Touching Musical Performances

By Friedrich Kerst

58. “Herr Stein sees and hears that I am more of a player than Beecke,--that without making grimaces of any kind I play so expressively that, according to his own confession, no one shows off his pianoforte as well as I. That I always remain strictly in time surprises every one; they can not understand that the left hand should not in the least be concerned in a tempo rubato. When they play the left hand always follows.”

(Augsburg, October 23, 1777, to his father. [We have here a suggestion of the tempo rubato as played by Chopin according to the testimony of Mikuli, who said that no matter how free Chopin was either in melody or arabesque with his right hand, the left always adhered strictly to the time. Mozart learned the principle from his father who in his method for the violin condemned the accompanists who spoiled the tempo rubato of an artist by waiting to follow him. H.E.K.])

59. “Whoever can see and hear her (the daughter of Stein) play without laughing must be a stone (Stein) like her father. She sits opposite the treble instead of in the middle of the instrument, so that there may be greater opportunities for swaying about and making grimaces. Then she rolls up her eyes and smirks. If a passage occurs twice it is played slower the second time; if three times, still slower. When a passage comes up goes the arm, and if there is to be an emphasis it must come from the arm, heavily and clumsily, not from the fingers. But the best of all is that when there comes a passage (which ought to flow like oil) in which there necessarily occurs a change of fingers, there is no need of taking care; when the time comes you stop, lift the hand and nonchalantly begin again. This helps one the better to catch a false note, and the effect is frequently curious.”

(Augsburg, October 23, 1777. The letter is to his father and the young woman whose playing is criticized is the little miss of eight years, Nanette Stein.)

60. “When I told Herr Stein that I would like to play on his organ and that I was passionately fond of the instrument, he marveled greatly and said: ‘What, a man like you, so great a clavier player, want to play on an instrument which has no douceur, no expression, neither piano nor forte, but goes on always the same?’ ‘But all that signifies nothing; to me the organ is nevertheless the king of instruments.’ “

(Augsburg, October 17, 1777, to his father.)

61. “I had the pleasure to hear Herr Franzl (whose wife is a sister of Madame Cannabich) play a concerto on the violin. He pleases me greatly. You know that I am no great lover of difficulties. He plays difficult things, but one does not recognize that they are difficult, but imagines that one could do the same thing at once; that is true art. He also has a beautiful, round tone,--not a note is missing, one hears everything; everything is well marked. He has a fine staccato bow, up as well as down; and I have never heard so good a double shake as his. In a word, though he is no wizard he is a solid violinist.”

 (Mannheim, November 22, 1777, to his father.)

62. “Wherein consists the art of playing prima vista? In this: To play in the proper tempo; give expression to every note, appoggiatura, etc., tastefully and as they are written, so as to create the impression that the player had composed the piece.”

 (Mannheim, January 17, 1778, to his father. Mozart had just been sharply criticizing the playing of Abbe Vogler. [See No. 66.])

63. “I am at Herr von Aurnhammer’s after dinner nearly every day.

The young woman is a fright, but she plays ravishingly, though she lacks the true singing style in the cantabile; she is too jerky.”

(Vienna, June 27, 1781, to his father. Beethoven found the same fault with Mozart’s playing that Mozart here condemns.)

64. “Herr Richter plays much and well so far as execution is concerned, but—as you will hear—crudely, laboriously and without taste or feeling; he is one of the best fellows in the world, and without a particle of vanity. Whenever I played for him he looked immovably at my fingers, and one day he said ‘My God! how I am obliged to torment myself and sweat, and yet without obtaining applause; and for you, my friend, it is mere play!’ ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘I had to labor once in order not to show labor now.’ “

 (Vienna, April 28, 1784, to his father in Salzburg, whither the pianist Richter, whom he recommends to his father, is going on a concert trip.)

65. “Meissner, as you know, has the bad habit of purposely making his voice tremble, marking thus entire quarter and eighth notes;

I never could endure it in him. It is indeed despicable and contrary to all naturalness in song. True the human voice trembles of itself, but only in a degree that remains beautiful; it is in the nature of the voice. We imitate it not only on wind instruments but also on the viols and even on the clavier. But as soon as you overstep the limit it is no longer beautiful because it is contrary to nature.”

(Paris, June 12, 1778, to his father. [The statement that the tremolo effect could be imitated on the clavier seems to require an explanation. Mozart obviously had in view, not the pianoforte which was just coming into use in his day, but the clavichord.  This instrument was sounded by striking the strings with bits of brass placed in the farther end of the keys which were simple and direct levers. The tangents, as they were called, had to be held against the strings as long as it was desired that the tone should sound, and by gently repeating the pressure on the key a tremulousness was imparted to the tone which made the clavichord a more expressive instrument than the harpsichord or the early pianoforte. The effect was called Bebung in German, and Balancement in French. H.E.K.])

66. “Before dinner Herr Vogler dashed through my sonata prima vista. He played the first movement prestissimo, the andante allegro and the rondo prestissimo with a vengeance. As a rule, he played a different bass than the one I had written, and occasionally he changed the harmony as well as the melody. That was inevitable, for at such speed the eyes can not follow, nor the hands grasp, the music. Such playing at sight and...are all one to me. The hearers (I mean those worthy of the name) can say nothing more than they have seen music and clavier playing. You can imagine that it was all the more unendurable because I did not dare to say to him: ‘Much too quick!’ Moreover it is much easier to play rapidly than slowly; you can drop a few notes in passages without any one noticing it. But is it beautiful? At such speed you can use the hands indiscriminately; but is that beautiful?”

 (Mannheim, January 17, 1778, to his father.)

67. “They hurry the tempo, trill or pile on the adornments because they can neither study nor sustain a tone.”

 (Recorded by Rochlitz as a criticism by Mozart of Italian singers in 1789.)

68. “It is thus, they think, that they can infuse warmth and ardor into their singing. Ah, if there is no fire in the composition you will surely never get it in by hurrying it.”

 (According to Rochlitz Mozart used these words while complaining of the manner in which his compositions were ruined by exaggerated speed in the tempi.)





Daniel McAdam's Guide to Music