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Behind the Scenes

The success of many ventures is due to the silent workers behind the scenes. The inspiration for some of the greatest masterpieces of music has come from men who are themselves forgotten. The excellent Italian musical periodical Revista Musicale of Turin devotes part of a recent issue to the poet-librettist Pietro Antonio Domenica Bonaventura Metastasio. His real name was Assisi, and he was the son of a Papal sol­dier. He was born in Rome, January 3, 1698, and was splen­didly educated. In 1730 he became the court poet of Em­peror Charles VI at Vienna. The remainder of his life, until his death in 1782, was spent in Vienna. In addition to being a poet he was also a musician of accomplishments. Of his twenty-nine dramas, eight oratorios and nearly fifty cantatas, some have been set to music by other composers as many as thirty or forty times. Among the composers inspired by his work are Scarlatti, Popora, Hasse, Jommeli, Piccini, Paisielle, Paer, Mercadante, Handel, Graun, Gluck, Galuppi, Caldara, Mozart, Haydn and Spontini. Surely such a man deserves more than passing mention in musical history, even though Mozart’s Clemenza di Tito is the only work from his pen which is heard with any frequency on the operatic stage of to-day. Lorenzo da Ponte, who was born near Venice in 1749 and died in New York in 1838, was another worker “behind the scenes”; he was responsible for the libretti of Mozart’s Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutte. Despite the fact that he was a professor at Columbia University, he lost his grip and died in destitution. Arigo Boito (1842-1920), who wrote the libretti of Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, was a mas­terly musician. Puccini’s best-known operas are set to texts by Illica and Giocosa and represent a great advance in the dramatic adaptation of ideas to opera.



In the heap of fire arms, fire water, tobacco, tinsel, looking glasses, trinkets and junk that William Penn paid the Indians in purchase for the colony of Pennsylvania, there were one hun­dred jewsharps. Was he the first American musical missionary?



Arbitrary Traditions

Traditions are often the obstacles of progress. Some­times they are founded upon very superficial reasons. Some­times they are based upon an obvious error. The Egyptians, for instance, mummified the bodies of fish and of goats because they thought they were sacred. This belief persisted for ages, and these bodies can be seen now in the museums of many large cities. Just think how hard they must have worked to do it. In music, traditions of a prohibitive character have been the barrier which has kept back thousands. Yet music study is dependent upon discipline, and discipline is drill conducted under certain specified restrictions. Thousands of students who have attempted to mould themselves without the restric­tive traditions have resulted in becoming shapeless, inartistic hulks. The greatest teacher is the one who can teach his pupil how to handle traditions without breaking any bones.


How little we know of the musical activities of other music lovers! In the north of Ireland, for instance, Flute Bands are very popular. Recently a concert was given in London by such a band consisting of twenty-five players, including piccolos and bass flutes.



Are We Insular?

Every now and then some disgruntled European credits us with insularism in music. How can we be? Our racial complexion is as varied as Joseph’s coat, despite the fact that our national body is still very obviously Anglo-Saxon. Where in the world is there such a mixture of peoples as one can find in America, and where does one see concert programs repre­senting greater variety? “But,” says the critic, “take up any good European art magazine and you will often find articles printed in many tongues.” That is true in many cases, and Americans, as a whole, know two languages at best, but when one knows music, one knows it in all tongues, and our ears are no different from those of the musicians of other countries. Perhaps America at this day is less insular than any country in the world.                   


Really worth while works are sure to find a champion. The symphonic compositions of Anton Bruckner have been very slow in securing a public. Many consider them very long, very tire­some and fearfully complicated. But only a few years ago these were the accusations against Brahms. Now, the First and the Fourth Symphonies of Brahms are in great demand. Arthur Nikisch boasts that he has played all nine of Bruckner’s Sympho­nies last year. At the same time he tells us that he has found no new men of startling musical genius in Germany since Strauss.



Chug, Chug-ga, Chug, Chuga-ga, Chug, Chuga-ga!


Every age has its distinctive mark. The Paleolithic, in the dawn of civilization, shows its crude stone tools, the Neo­lithic—stone refined to more definite uses—the Bronze Age, the Iron Age—all are distinguished by ineradicable signs of the people and their activities. Some one has called this century the Age of the Machine. Perhaps it is, and perhaps this very intensification of motion is now having its effect upon the music of our day.

Riding in a railroad train, on a boat, or listening to any one of the hundreds of different devices for turning coal and oil into units of energy, we repeatedly hear this rhythm, chug, chug-ga, chug, chug-ga, chug, chug-ga, and so on for hours. Think for a moment of the great number of popular pieces of the day in which one hears this rhythm ad nauseum.


There are lots of things you have always longed to do that remain undone, for no other reason than that you have never pulled the trigger. In music—as in everything else, “getting at it” takes the most effort.



Re-written Music


Clyde Fitch, who in later life earned an income of $250,000 a year writing plays—he put out some sixty stage works—had a most interesting method of working out his man­uscripts, which might well be employed by musicians who are satisfied with the first or second drafts of a composition. Fitch employed different colored pencils. The first draft was written in red, the second in blue, the third in green, the fourth in purple, the fifth in black, and so on, in order that he could always trace the progress of his works.

Dion Boucicault used to say, “Plays are not written, they are re-written.” A great deal of our present-day music would be better if it were more frequently re-written before it is published. This was certainly one of Beethoven’s working secrets.

Music in Russia’s Hour of Crisis

Some time ago we published an editorial entitled Music and the Mad Hour which attracted a flattering amount of at­tention. It attempted to indicate how music becomes the balance wheel in the political and social chronometers in times of great crisis. We earnestly believe that music is of the highest signifi­cance to the State in these days of readjustment and recon­struction.

That a public, even in the most terrible stages of civic disintegration, cannot dispense with the spiritual sustenance of music, is tragically indicated by the city of Petrograd.

Petrograd has lost population by the hundreds of thou­sands since 1914. It has become a place of horrors, murders, famine and pestilence. Yet the opera houses and theaters have been kept open and concerts are frequent.

Even at this moment, when it is reported that every cellar in the city is a cesspool of filth, with the whole sewerage system of the great metropolis hopelessly broken down, forty opera houses, concert halls and theaters are open nightly in the city, giving intellectual and spiritual inspiration, when even bread is difficult to buy, even though one has the money.

H. G. Wells, the eminent English scientist, novelist and sociologist, in the New York Times of November 14th, reports that Shaliapin (Feodor Chaliapine), “the greatest of actors and singers,” is still making great successes in his favorite rôles of The Barber of Seville, Faust, etc. More than that, he is being paid 200,000 rubles a performance, and gets whatever he asks, be­cause, as Mr. Wells puts it, “for Shaliapin to strike, would leave too dismal a hole altogether in Petrograd,” All this in govern­ment subsidized opera houses, in a Bolshevik regime!

On the other hand, the fa­mous writer tells us that he met Glazounov, the noted Russian composer, formerly a very big, florid man, but now so much fallen away that his clothes hang loosely upon him. He was still compos­ing daily, but his stock of music paper was almost exhausted and will be no more.

After the annihilation of thousands of the intelligenzia, the Bolshevik are realizing that art, science and progress de­mand that brains, first of all, need the succor and support of the State.

Just when the chaos of Russia will resolve itself out of its infinite misery into a prosperous, progressive, humane state, in the modern sense of contentment and happiness, no one pre­tends to know, but the tenacity with which the Russians are holding fast to music, like a life-preserver, will go down in the history of the ages as one of the remarkable phenomena of all times.       


At Harvard University a brief organ recital was given in Appleton Chapel on examination days to overcome students’ nervousness. More and more, Music is coming to the front in the practical phases of Life’s work.



The Best Possible Teacher

Once we paused in a tiny shop of a vegetable vendor in a little German city—long, oh, very long before the war. The proprietor’s wife was a woman of forty. Someone mentioned something about music, and she ventured to say that she had been a teacher in a great German Conservatory for several years. Yet she was content to step down into a trifling business with a fussy old husband who spent most of his time with pota­toes and turnips.

The question was, how a woman who had ever had any real musical ideals, who had ever wanted to do anything big in teaching young people an art, could have made such a descent. The truth of the matter was, that, despite a certain amount of technical proficiency, she was not a person ever to become a teacher.

When you select a teacher for a child, that teacher should have something far more than the ability to teach. She should be an inspiring individual who represents something which the child cannot help emulating. There are hundreds of people who teach to one who is really ordained from on high to be a teacher.

In the olden days when the ministers of the Gospel always felt the divine call—the seal from on high—their lives be­came a mission. We ought to have more of that spirit among teachers of music. Mere musical inclination, the good fortune in having a fine technical training, the desire to earn a fairly lucrative and very comfortable living, should never be the factors in helping the novice to decide upon taking up the career of music teaching. Rather let it be, “Do I feel a call from the Great Spirit of Mankind to devote my life to one of the noblest of causes?”

The teacher who is “called,” and who has the training and nat­ural ability, is the best teacher. The student who has such a teacher is fortunate indeed.

Only the higher—the spiritual —fame really endures. Material appurtenances of the great are significant chiefly to the museum makers. A number of American students some years ago were studying organ in the Leipsic Con­servatory. They were required to have special shoes when practicing upon the conservatory organ. Hav­ing no place to store the shoes when not in use, they stuffed them into an old piano in the practice room. Once, one of the students asked to whom the piano belonged. The caretaker replied, “Ah, that was Mendelssohn’s piano “


Diplomas and Diplomas


An Etude reader writes:

“My mother has a letter from Professor………………….. who has a diploma from………………………… Is that a good endorsement?”.

We had never heard of the teacher who gave this diploma. We looked in ten reference books but could find no mention of his name. We looked in directories giving the addresses of musicians in his city. We could find no vestige of his resi­dence or career. He may have been a very good teacher in­deed, but his diploma was quite worthless in the great world of music.

A diploma is like a bond—only good for what is behind it. We have repeatedly known men with degrees trailing after their names like centipedes, but who at the same time were pathetically short on any kind of useful knowledge. Indeed, even with great universities carrying authority and dignity with their degrees, we have repeatedly encountered men who have been woefully behind their “less fortunate” brothers in so many respects that we have often wondered long over the value of degrees.

The man who has what is known in the streets as “the goods” does not have to concern himself over “degrees” or “diplomas.” The first concern of the teacher should be to give the pupil something so extraordinary that no one will ever think of asking for a diploma. At the same time there is a gratifica­tion in receiving a handsomely engraved record attesting to work accomplished under a really good teacher.

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You are reading Editorials from the January, 1921 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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