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Questions and Answers

Q. How can one best judge of the musical abilities of a child ?—R. N. B.
A. Watch the effect of melody upon it. See what tunes it is responsive to and whether they are the best. Even an infant who has a musical nature will show an immediate response to major and minor, sometimes giving smiles to the first and tears to the last. Do not excite a baby with many such experiments. At about three years old a child's musical memory may be tested. It will identify certain tunes and even certain notes. At a little later period test its fondness for harmony or even for counterpoint. If it prefers these to mere melody you have discovered a musical nature. Do not crush this out by too much musical study; let the precious plant grow naturally. Many a great musical nature has been spoiled by being made into an infant prodigy. I have known several children who were thus forced and became great while they were little, but as they grew up they diminished; they regarded music as a sort of normal task, and while they became expert musicians they never loved the art sufficiently to become really tonal masters. There is much besides techinque (sic) to be thought of in the development of a great musical nature, and, if possible, all early public appearances are to be avoided.
 
Q. What is the oldest known record of the existence of music either in notation, or in some instrumental relic?—P. J. A.
A. The oldest instrumental relic is a very primitive flute, made of reindeer horn, and found in a cave in Belgium, after blasting down through a deep layer of lime-rock. As this rock is known to form, under favorable circumstances, at the rate of about an inch in a century, it has been estimated that the flute in question is about 250,000 years old! If you are interested in studying the artistic relics of paleolithic man, who existed so long ago, I would recommend Lyell's "Cave-hunting," Giekie's "Prehistoric Europe" or the works of Prof. Dawkins. The oldest really good musical instrument that we know of was the large Egyptian harp of from four to six thousand years ago.
 
The oldest reliable piece of musical notation extant is the Hymn to Apollo, which was discovered by the French archaeological expedition at the Temple of that God in Delphos (Greece) about seventeen years ago. It is a long musical composition, unison only, carved upon marble. It won a prize at some ancient competition, and was probably engraved upon stone at the expense of the successful contestant. It is largely in 5-4 time and has been deciphered in different ways by different authorities. That is the real difficulty regarding the ancient Greek and Roman relics of music which we possess; we are not certain that we are reading them aright. The hymn in question is about 2,000 years old, probably the oldest authentic bit of music that we possess. There is also a Hymn to Calliope, and a couple of other bits of Greek music, found on ancient palimpsests, of about the same age. A palimpsest is a parchment document on which the original writing has been whitewashed over, and more modern (usually mediæval) writing superimposed upon it. There is no authentic document of Scriptural music in existence and that music was probably taught orally.
 
Q. Who originated the custom of having the piano sideways on the concert platform so that the audience could see the pianist's hands?—E. F.
A. This point can probably never be absolutely decided. But the instrument would naturally be placed in this position, not for the sake of displaying the pianist's hands, but for the sake of obtaining the best acoustical effect. When the grand piano is placed sideways to the audience and the lid is raised the latter becomes an additional sounding-board, reflecting the tones into the body of the hall. In olden days the conductor sat at the clavicembalo, which was usually shaped like a grand piano, and guided the tempo by playing the instrument. In such case the instrument was also placed sideways, so that the conductor could see the orchestra while he was playing. In playing a modern concerto, by having the instrument sideways, the pianist can most easily watch the conductor and his beat. Therefore every advantage would seem to be gained by placing the piano in this position and it has probably always been thus placed since it has been used in public performance. The custom, however, has frequently been attributed to Dussek.
 
Q. What is meant by a Phrygian cadence? — EI. M. B.
A. A cadence in the Phrygian scale. There are different nomenclatures used in connection with the old Greek scales. Generally the nomenclature of the Glareanus is adopted, which would make the cadence in a scale running from D to D, white keys only, upon the pianoforte.
 
Q. What is the meaning of the expression "blind octaves" sometimes met with in books relating to piano-playing?M. P.
A. I have heard this term applied to concealed octaves in harmony, and it is a poor term at the best. It is more generally applied to a pianoforte passage in octaves for alternate hands, sounding almost like double octaves.
 
Q. Who first used folk tunes in classical music?—Historicus.
A. Chopin. It is true that folk-music was employed by classical composers before Chopin's time, but not in any very brilliant or epoch-making manner. Bach used the folk- melody (by Hassler) "Mein G'm the ist mir veswisset" in the Chorale "Oh Sacred head now wounded," in his St. Matthew Passion music, and Beethoven used a Russian folk- melody in one of his string quartettes (the Rasoumowsky set), but Chopin was the first who frequently used the folk-music (folk- dance in his case) style, and Liszt, Brahms, Tschalkowsky (sic), and a host of moderns followed.
 
Q. In playing Chopin's Military Polonaise (A Major), I have had some difficulty in playing the passage where the trills come in. Should the B flat in the middle section found at the top of page 4 (Presser edition) be played with the left hand? How is this passage counted?M. J.
A. As I remember the Polonaise, the long trills are played as any ordinary trills, beginning and ending on the principal note, but the chain of trills, beginning on B and ending on F (eighth note), should be played as quintolets or septolets, without a turn at the end of the trill. Be careful to lift the pedal between each one of these chain thrills.
 
Q. In Bach's "Twelve Little Preludes" (Nos. 1 and 2), are the grace notes played on the beat or before? Also in "Prelude number six," if they are played on the beat, then they are exactly the same as the mordent which follows, are they not? Is there any general rule covering such cases? I have always assumed that all old classics were played in this way, but find some Schubert which is not. Does the fact that the sharp is placed below the mordent sign indicate that the auxiliary note below is to be sharped. If so how would you play an A natural with following marking?—E. D. H.
A. In the Preludes Nos. 1 and 2 the grace notes are played on the beat. In No. 6 they are also played on the beat and are the same as the mordent which appears in some editions. There is unfortunately considerable confusion about embellishment signs in the old editions. The very nomenclature is hazy and is now changing. The written example sent by E. D. H. is quite plain. Play G sharp as the lower note, the interval being a semitone.
 
Q. When the signature is five flats, and the note B is double flatted does it make B treble-flatted? Of course B double flat practically becomes A natural but if the signature is five flats, does this A natural become A flat? I am only an amateur and am at present without a teacher.Devoted Reader of The Etude.
A. No! Every accidental sign is always to be read without any reference to the key signature. B with a double-flat before it would be B double-flat (same as A natural) in any and every key that it may be met in. That is a very simple rule which has no exceptions—an accidental labels distinctly the one note which fololws (sic) it and any similar ones falling after it in the same measure.

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