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The Measure of Musical Fame.

In a recent publication fame was defined as "not being published at sixpence during one's lifetime." The remark is not without its substratum of truth. It serves to remind one how fickle is the thing we call fame; how often it is something full of a tragic note. The towns which contend with one another for the birthplace of a Homer are, as a rule, those which allowed him to live from hand to mouth within their walls.
One wonders what Handel would have thought if he had known that at the present day many people would associate his name only with the Largo in G. This piece for many a musical lover means Handel, for the composition has penetrated into many a region, finds a place on many a harmonium desk where the greater Handel is quite unknown. The fact that there are a large number of people who get their music through popular channels to whom Handel means no more than the Largo, is worthy of the attention of those responsible for the musical culture of the masses.
 Other composers have been similarly dealt with by the crowd. Mendelssohn is the composer of the "Songs Without Words" rather than of the "Hebrides" overture. Elgar is praised for his "Salut d'Amour," where the Symphony would be misunderstood. Schumann is known to many as the man who wrote "The Merry Peasant." It is a habit of the populace to take the chips from the workroom as in some measure indicative of the talents of these composers. Truly time plays us strange tricks. Perhaps the most heartrending case of all is that of R. Strauss, about whom a lady was heard to remark that she thought he must be a good musician because he had written so many nice waltzes. This, surely, is being "damned to fame!"
There is the type of man who is careless about fame, whose greatest joy is writing his works regardless of what the public thinks of them. One can hardly imagine Bach to have troubled very much to advertise his wares. Those who are deeply interested in the art of music do not need to be told of his greatness. And yet this great giant is but a name to many who are musical. It is mainly because of the enthusiasm of individual units, and the careful nourishment of the public taste by Bach societies, that the composer is known at all.
The truth is that the public is an emotional jury passing sentence at the dictates of the heart. The more a man confides in them, the more he mixes with them, the more they like him. This is the reason, I take it, of the Tschaïkowsky "boom." It is certainly the reason of the universal popularity of Dickens. One has been hearing a great deal lately about the taste of the public in the matter of plays. The man in the city wrestling with figures and percentages during the day does not want intellectual drama in the evening. There may be something analogous to this in music. There are composers who are keenly relished where two or three are gathered together. There are others who speak to the masses and send their message straight to their hearts.
The action of time upon the fame of the composer is like the action of the sea upon the coastline. It changes its character. The progress of time has made the position of Gluck greater from an historical point of view than from a practical one. Historically, Gluck is one of the most important of all musicians. His early foreshadowings of the later Wagner, as seen by us who are in possession of all the facts, are of absorbing interest. He seems to have seen very far into the future; but, judging from concert programmes, he does not fare so well.
Whether the student poring over his books, or the man who does not penetrate beneath the surface, be the better judge of music is a matter of opinion. Many of the estimates which are arrived at by intuition and instinct are in nowise to be despised. The superior person has dealt with Meyerbeer in an unduly harsh manner. But, on the other hand, the man who knows musical history through and through has come to the rescue innumerable times and brought many treasures from the darkness of the world's lumber-room into the light of human knowledge. The moral of all this is the importance of cultivating the historic sense. One must have a full appreciation of the interval of time which has elapsed between the writing of works to arrive at a full understanding of them. More than this is needed. If one is not to continue taking the view of composers which the man does who grants Handel immortality on the strength of his Largo—that is the view from the harmonium desk—one must learn a great deal more about the man himself. If audiences are to set a just value upon men like Strauss, Elgar and Debussy, they must not only know a great deal about music, but a vast amount about literature and general culture. Only by showing a keen zest in all these things can they hope to come to a fair judgment of the outstanding composers of to-day.
In Rostand's Chantecler the cock oversleeps himself, and those to whom he had told that his crowing brought the dawn every morning make a fool of him. The public verdict is often like the crowing of Chantecler. It imagines that its accents are full of a greater meaning than they possess in reality. The day of a new genius may have dawned when Chantecler has been sleeping. It is often not until a man has passed from the scene of action that he is appraised at his true worth. Then fame comes to him too late.—Musical Record.
Every lesson should contain instruction in phrasing. No pupil should be allowed to play a passage without phrasing, or with wrong phrasing, any more than he should be allowed to play false time or wrong notes. Every musical person has a "musical sense," which can be likened to the native born sense of justice, to the native sense of truth, or the ability to tell colors, therefore every musical pupil can find out a good phrasing for himself. Especially can he be sure to phrase correctly when studying from the best editions of music. As soon as a pupil can play well enough to play a simple melody, he can be taught to phrase and play that melody with expression. More advanced pupils must be taught to play content rather than mere notes. It is what the notes have to say, and not the notes themselves, that the performer is to play.—Ex.

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You are reading The Measure of Musical Fame. from the August, 1910 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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