Herr Zach, formerly a flute-player, not very wealthy.
His Wife, of the family of Tz. (rather sharp-tempered).
Stock, her son, 17 years old (is studying the piano thoroughly).
Mr. Buffalo, music-master of the family.
Dominie, piano-teacher (rather gruff).
Cecilia, his daughter, 13 years old (shy).
Zach (to Dominie). I regret that I was unable to attend the concert yesterday. I was formerly musical myself and played on the flute. Your daughter, I believe, plays pretty well.
Dominie. Well, yes! perhaps something more than pretty well. We are in earnest about music.
Madame, of the Tz. family (envious because Cecilia received applause for her public performance yesterday, and because Mr. Buffalo had been unable to bring out Stock,—all in one breath). When did your daughter begin to play? Just how old is she now? Does she like playing? They say you are very strict, and tie your daughters to the piano-stool. How many hours a day do you make her practise? Don't you make her exert herself too much? Has she talent? Isn't she sickly?
Dominie. Don't you think she looks in good health, madam,—tall and strong for her years?
Madame, of the Tz. family. But perhaps she might look more cheerful, if she was not obliged to play on the piano so much.
Dominie (bowing). I can't exactly say.
Zach (suddenly interrupting, and holding Dominie by the button-hole). They say you torment and ill-treat your daughters dreadfully; that the eldest was obliged to practise day and night. Well, you shall hear my Stock play this evening, who, some time, by the grace of God, is to take the place of Thalberg in the world. Now give me your opinion freely (of course, I was only to praise): we should like very much to hear what you think about his playing, though perhaps Mr. Buffalo may not agree with you.
(Mr. Buffalo is looking through the music-case and picking out all the Etudes, by listening to which Dominie is to earn his supper.)
Dominie (resigned and foreseeing that he shall be bored). I have heard a great deal of the industry of your son, Stock. What are you studying now, Mr. Stock?
Stock (in proud self-consciousness, rather Sophomoric). I play six hours a day, two hours scales with both hands together, and four hours Etudes. I have already gone through the first book of Clementi and four books of Cramer. Now I am in the Gradus ad Parnassum: I have already studied the right fingering for it.
Dominie. Indeed, you are very much in earnest: that speaks well for you, and for Mr. Buffalo. But what pieces are you studying with the Etudes? Hummel, Mendelssohn, Chopin, or Schumann?
Stock (contemptuously). Mr. Buffalo can't bear Chopin and Schumann. Mr. Buffalo lately played through Schumann's "Kinderscenen," that people are making such a talk about. My mamma, who is also musical, and used to sing when papa played the flute, said, "What ridiculous little things are those? Are they waltzes for children? and then the babyish names for them! He may play such stuff to his wife, but not to us."
Dominie. Well, these "Kinderscenen" are curious little bits for grown-up men's hands. Your mother is right, they are too short: there certainly ought to be more of them. But they are not waltzes!
Stock. Indeed, I am not allowed to play waltzes at all. My teacher is very thorough: first, I shall have to dig through all the Gradus ad Parnassum; and then he is going to undertake a concerto of Beethoven's with me, and will write the proper fingering over it. I shall play that in public; and then, as he and my aunt say, "I shall be the death of you all."
Mr. Buffalo (who has overheard him, steps up). Now, Herr Dominie, how do you like my method? Perhaps you have a different one? Nevertheless, that shan't prevent our being good friends. Certainly, if any thing is to be accomplished in these times, it is necessary to keep at work,—that is my doctrine. But Stock, here, has unusual patience and perseverance. He has worked through all Cramer's 96 Etudes in succession without grumbling. He was wretched enough over them; but his papa bought him a saddle-horse to ride round on every day, and he revived in the fresh air.
(Herr Zach with his wife and an old aunt are playing cards in the further room.)
Dominie. But do you not combine the study of musical pieces with the study of exercises, in order that the cultivation of the taste may go hand in hand with mechanical improvement?
Mr. Buffalo. My dear friend, you are too narrow-minded there,—you make a mistake: taste must come of itself, from much playing and with years. Your Cecilia played the two new waltzes, and the Nocturne of Chopin, and Beethoven's trio very nicely. But then that was all drilled into her: we could tell that well enough by hearing it,—Stock and I.
Dominie. Did it sound unnatural to you,—mannered? and did you think it wooden, dry, dull?
Mr. Buffalo. Not exactly that; but the trouble was it sounded studied. The public applauded, it is true; but they don't know any thing. Stock and I thought—
Dominie. Do you not think that the taste for a beautiful interpretation may be early awakened, without using severity with the pupil? and that to excite the feeling for music, to a certain degree, even in early years, is in fact essential? The neglect of this very thing is the reason that we are obliged to listen to so many players, who really have mechanically practised themselves to death, and have reduced musical art to mere machinery,—to an idle trick of the fingers.
Mr. Buffalo. That's all nonsense. I say teach them the scales, to run up and down the gamut! Gradus ad Parnassum's the thing! Classical, classical! Yesterday you made your daughter play that Trill-Etude by Carl Meyer. Altogether too fine-sounding! It tickles the ear, to be sure, especially when it is played in such a studied manner. We stick to Clementi and Cramer, and to Hummel's piano-school,—the good old school. You have made a great mistake with your eldest daughter.
Dominie. The world does not seem to agree with you.
Madame, of the Tz. family (has listened and lost a trick by it, steps up quickly, and says maliciously). You must agree that she would have played better, if you had left her for ten years with Cramer and Clementi. We don't like this tendency to Schumann and Chopin. But what folly to talk! One must be careful what one says to the father of such a child! It is quite a different thing with us. Mr. Buffalo is bound to our Stock by no bond of affection. He follows out his aim without any hesitation or vanity, and looks neither to the right nor to the left, but straightforward.
Dominie. I beg your pardon, madam: you may be right,—from your point of view. We must be a little indulgent with sensitive people. But will not your son play to us?
(Stock plays two Etudes of Clementi, three of Cramer, and four from the Gradus, but did not even grow warm over them. The horse his father gave him has made him quite strong.)
I may be asked, "But how did Stock play?" How? I do not wish to write a treatise: my plan is only to give hints and suggestions. I am not writing in the interest of Stock, Buffalo, & Co.
After the playing, we went to supper: the oysters were good, but the wine left a little sharp taste. My timid daughter did not like oysters; but she ate a little salad, and at table listened instead of talking.
A few innocent anecdotes were related at table about horses and balls and dogs and Stock's future. On taking leave, Madame said condescendingly to Cecilia, "If you keep on, my dear, one of these days you will play very nicely."