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Emil Sauer - Progress in Music Study

From an Interview Secured Expressly for THE ETUDE by G. Mark Wilson with the Famous Teacher and Virtuoso EMIL SAUER
[EDITOR’s NOTE—Few pianists of our time have been so fortunate in pleasing both professional musicians and amateurs as Emil Sauer. That is, few virtuosos have had the lofty qualities and artistic sincerity which always impresses the fellow-professional, and at the same time had the gift of pleasing the so-called “masses.” Emil Sauer was born at Hamburg, Germany, Oct. 8th, 1862. Between the years 1876 and 1881 he was a pupil of Nicholas Rubinstein, brother of the great Anton, at the Moscow Conservatorium. Thereafter, he studied with Franz Liszt and with the great specialist in technic and touch, Deppe. For over thirty years he has appeared before the public as a virtuoso and has met with great success. His concert tours are often arranged many years in advance. His playing is clear, definite and beautifully balanced.]
one were to be pinned down to the selection of the two main highways of technical progress it would be difficult to pick out two better roads than those of Scales and Bach. Although worn by the tread of countless artists they are still the paths along which every sincere young artist will find himself ultimately traveling, no matter how many other ways he may try.

The chief virtue of playing Bach is perhaps the fact that the structure of the music is so closely knit that it compels absolute attention. In any of the forty-eight Fugues you may find measure after measure in which the mind virtually controls a quartet of melodies. It is as though one man were asked to play the two violins, the viola and the ‘cello in a string quartet and play them all at once. The mere ability to make the fingers play the notes of a Bach fugue is in itself difficult, but the student has not gotten the utmost from his Bach practice until he is able to carry in his mind each part in the wonderful polyphonic fabric as a separate melody, just as though each part had a distinct tone quality, one string. one brass, one flute, one organ diapason, instead of hearing them all on the monotone quality of the piano.

As for scales, their chief value lies in their practical nature. They serve to acquaint the fingers with all the little interstices of the keyboard until they feel perfectly at home. In addition to this they serve to exercise the muscles in such excellent manner that they are indispensable. Scales almost invariably reward the pupil if he practices them right. That is, when he starts to practice scales he may do so with the confident knowledge that after he has invested in a certain amount of work he will get certain results.
Naturally every student who practices does so with the hope for progress. He does not relish the idea of spending hours at the piano only to find his work standing still or even going behind. He wants to go ahead, but merely wanting to go ahead does not put him ahead. One of the chief setbacks is that so many students look upon all kinds of practice, except playing a few attractive pieces, as a kind of drudgery. They see their practice eat up their time and patience and produce no results. Consequently they become antagonistic to the work in hand and instead of playing the piano they fight the piano. The wonderful principle of finding joy in your work is one that every teacher should indicate to every pupil. The pupil should be taught to regard all difficulties as interesting problems, not as rough and barren mountains over which they must climb to the fertile valleys beyond. If, for instance, you have a cadenza in a Liszt Love Song, the teacher should give a definite working plan how the cadenza can be developed, how scintillating it will sound when finished and how great care must be taken not to make it mussy.

Before beginning the study of a piece or an étude the student should be acquainted with the structure of the composition. He should understand its relative importance as an art work. He should be shown how the balance the composer has observed should be preserved in the interpretation of the work. He should know the location of the climax of the piece. Before he starts upon the practice at all he may learn various things about the piece which will help him immensely and save him a great deal of time.
In pointing out the construction and beauties of a new piece the teacher must not make the great mistake of excusing the pupil from the work which his talent should properly develop. The teacher should avoid definite directions, but by “drawing out” the pupil induce him to find out what the proper method is. If the pupil has not the talent to find out these things under the teacher’s direction, very little can be expected from him. It is a waste of time, money and energy to teach pupils who have not sufficient talent. The teacher must live, of course, and pupils are necessary, but if the teacher would put the same energy given out in teaching pupils destitute of talent to the purpose of teaching those with talent, a much happier career will result, although the income may be a trifle less at the start. Every experienced teacher can ascertain in a very short time whether or not the pupil has talent.

Most of the readers of THE ETUDE know of many cases of young people who have made a great furore for a few years and who then gradually sink out of sight. There is a kind of smartness which many people confound with real merit, real talent, although it is quite different. The really talented pupil has a definite goal. With him all work that leads toward that goal is the great joy of his life. This pupil will always outstrip the “smart” pupil. I have seen it happen dozens of times. The real worker plods along. Progress with him is at the end of a long road. The superficial worker trips lightly along with his eyes fixed upon a will-’o-the-wisp of his own conceit. Before he knows it he stumbles over the brink of a precipice.
Optimism lies at the bottom of both progress and good teaching. The teacher should seek to build confidence and confidence never comes from pessimism. If you are a teacher and have a pupil who is continually faltering and making unaccountable mistakes, ask yourself, “Have I continually thrown a wet blanket over the pupil every time a blunder was made, so that the student now anticipates a chill or a shock or an explosion with every mistake? Have I given vent to a morbid cynicism just for the fun of being a fault-finder or for the dignity of appearing very learned? Have I torn down continually where I could not build better? Are my lessons broad, stimulating and cheerful, or are they carping, indifferent and irritable?” Look upon every lesson as a foundation pier in the pupil’s future work.
Fear is the father of most difficulties at ‘the keyboard, Do not anticipate trouble when you are playing a piece. A complicated fingering can be borne in the mind so that the mind will guide the fingers through the difficulty as skillfully as a navigator guides a ship through a difficult channel. There is a great deal in preparedness. Do not trust your fingers entirely. Have the technical difficulty well solved in your mind and then “do not be afraid.” Take a chance and see if it will not come out all right. Halting playing is caused largely by mental halting. Very slow study of the difficulty, with speed advanced as confidence comes, is the sole solution. If you apprehend a certain measure always make sure that you are especially confident of the measure preceding and the measure succeeding the difficulty. Most fear of difficulties is due to ignorance or lack of sufficient regular practice. If you know a thing thoroughly, you are not afraid of it. It is surprising how much courage and artistic confidence real knowledge and proficiency brings. The common phrase, “It is easy enough when you know how,” has a double meaning.

There is much to be said in favor of the European system of subsidizing music schools. For one thing it does not result in over-loading the teacher with pupils. Naturally the most successful teachers have the most pupils, but there is such a thing as giving a teacher more pupils than he can attend to. The relation between the teacher and the pupil should not be a mere commercial one, in which the teacher slices off just so much of his life and sells it to the pupil at so much per slice. The teacher must be the friend and adviser of the pupil. He must take a personal interest in his welfare. He must not regard his lessons as a business transaction, although he must not neglect the right and proper business aspects of teaching. Franz Liszt became the intimate adviser of all his pupils. There probably was never a more ideal relation between teacher and pupils than that which existed between Liszt and his followers. They became disciples rather than students. Of course Liszt was rich enough to dispense with the collection of fees. Few teachers can do that, but, nevertheless, they can make their teaching something more than mere money making.

Progress in musical art is all that the artist can look forward to. There is no end to art. The greatest virtuoso living is only great because he is on the way to some coveted goal. The moment he stops, or the moment he commences to retrograde, his greatness ceases. The critical period in the career of any student is the time that takes him from the music school or from the teacher and ushers him into the world. The failures are those who lessen their energies then. The great successes are those who feel liberated only to work harder and harder. Many a career goes down upon the day of graduation. Schools, examinations, certificates and diplomas are all right, but they should be regarded as nothing more than milestones in the career of a youth. As soon as one milestone is past push on to the next. Sit down for a few moments on the road of progress and you will see others pass you by the thousand. The joy is in going ahead, every day, every hour, every minute. If you find yourself to-day where you were last year begin to question yourself and find out why. Perhaps you do not deserve to go ahead. Perhaps you have merely been sitting passively by wondering why you do not progress and at the same time failing to do your level best at the work at hand. No matter what you may read, no one has ever succeeded without practice, careful practice, regular practice, intelligent practice, inspired practice, hard practice.

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