Musical Pedagogics

By Friedrich Kerst


50. “Herr Stein is completely daft on the subject of his daughter. She is eight years old and learns everything by heart.  Something may come of her for she has talent, but not if she goes on as she is doing now; she will never acquire velocity because she purposely makes her hand heavy. She will never learn the most necessary, most difficult and principal thing in music, that is time, because from childhood she has designedly cultivated the habit of ignoring the beat.”

(Augsburg, October 23, 1777, to his father. Nanette Stein afterward married Andreas Streicher, who was Schiller’s companion in his flight to Franconia. As Frau Streicher she became Beethoven’s faithful friend and frequently took it upon herself to straighten out his domestic affairs.)

51. “If she does not get some thoughts and ideas (for now she has absolutely none), it will all be in vain, for God knows, I can not give her any. It is not her father’s intention to make a great composer out of her. ‘She shall,’ he says, ‘not write any operas, or arias, or symphonies, but only great sonatas for her instrument and mine!’ I gave her her fourth lesson today, and so far as the rules of composition and her exercises are concerned I am pretty well satisfied with her. She wrote a very good bass to the first minuet which I set her, and has already begun to write in three parts. It goes, but she gets bored too quickly. I can not help her; progress is impossible, she is too young even if she had talent. Unfortunately she has none; she must be taught artificially; she has no ideas, there are no results, I have tried in every sort of way. Among other things it occurred to me to write down a very simple minuet and to see if she could write a variation on it. In vain. Well, thought I, it is because she does not know how to begin. I then began a variation of the first measure and told her to continue it in the same manner; that went fairly well. When she had made an end I asked her to begin something of her own,--only the first voice, a melody. She thought a full quarter of an hour, and nothing came. Thereupon I wrote four measures of a minuet and said to her: ‘Now look what an ass I am; I have begun a minuet and can’t finish even the first part; be good enough to finish it for me.’ She thought it impossible. At length she produced a little something to my joy.  Then I made her finish the minuet, i.e. only the first voice. For her home work I have given her nothing to do except to alter my four measures and make something out of them, to invent another beginning, to keep to the harmony if she must, but to write a new melody. We shall see what comes of it tomorrow.”

(Paris, May 14, 1778, to his father. The pupil was the daughter of the Duke de Guines, an excellent flautist. “She plays the harp magnificently,” writes Mozart in the same letter; “has a great deal of talent and genius, and an incomparable memory. She knows 200 pieces and plays them all by heart.” When it came to paying Mozart for the lessons the Duke was anything but a nobleman.)

52. “The Andante is going to give us the most trouble, for it is full of expression and must be played with taste and accurately as written in the matter of forte and piano. She is very clever and learns quickly. The right hand is very good but the left utterly ruined. I can say that I often pity her when I see that she is obliged to labor till she gasps, not because she is unapt, but because she can’t help it,--she is used to playing so, nobody ever taught her differently. I said to her mother and her that if I were her regular teacher, I would lock up all her music, cover the keyboard with a handkerchief, and make her practice both hands at first slowly on nothing but passages, trills, mordents, etc., until the difficulty with the left hand was remedied; after that I am sure I could make a real clavier player out of her. It is a pity; she has so much genius, reads respectably, has a great deal of natural fluency and plays with a great deal of feeling.”

(Mannheim, November 16, 1777, to his father. The pupil was Rose Cannabich, to whom the sonata referred to is dedicated. Her father, whom Mozart admired greatly as an able conductor, was Chapelmaster of the excellently trained orchestra at Mannheim. He lived from 1731 to 1798. [The Andante from which trouble was expected was that which Mozart wrote with the purpose that it should reflect the character of Rose Cannabich, a lovely and amiable girl, according to all accounts. H.E.K.])

53. “This E is very forced. One can see that it was written only to go from one consonance to another in parallel motion,--just as bad poets write nonsense for the sake of a rhyme.”

(From the exercise book of the cousin of Abbe Stadler who took lessons in thorough-bass from Mozart in 1784. It is preserved in the Court Library in Vienna.)

54. “My good lad, you ask my advice and I will give it you candidly; had you studied composition when you were at Naples, and when your mind was not devoted to other pursuits, you would, perhaps, have done wisely; but now that your profession of the stage must, and ought to, occupy all your attention, it would be an unwise measure to enter into a dry study. You may take my word for it, Nature has made you a melodist, and you would only disturb and perplex yourself. Reflect, ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing;’—should there be errors in what you write, you will find hundreds of musicians in all parts of the world capable of correcting them, therefore do not disturb your natural gift.”

(To Michael Kelly, the Irish tenor, to whom Mozart assigned the parts of Basilio and Don Curzio at the first performance of “Le Nozze di Figaro” in 1786. Kelly had asked Mozart whether or not he should study counterpoint. [See No. 8. Three years later Kelly returned to England, began his career as composer of musical pieces for the stage. He was fairly prolific, but failed to impress the public with the originality of his creative talent.  He went into the wine business, which fact led Sheridan to make the witty suggestion that he inscribe over his shop: “Michael Kelly, Composer of Wines and Importer of Music.” He was born in 1764 and died in 1826. H.E.K.])

55. “This is generally the case with all who did not taste the rod or feel the teacher’s tongue when boys, and later think that they can compel things to their wishes by mere talent and inclination. Many succeed fairly well, but with other people’s ideas, having none of their own; others who have ideas of their own, do not know what to do with them. That is your case.”

(In a letter written in 1789 to a noble friend criticizing a symphony.)

56. “Do not wonder at me; it was not a caprice. I noticed that most of the musicians were old men. There would have been no end of dragging if I had not first driven them into the fire and made them angry. Out of pure rage they did their best.”

(Reported by Rochlitz. Mozart was rehearsing the Allegro of one of his symphonies in Leipzig. He worked up such a fit of anger that he stamped his foot and broke one of his shoe-laces. His anger fled and he broke into a merry laugh.)

57. “Right! That’s the way to shriek.”

(At a rehearsal of “Don Giovanni” the representative of Zerlina did not act realistically enough to suit Mozart. Thereupon he went unnoticed on the stage and at the repetition of the scene grabbed the singer so rudely and unexpectedly that she involuntarily uttered the shriek which the scene called for. [The singer was Teresa Bondini, the place Prague, and the time before the first performance of the opera which took place on October 29, 1787. H.E.K.])

 



 


 

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