- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
THE ARTIST'S LIFE
The Virtuoso's Career as It Really Is
The father of a young woman who was preparing to become a virtuoso once applied to a famous musical educator for advice regarding the future career of his daughter. "I want her to become one of the greatest pianists America has ever produced," he said. "She has talent, good health, unlimited ambition, a good general education, and she is industrious." The educator thought for awhile, and then said, "It is very likely that your daughter will be successful in her chosen field, but the amount of grinding study she will be obliged to undergo to meet the towering standards of modern pianism is awful to contemplate. In the end she will have the flattery of the multitude, and, let us hope, some of their dollars as well. In return, she may have to sacrifice many of the comforts and pleasures which women covet. The more successful she is, the more of a nomad she must become. She will know but few days for years when she will not be compelled to practice for hours. She becomes a kind of chattel of the musical public. She will be harassed by ignorant critics and perhaps annoyed by unreliable managers. In return she has money and fame, but, in fact, far less of the great joy and purpose of life than if she followed the customary domestic career with some splendid man as her husband. When I was younger I used to preach quite an opposite sermon, but the more I see of the hardships of the artist's life the less I think of the dollars and the fame it brings. It is hard enough for a man, but it is twice as hard for a woman."
Some cynic has contended that the much-despised "Almighty Dollar" has been the greatest incentive to the struggling virtuoso in European music centers. Although this may be true in a number of cases, it is certainly unjust in others. Many of the virtuosos find travel in America so distasteful that notwithstanding the huge golden bait, the managers have the greatest difficulty in inducing the pianists to come back. Indeed, there are many artists of great renown whom the managers would be glad to coax to our country but who have withheld tempting offers for years. One of these is Moritz Moszkowski, probably the most popular of modern pianoforte composers of highclass music. Grieg, when he finally consented to make the voyage to America, placed his price at two thousand five hundred dollars for every concert—a sum which any manager would regard prohibitive, except in the case of one world-famous pianist. Grieg's intent was obvious.
The inconveniences of travel in America have been ridiculously exaggerated in Europe, and many virtuosos dread the thought of an American trip, with the great ocean yawning between the two continents, and red-skinned savages just beyond New York or certainly not far from Chicago. De Pachmann detests the ocean, and when he comes over in his favorite month of June he does not dare return until the following June. Others who have never visited America must get their idea of American travel from some such account as that of Charles Dickens in his unforgivable American Notes (1842), in which he said, in describing one of our railroads:
"There is a great deal of jolting, a great deal of noise, a great deal of wall, not much window, a locomotive engine, a shriek and a bell. The cars are like shabby omnibuses holding thirty, forty, fifty people. In the centre of the carriage there is usually a stove, fed with charcoal or anthracite coal, which is for the most part red hot. It is insufferably close, and you see the hot air fluttering between yourself and any other object you may happen to look at."
There could have been but little improvement in our railroads in 1872 when Rubinstein came to America, for although he accepted $40,000 for 215 concerts during his first trip, he refused an offer of $125,000 for only 50 concerts when a manager tried to persuade him to return.
American railroads now present the acme of comfort, convenience, and even luxury in travel, yet the European artist has difficulty in adjusting himself to journeys of thousands of miles crowded in a short winter season when he has been accustomed to little trips of a few hundred kilometers. He comes to dread the trains as we might a prison van. Paderewski resorts to a private car, but even this luxurious mode of travel may be very monotonous and exhausting.
The great distances must certainly account for some of the evidences of strain which deform the faces and exhaust the minds of so many virtuosos. The traveling salesman seems to thrive upon miles of railroad travel as do the crews of the trains, but the virtuoso, dragged from concert to concert by his showman, grows tired—oh, so tired, pale, wan, listless and indifferent! At the beginning of the season he is quite another person. The magnetism that has done so much to win him fame shines in his eyes and seems to emanate from his fingertips, but the difference in his physical being at the end of the season is sickening. Like a bedraggled, worn-out circus coming in from the wear and tear of a hard season, he crawls wearily back to New York with a cinematographic recollection of countless telegraph poles flying past the windows, audience after audience, sleeping cars, budding geniuses, the inevitable receptions with their equally inevitable chicken salad or lukewarm oysters, and the "sweet young things," who, like Heine's mythical tribe of Asra, must love or perish. Some virtuosos have the physical strength to endure all this, even enjoy it, but many have confessed to me that their American tours have been literal nightmares.
One of the greatest pianists was obliged to stay in New York for a while before attempting the voyage homeward. At the time he was so weak from the rigors of the tour that he could scarcely write his name. His haggard face suggested the tortures of a Torquamada rather than Buffalo, Kansas City, Denver and Pittsburgh. His voice was tired and faltering, and his chief interest was that of the invalid—getting home as soon as possible. To have talked with him upon music at that time would have been an injustice. Accordingly, I led him away from the subject and dwelt upon the woes of his native Poland, and, much to his surprise, left him without the educational material of which I had been in quest. He asked the reason, and I told him that a musical conference at that time could serve no purpose.
As men and women, aside from the attainments which have made them illustrious, virtuosos are for the most part very much like ordinary mortals who have to content themselves at the foot of Parnassus. It has been my privilege to know thirty or more of the most eminent artists, and some have become good personal friends. It is interesting to observe how several very different types of individuals may succeed in winning public favor as virtuosos. Indeed, except for the long-haired caricature which the public accepts as the conventional virtuoso there is no "virtuoso type." Here is a business man, here an artist, here an engineer, here a jurist, here an actor, here a poet and here a freak, all of them distinguished performers. Perhaps the enthusiastic music-lover will resent the idea of a freak becoming famous as a pianist, but I have known no less than three men who could not possibly be otherwise described, but who have nevertheless made both fame and fortune as virtuosos.
The anthropologist who chooses to conduct special investigations of freaks can find no more entertaining field than that of the remarkable freaks of the brain, shown in the cases of some astonishing performers whose intelligence and mental capacity in other ways has been negligible. The classic case of Blind Tom, for instance, was that of a freak not so very far removed in kind from the Siamese Twins, or General Tom Thumb. Born a slave in Georgia, and wholly without what teachers would term a musical education, Blind Tom amazed many of the most conservative musicians of his time. It was possible for him to repeat difficult compositions after hearing them played only once. I conversed with him a number of years ago in New York, only to find that intellectually and physically he was allied to the cretin.
Blind Tom's peculiar ability has led many hasty commentators to conclude that music is a wholly separate mental faculty to be found particularly in a more or less shiftless and irresponsible class of gifted but intellectually limited human beings. The few cases of men and women whose musical talent seems to eclipse their minds so that they remain in utter darkness to everything else in life, should not be taken as a basis for judging other artists of real genius and undisputed mental breadth. I have in mind, however, the case of one pianist who is very widely known and highly lauded, but who is very slightly removed from the class of Blind Tom. A trained alienist, one acquainted with the difference between the eccentricities which frequently accompany greatness and the unconscious physical and psychical evidences of idiocy which so clearly agree with the antics of the chimpanzee or the droll Capuchin monkeys, might find in the performer to whom I refer a subject for some very interesting, not to say startling reflections. Few have ever been successful in inducing this pianist to talk upon any other subject than music for more than a few minutes at a time. Another pianist, who was distinguished as a Liszt pupil, and who toured America repeatedly, seemed to have a hatred for the piano that amounted to an obsession. "Look," he exclaimed, "I am its slave. It has sent me round and round the world, night after night, year after year. It has cursed me like a wandering Jew. No rest, no home, no liberty. Do you wonder that I drink to forget it?"
A Pathetic Example
And drink he did in Bacchanalian measure! One time he gave an unconscious exhibition of his technical ability that, while regrettable, would have been of immense interest to psychologists who are seeking to prove that music depends upon a separate operation of a special "faculty." During his American tours I called frequently upon this virtuoso for the purpose of investigating his method of playing. He was rarely free from the influence of alcohol for more than a few hours at a time. One morning it was necessary for me to see him professionally, and when I found him at his hotel he was in a truly disgraceful condition. I remember that he was unable to stand, from the fact that he fell upon me while I was sitting in a Morris chair. He was barely able to talk, and just prior to my leaving he insisted upon scrawling upon his visiting card, "Zur freundlichen Errinerung, auf einen sehr späten Abend." (Friendly remembrances of a very late evening.) Since it was still very early in the morning, it may be realized that he had lost all idea of his whereabouts. Nevertheless, he sat at the piano keyboard and played tremendously difficult compositions by Liszt and Brahms—compositions which compelled his hands to leap from one part of the keyboard to the other as in the case of the Liszt Campanella. He never missed a note until he lost his balance upon the piano stool and fell to the floor. Disgusting and pathetic as the exhibition was, I could not help feeling that I was witnessing a marvelous instance of automatism, that wonderful power of the mind working through the body to reproduce, apparently without effort or thought, operations which have been repeated so many times that they have become "second nature." More than this, it indicated clearly that while the better part of the man's body was "dead to the world," the faculty he had cultivated to the highest extent still remained alive. Some years later this man succumbed to alcoholism.
The Pianist of To-Day
Contrasted with a type of this kind may be mentioned such men as Sauer, Rachmaninov, d'Albert, Paderewski, Godowsky, Bachaus, Rosenthal, Pauer, Joseffy, Stojowski, Scharwenka, Gabrilowitsch, Hofmann, Bauer, Lhevinne, to say nothing of the ladies, Bloomfield-Zeisler, Carreño, Goodson, et al., many of whom are intellectual giants. Most all are exceedingly regular in their habits, and at least two are strong temperance advocates. Intellectually, pianists of this class represent a very remarkable kind of mentality. One is impressed with the surprising quickness with which their brains operate even in ordinary conversation. Speaking in alien languages, they find comparatively little difficulty in expressing themselves with rapidity and fluency. Very few great singers ever acquire a similar ease. These pianists are wonderfully well read, many being acquainted with the literature of three or more tongues in the original. Indeed, it is not unusual to find them skipping through several languages during ordinary conversation without realizing that they are performing linguistic feats that would put the average college graduate to shame. They are familiar with art, science, politics, manufactures, even in their most recent developments. "What is your favorite type of aëroplane?" asked one some years ago in the kindergarten days of cloud navigation. I told him that I had made no choice, since I had never seen a flying machine, despite the fact that I was a native of the country that gave it birth. He then vouchsafed his opinions and entered into a physical and mechanical discussion of the matter, indicating that he had spent hours in getting the whole subject straightened out in his mind. This same man, a German, knew whole cantos of the Inferno by heart, and could repeat long scenes from King Lear with a very creditable English accent.
The average American "tired business man" who is inclined to look upon the touring virtuoso as "only a pianist" would be immensely surprised if he were called upon to compare his store of "universal" information with that of the performer. He would soon see that his long close confinement behind the bars of the dollar sign had made him the intellectual inferior of the musician he almost ignores. But it is hardly fair to compare these famous interpreters with the average "tired business man." They are the Cecil Rhodes, the Thomas Edisons, the Maurice Maeterlincks of their fields. It is easy enough to find musicians of smaller life opportunities basking in their ignorance and conceit.
While the virtuoso may be described as intellectual in the broader sense of the term, he usually has a great fear of becoming academic. He aspires to be artistic rather than scholarly. He strives to elevate rather than to teach—in the strictly pedagogical sense. Some of the greatest performers have been notoriously weak as teachers. They do not seek the walls of the college, neither do they long for the cheap Bohemianism that so many of the French feuilletonists delight in describing. (Why should the immorality of the artist's life be laid at the doors of fair Bohemia?) The artist's life is wrapped up in making his readings of master works more significant, more eloquent, more beautiful. He is interested in everything that contributes to his artistry, whether it be literature, science, history, art or the technic of his own interpretative development. He penetrates the various mystic problems which surround piano playing by the infallible process of persistent study and reflection. The psychical phase of his work interests him immensely, particularly the phenomena of personal attraction—often called magnetism.
The Magic of Magnetism
Magnetism is surely one of the most enviable possessions of the successful pianist. Just what magnetism is and how it comes to be, few psychologists attempt to relate. We all have our theories, just why one pianist who often blunders as readily as a Rubinstein, or who displays his many shortcomings at every concert can invariably draw larger audiences and arouse more applause than his confrère with weaker vital forces, although he be admittedly a better technician, a more highly educated gentleman and perhaps a more sensitive musician.
Charles Frohman, keenest of theatrical producers, attributed the actor's success to "vitality," and in doing this he merely chose one of the weaker synonyms of magnetism. Vitality in this sense does not imply great bodily strength. It is rather soul-strength, mind-strength, life-strength. Professor John D. Quackenbos, A.M., M.D., formerly of Columbia University, essays the following definition of magnetism in his excellent Hypnotic Therapeutics:
"Magnetism is nothing more than earnestness and sincerity, coupled with insight, sympathy, patience and tact. These essentials cannot be bought and cannot be taught. They are 'born by nature,' they are dyed with 'the red ripe of the heart.'"
Excerpted from Great Pianists on Piano Playing by James Francis Cooke. Copyright © 1999 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 3, 2001
This book is for the highly motivated beginner that wants sound advice, and a college professor that loves to still learn from the forevers.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.