[EDITOR'S NOTE. - The first section of this remarkable
educational interview appeared in the "Self-Help, Uplift and
Progress" issue of THE ETUDE published last month. In
connection with this a short biography of the famous Russian
virtuoso was published. The article was so full of
brilliant suggestions and sage advice that we earnestly advise
any reader of this issue who did not secure a copy of
the October number to procure one if for but this feature
alone. Articles of this kind are exceptionally rare. The
conventional newspaper interview in which the artist
discusses his critics, his hair and the climate of New York
harbor appear frequently, but it is only rarely that a famous
artist is induced to give his philosophical, artistic and
educational observations to the public.]
DEEP THOUGHT NECESSARY.
"As a rule piano students do not think deeply enough. They skim over
the really difficult things and no amount of persuasion will make them believe
some very simple things difficult. Take the scale of C Major, for instance. This
scale is by far the most difficult of all. To play it with true legato, at any
desired degree of force or speed, in any desired rhythm and with any desired
touch is one of the most difficult achievements in all music. Yet the young
pupil will literally turn up his nose at the scale of C Major and at the same
time claim that he is perfectly competent to play a Beethoven Sonata.
"The scale of C should be learned step by step until the practice habits are
so formed that they will reign supreme while playing all the other scales. This
is the way to secure results — go deep into things. Pearls lie at the bottom of
the sea. Most pupils seem to expect them floating upon the surface of the
water. They never float, and the one who would have his scales shine with the
beauty of splendid gems must first dive deep for the gems.
"But what is the use of saying all this? To tell it to young pupils seems to
be a waste of words. They will go on making their mistakes and ignoring the
advice of their teachers and mentors until the greatest teacher
of all — experience —
forces them to dive for the hidden riches.
TAKE TIME TO DO THINGS WELL.
"Every pianist advances at a rate commensurate with
his personal ability. Some pianists are slow in development.
Others with wonderful natural gifts go ahead
very quickly. The student will see some pianist make
wonderful progress and will sometimes imitate him
without giving the time or effort to study that the other
pianist has given. The artist will spend months upon a
Chopin valse. The student feels injured if he cannot
play it in a day.
"Look, I will play the wonderful Nocturne of Chopin in G, Opus 37 No. 2. The
legato thirds seem simple? Ah, if I could only tell you of the years that are
behind those thirds. The human mind is peculiar in its methods of mastering
the movements of the fingers, and to get a great masterpiece so that you can
have supreme control over it at all times and under all conditions demands a
far greater effort than the ordinary non-professional music lover can imagine.
MASTERING ARTISTIC DETAILS.
"Each note in a composition should be polished until it is as perfect as a jewel —
as perfect as an Indian diamond — those wonderful scintillating, ever-changing orbs
of light. In a really great masterpiece each note has its place just as the stars, the
jewels of heaven, have their places in their constellations. When a star moves it
moves in an orbit that was created by nature.
"Great musical masterpieces owe their existence to mental forces quite as
miraculous as those which put
the heavens into being. The notes in compositions of
this kind are not there by any rule of man. They come
through the ever mystifying source which we call inspiration. Each note must
bear a distinct relation to the whole.
"An artist in jewels in making a wonderful work of art does not toss his
jewels together in any haphazard way. He often has to wait for months to get
the right ruby, or the right pearl, or the right diamond to fit in the right place.
Those who do not know might think one gem just like another, but the artist
knows. He has
been looking at gems, examining them under the microscope. There is a
meaning in every facet, in every shade of color. He sees blemishes which the
ordinary eye would never detect.
[(Photograph copyright by Elliot & Fry.) VLADIMIR DE PACHMANN.
Not reproduced here.]
"Finally he secures his jewels and arranges them in some artistic form,
which results in a masterpiece. The public does not know the reason why,
but it will instantly realize that the work of the artist is in some mysterious
way superior to the work of the bungler. Thus it is that the mind of the
composer works spontaneously in selecting the musical jewels for the
diadem which is to crown him with fame. During the process of inspiration he
does not realize that he is selecting his jewels with lightning rapidity, but
with a highly cultivated artistic judgment. When the musical jewels are
collected and assembled he regards the work as a whole as the work of
another. He does not realize that he has been going through the process of
collecting them. Schubert failed to recollect some of his own compositions
only a few days after he had written them.
SOMETHING NO ONE CAN TEACH.
"Now the difficulty with students is that they do not take time to polish
the jewels which the composers have selected, with such keen aesthetic
discernment. They think it enough if they merely succeed in playing the
notes. How horrible! A machine can play the notes, but there is only one
machine with a soul and that is the artist. To think that an artist should play
only the notes and forget the glories of the inspiration which came in the
composer's mind during the moment of creation!
"Let me play the D flat Chopin Nocturne for you. Please notice how the
notes all bear a relation to each other, how everything is in right proportion.
think that came in a day? Ah, my friend, the polishing of
those jewels took far longer than the polishing of the
Kohinoor. Yet I have heard young girls attempt to play this
piece for me — expecting approbation, of course, and I am
certain that they could not have practiced upon it more than
a year or so. They evidently think that musical
masterpieces can be brought into being like the cobwebs
which rise during the night to be torn down by the weight of
the dew of the following morning. Imbecillità!
THE BEST TEACHER.
"They play just as their teachers have told them to play,
which is of course good as far as it goes. But they stop at
that, and no worthy teacher expects his pupil to stop with
his instruction. The best teacher is the one who incites his
pupil to penetrate deeper and learn new beauties by himself.
A teacher in the highest sense of the word is not a mint,
coining pupils as it were and putting the same stamp of
worth upon each pupil.
"The great teacher is an artist who works in men and
women. Every pupil is different, and he must be very
quick to recognize these differences. He should first of all
teach the pupil that there are hundreds of things which no
teacher can ever hope to teach. He must make his pupil
keenly alert to this. There are hundreds of things about my
own playing which are virtually impossible to teach. I would
not know how to convey them to others so that they might
be intelligently learned. Such things I have found out for
myself by long and laborious experimentation. The control
of my fifth finger in certain fingerings presented endless
problems which could only he worked out at the keyboard.
Such things give an individuality to the pianist's art,
something which cannot be copied.
"Have you ever been in a foreign art gallery and watched
the copyists trying to reproduce the works of the masters?
Have you ever noticed that though they get the form, the
design, and even the colors and also that with all these
resemblances, there is something which distinguishes the
work of the master from the work of the copyist, something
so wonderful that even a child can see it? You wonder at
No one can learn by copying the secret the master has
learned in creating.
THE BASIS OF GREATNESS.
"Here we have a figure which brings out very clearly the
real meaning of originality in piano playing and at the same
time indicates how every pupil with or without a teacher
should work for himself. Why was the great Liszt greater
than any pianist of his time? Simply because he found out
certain pianistic secrets which Czerny or any of Liszt's
teachers and contemporaries had failed to discover.
"Why has Godowsky — Ach! Godowsky, der ist wirklich
ein grosser Talent
— how has he attained his wonderful rank?
Because he has worked out certain contrapuntal and
technical problems which place him in a class all by himself.
I consider him the greatest master of the mysteries of
counterpoint since the heyday of classical polyphony. Why
does Busoni produce inimitable results at the keyboard?
Simply because he was not satisfied to remain content with
the knowledge he had obtained from others.
"This then is my life secret — work, unending work. I have
no other secrets. I have developed myself along the lines
revealed to me by my inner voice. I have studied myself as
well as my art. I have learned to study mankind through the
sciences and through the great literary treasures, you see; I
speak many languages fluently, I have stepped apace with
the crowd, I have drunk the bitter and the sweet from the
chalices of life, but remember, I have never stopped, and today
I am just as keenly interested in my progress as I was
many years ago as a youth. The new repertoire of the works
of Liszt and Brahms and other composers demanded a
different technic, a bigger technic. What
exquisite joy it was to work for it. Yes, mio amico,
work is the greatest intoxication, the greatest blessing,
the greatest solace we can know. Therefore work, work, work.
But of all things, my good musical friends in America, remember
the old German proverb:
'Das mag die beste Musik sein,
Wenn Herz und Mund stimmt überein.'
("Music is best when the heart and lips (mouth) speak together.")