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Schumann On Music
A Selection from the Writings
By Robert Schumann, Henry Pleasants
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1965 Henry Pleasants
All rights reserved.
J. N. HUMMEL
Études, Opus 125
GAIETY, REPOSE AND GRACE, the characteristics of the art of the ancients, are also characteristic of the school of Mozart. As the Greek pictured his thundering Jupiter with a smiling countenance, so Mozart withheld his bolts of lightning.
A real master nurtures no pupils, only other masters. It is ever with a sense of awe that I have approached the works of Mozart, whose influence was so great and so extensive. Should this clear way of thinking and poetizing give way to something more formless and mystical, as suggested by the forces whose shadows now encroach upon all the arts, let us not forget the beautiful epoch which Mozart dominated and which Beethoven then shook until it shuddered in every joint, conceivably not entirely without his Prince Wolfgang's sanction. The throne was subsequently occupied by Carl Maria von Weber and a couple of foreigners. Since their withdrawal from the scene, people everywhere have grown more and more confused, and toss now in an uneasy, classic-romantic semi-sleep.
Time was when artists who seemed to have reached their peak were advised to continue anonymously, since what might be regarded as progress in a younger, unknown artist could be counted against the established and the famous as a sign of failing creative power. If this were also to mean that music long regarded as significant because of its association with a famous name were no longer to be a stimulus to associative error, then the critic would be guilty either of guessing or presumption if he claimed to have identified a culminating peak. How, after Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, for instance, could the critic have anticipated an Eighth or Ninth? The artist, on the other hand, even while continuing to strive onward and upward, would always regard the last, just completed work as this culminating point.
It would be untruthful to rank the work under discussion as equal in beauty to those from Opus 60 to Opus 80, where all the creative forces governed harmoniously. It is still the same stream, to be sure, still majestic and imposing, but already broadening out to be received by the sea, the mountains receding, and the banks no longer restraining the current within a flowering channel. But all honour to it in its course, and let us remember how once it took the world about it to its bosom and faithfully reflected it!
With music developing so rapidly, a phenomenon unexampled in other arts, it must be inevitable that even the best works seldom remain a subject of conversation for longer than a decade. That many of the younger talents forget so quickly and so ungratefully that they are building on foundations laid by others is merely an example of the intolerance of youth, characteristic of the young in every epoch.
As young as I am, I prefer to have nothing on my conscience or in common with a certain Florestan, so-called, if also greatly beloved. Ah, Florestan! If you were a great king and lost a battle, and your subjects ripped the purple from your shoulders, would you not cry out to them in anger: 'Ungrateful wretches!'?
O! dear Eusebius, you make me laugh! And if everyone were to set his clock back, the sun will still rise as usual.
As much as I admire your way of allotting everything its proper place, I find you a romanticist at heart—although not without a certain reverence for names, which time will cure.
Really, old man, if some had their way, we would soon be back in the good old days when you had your ears boxed for putting your thumb on a black key.
For the time being, however, I shall not go into the misguidedness of some of your enthusiasms. Let's concentrate on the work itself.
Methods and pedantry may bring rapid progress, but it is one-sided and trivial. O! What sinners you teachers are! With your Logier contrivances you force the buds to premature blossom, or, like falconers, you pluck your pupils' feathers so that they may not fly too high. Guides you should be, showing the way, but not for ever tagging along.
Even with Hummel's School of Piano I began to have my doubts about whether he, fine virtuoso that he was in his time, was also the best pedagogue for those who came after him. Along with much that was useful went much that was aimless and mere padding; along with good advice went much that was simply stultifying. That the musical examples he chose were all by Hummel I readily forgave. One knows one's own things best, and can choose more readily and more appropriately. What I failed to realize was that Hummel had simply not kept up with the times. Maturity—and these études—have taught me better.
Études, Davidsbündler, are studies, i.e. they should help one learn to do what one has not been able to do before.
The estimable Bach, who knew a million times more than we imagine, was the first to write for pupils, but he began so prodigiously that not until many years later was he recognized as the founder of a rigorous but thoroughly sound school, and then only by a few who had, in the meantime, made progress on their own.
His son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, inherited lovely talents. He refined and sharpened, adding melody and song to the predominant harmony and figuration, but never approached his father as a creative musician. As Mendelssohn once said, 'It was as if a dwarf were to appear among giants.'
Clementi and Cramer followed. Because of his contrapuntal, often cold music, the former found little sympathy among the young. Cramer was preferred because of the bright clarity of his études. There were others to whom one granted certain, more specialized virtues, but only Cramer was held to provide an allround schooling for head and hand.
But then it appeared desirable to provide something for the heart, too. It was recognized that the empty monotony of these études often did damage. It was also recognized, thank God, that one did not have to learn them, goose-like, one after another in order to chalk up progress. The excellent Moscheles composed interesting, illustrative pieces, which also engaged the imagination. And then came Hummel.
Eusebius, I tell you frankly that these études came along a few years too late. When you have plenty of ripe fruit, do you offer the pleading child bitter roots? Guide the child straight to the rich world of Hummel's earlier compositions, and let him partake of the spirit and fantasy that play there in a thousand inviting colours.
Who would deny that most of these études are conceived by a master's hand, that they are perfect in their fashion, that each enjoys a certain distinctive physiognomy, and that, finally, they all derive from that sovereign assurance that only long years of experience can give? Lacking is beauty in the work itself, which we hope might so enchant the young that they would forgive its difficulties—in other words, the stimulus of imagination.
Believe me, Eusebius, if theory—to use your own metaphor—is the accurate but at the same time lifeless mirror which dumbly reflects the truth but which, without the animate object, remains inanimate, then imagination is the blindfolded fortune-teller, from whom nothing is withheld, and who is often most delightful in her errors.—But what do you say to all this, Master?
My young friends, you are both wrong. A famous name has made the one a captive, the other a rebel. How does it go in Goethe's Westöstlicher Divan—
Als wenn das auf Namen ruhte,
Was sich schweigend nur entfaltet—
Lieb' ich doch das schöne Gute
Wie es sich aus Gott gestaltet
(As if twere on a name it stood,
All that which silently unfolds—
I'll take the beautiful and good
As God creates and God beholds.)
NEW YEAR'S EDITORIAL
OUR ADDRESS from the editor's throne shall be brief. It is an old journalistic custom to greet the New Year with fine promises, although not even the journalist can exert any firm control over what the year may bring. Whether we have fulfilled promises already given, or lived up to expectations—which, according to our far-reaching plans, were considerable—is not for us to judge. An acknowledgment of the youth of the venture may also imply such censure as may be warranted. Such body and spirit as heaven may grant shall remain essentially the same. A word of explanation, however, about the continuation of the critical section of these pages is in order.
An age dominated by the custom of exchanging compliments is nearing its end. We confess that there was no desire on our part to contribute to its resuscitation. Whoever will not dare to attack what is bad in a thing can only half defend what is good.—You artists, and particularly you composers, have no idea how happy we have been when we could greet your work with truly unmeasured praise. We know only too well the language appropriate to the discussion of our art; it is the language of benevolence. But with the best will in the world the encouragement or the restraint of the talented as well as the untalented cannot always proceed—benevolently.
In the short period of our activity we have learned a lot. Our basic policy was set forth at the outset. It is simple: to be remindful of older times and their works and to emphasize that only from such a pure source can new artistic beauties be fostered; at the same time to oppose the trends of the more recent past, proceeding from mere virtuosity, and, finally, to prepare the way for, and to hasten, the acceptance of a new poetic era.
Some of our readers understood us immediately and recognized that our judgments were governed by non--partisanship and, above all, by sympathetic enthusiasm. Others gave no thought to the matter, and cheerfully awaited the beginning of the end of the old refrain. It is otherwise sheerly inexplicable that we should have been expected to review things which are beneath criticism. Still others called our procedure 'inconsiderate' and 'inflexible'.
To the latter we prefer to attribute, not base motives, but rather the noblest. Recognizing, for instance, that our artistic contemporaries are not, as a rule, rich in worldly goods, they may, perhaps, feel that one should not spoil the often hard-won fruits of their toil by exposing a glum future. It is painful, they may argue, to be told, after travelling a long distance, that one has chosen the wrong path; for we know perfectly well that the musical artist or, for that matter, any other artist, cannot pursue another, probably more stable, profession or craft without damage to his art.
But we fail to see what it is that we musicians have over other arts and sciences where various parties are openly opposed, and openly carry on their disputes and feuds. Nor do we see how it is compatible with the honour of our art and the truth of criticism to contemplate with equanimity the three arch-enemies of ours and every other art: the untalented, the too versatile and the talented scribblers. This is not to say that we have anything against certain transient celebrities. They have their legitimacy, filling perfectly the role assigned to them by the mighty dictates of fashion. They are, moreover, and we acknowledge it sadly, the sources of the capital with which the publishers—who are also essential—cover the losses incurred in the issuance of the classics. But three-quarters of all the rest is spurious stuff and unworthy of publication. The public is up to its ears in printed music, confused and confounded. Publishers, printers, engravers, players and listeners spend their time vainly. Art must be more than a game or a mere pastime.
Such were our views when this journal was founded. They have doubtless become apparent from time to time. If we have not previously enunciated them so definitively it was because we hoped that the accomplishments of certain noble young spirits whose sponsorship we regarded as a duty, and the intentional disregard of the run-of-the-mill conglomeration, would provide the quickest means of discouraging mediocrity. We confess that we landed on the horns of a dilemma. Many a reader will have noted and complained that the space we allot to criticism bears no proportionate relationship to the number of works being published. He has not been given an opportunity to form an idea of all publications, good and bad. It was the three arch-enemies enumerated above that made it difficult. In order to give the reader a point of view from which he could take in the totality of the scene, we had to devise a procedure which would meet the requirement without impinging upon the consideration due the essential and the important.
Now the productions of the three arch-enemies are, in fact, so similar —the first lifeless, the second trivial and the third routine—that with the characterization of a single composition one has covered the basic features of them all. And so, in consultation with artists who have both the elevation of the art and the well-being of the artist at heart, we shall review those compositions that fall into any one of the three categories with one of three stereotyped reviews, adding nothing but the titles of the compositions—not, mind you, on the basis of a one-sided opinion, but only according to the considered opinion of many. That we hope this feature to be as brief as possible must be as obvious to the reader as our wish to discuss, in shorter or longer essays, everything that is distinguished even by just one small felicitous turn.
Thus, let this confession begin the New Year. One often hears, 'the new year, an old year'. Let us hope: 'A better year!'
FLORESTAN'S SHROVETIDE ORATION
(Delivered after a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony)
FLORESTAN LEAPED UP on the piano and said:
Assembled Davidsbündler, that is, youths and men dedicated to the destruction of Philistines, musical and otherwise, the bigger the better!
You know, men, that I am not one to rave about things. Truly, I know the symphony better than I know myself. Let us waste no words upon it. Least of all having just heard the real thing.
Nor was I the least bit annoyed, as little as I heard. Mostly I was laughing at Eusebius, and the way the rascal went after that fat man who asked him during the Adagio:
'Tell me, sir, didn't Beethoven also write a "Battle" Symphony?'
'I think you mean the "Pastoral", don't you?' suggested Eusebius, indifferently.
'Ah, yes, of course,' said the fat one, and resumed his meditations.
I suppose man deserves his nose; why else would God have given him one? These audiences endure a lot, about which I could tell you the most marvellous stories. For instance, that time, Kniff, when you were turning pages for me in a Field nocturne. Half the audience was already indulging in self-examination, i.e. they slept. I was playing one of the most dilapidated old pianos that ever imposed itself upon an audience. Unfortunately, my foot slipped, and I caught the Janissary stop instead of the sustaining pedal. It was soft enough, fortunately, so that I could turn an accident to profit and, by repeating it from time to time, give the impression of military music heard in the distance. Eusebius, of course, did his best to disseminate the truth, but the audience was ecstatic.
Excerpted from Schumann On Music by Robert Schumann, Henry Pleasants. Copyright © 1965 Henry Pleasants. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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