Some of these things are: correct beginnings in childhood (one should say babyhood); extraordinary talent; absolute devotion to music in general and to one’s instrument in particular; untiring perseverance and application, a natural touch, poetic imagination, a magnetic personality. And all these must be founded on strong, well-developed physique. It will readily be seen that such happy combinations are unusual, indeed, and must ever be in the minority—the few great ones at the roomy top.

But do not therefore despair. Attack all obstacles. You may yet join the great minority! The qualities of mind, heart and person which you believe you lack, may be only slumbering, may lie dormant, awaiting development. You may still call them forth! For there have been cases where prodigious application compensated for lack of early training.

The Little Majority.

These are they who must make teaching their vocation. Little?—yes, in one sense—for our ideal must be the great artist in whom are combined the powers which awaken new life in us, quicken the imagination and strike the chords of health and harmony. The rest are comparative plodders, though as necessary in the world’s wonderfully diversified work as the few great inspired ones. The planets are as necessary as the sun in the vast universal equilibrium. But an ideal we must have, and we must emulate that artist who comes nearest to our ideal. He must become our teacher.

The Ideal Artist as Teacher.

He does not in the ordinary sense “give lessons.” He speaks to us in two ways—through his playing, and occasionally through the press. One thing he impresses, if you study his programs as he tours continent after continent: One must acquire a large repertoire,—not only one kind of pieces, but of ancient and modern, classical and popular, expressive and brilliant. Here is plainly indicated one important line of work of the teacher-pianist: increase your repertoire unremittingly! Be not satisfied to play during the remainder of your life only the technic, studies and pieces you once read or memorized while with your teacher. Neglect no opportunity to study programs of other artists. Note the new ideas and modern tendency in program-making—whether the form established in Liszt’s and Rubinstein’s day still obtains; or whether the program is made with a view to the color-scheme; or whether the object is to produce an emotional, or a technically brilliant climax at the end. (Must we forever have a display of pyrotechnics to close a piano-recital? Why not sometimes arrange programs to end instead with an emotional climax, as in Schumann’s great C major Fantasie? It is surely as legitimate and effective, and certainly more spiritually uplifting!)

Another point our ideal artist teaches us:—how to cull programs,—numbers, not only from the great classics, but also from the best contemporaneous composers. Undoubtedly, he reads and searches through tens and hundreds of modern works to find one true- cut gem, worthy to offer the public. But note that while he thus searches he is keeping abreast with the latest thought in musical composition. In that, again, shall we be wise to learn of him. There is something odious in the idea of settling into a mediocre rut after leaving the master, neither investigating new literary and musical works for ourselves nor acquiring a more intimate knowledge of the old masterpieces.

What if we did not reach the glorious heights of the “great minority” at one bound, as at one time perhaps we fondly imagined might be our good fortune? Is that good reason that we should cease hoping and climbing? We must go right on improving ourselves in general by the study of harmony, counterpoint, composition, musical biography and history, English literature, German, and reading the best musical magazines; and in particular as applied to our instrument, the piano, by studying all standard works on technic, familiarizing ourselves with all the celebrated etudes (their name is legion), and reading the latest works from the pens of our best modern writers.

Go to the best teacher you can find and get him to coach you on all this work, and especially to hear and criticise the pieces and studies you have newly memorized. Should there be no one to whom you can go in your own city, then arrange to study during the summer in some large music center. At all events, never give up until you have mastered (that means actually learned by heart) such technical works as Plaidy’s Loeschhorn’s, Tausig’s, Virgil’s, Mason’s, Leschetizky’s, Henselt’s, Liszt’s, and studies by Czerny, Heller, Cramer, Clementi, Thalberg, Henselt, Chopin, Rubinstein, Liszt, and the moderns, César Franck, Alkan, I. Philipp, Saint-Saëns, Moszkowski, Rosenthal, Godowsky, MacDowell, etc.—truly a formidable array—and a great life-work!

There are many things which can be imparted only through personal lessons, requiring the presence of the pupil, but numberless valuable hints may be gleaned from the excellent interviews with the greatest artists which appear in our leading musical journals from time to time, regarding the questions how and what to practice. To be sure, one must discriminate between those interviews published solely for advertising purposes by advance agents, and those written for educational aims. The practical working ideas which come hot from the brain and actual experience of a successful artist are to me as from an oracle, and I never cease repeating them in presence of pupils. Such ideas should inspire us and guide in our climb to Parnassus! There remains unmentioned yet another interesting section of our subject, namely,

Lecture Recitals,

which term signifies piano recitals in which a descriptive analysis of each number is presented by the performer or by an assisting speaker. Among the best sources of information regarding musical compositions are history, biography and current musical journals. A number of standard concert numbers are ably analyzed in E. B. Perry’s “Descriptive Analyses,” and much useful general information collected therein, but one must be able to write his own sketches, as one’s repertoire will doubtless differ somewhat from that of another. To state a few facts about the composer, his place in history, the date of the composition to be played, the circumstances under which it was composed, its dramatic or emotional significance and content, the picture or story it suggests, and if possible to give its prototype in poetry, undoubtedly adds greatly to the enjoyment of most audiences.


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