Piano and Song



I once more introduce my readers to the scenes of my active, musical life, with an invitation to accompany me to a musical tea-party. My object is, in a short and entertaining manner, to remove very common prejudices; to correct mistaken ideas; to reprove the followers of mere routine; to oppose to malicious cavilling the sound opinions of an experienced teacher; to scourge dogmatic narrow-mindedness; and in this way to advance my method of instruction.


John Spriggins (jovial and narrow-minded, a member of an ancient musical family).
Mrs. Spriggins (irritable, envious, and malicious).
Lizzie, their daughter, 13, years old (lively and pert).
Shepard, her piano-teacher (very laborious).
Dominie, a piano-master (very stern).
Emma, his daughter, a pianist (silent and musical).

Mrs. Spriggins (to Dominie). So this is your daughter who is to give a concert to-morrow? She [73]is said to have less talent than your eldest daughter. With her, they say, nothing requires any labor.

Dominie. You must ask my eldest daughter herself about that. I have hitherto held the opinion that both of them played correctly, musically, and perhaps finely, and yet both differently: that is the triumph of a musical education. But this cheap comparative criticism is already too thoroughly worn out. Pray what else have you on your mind?

Mrs. S. Have you not yet sent your younger daughter to school? They say your eldest could neither read nor write at fourteen years of age.

Dominie. My daughters always have a private teacher in the house, in connection with whom I instruct them in music, in order that their literary education shall occupy fewer hours, and that they shall have time left for exercise in the open air to invigorate the body; while other children are exhausted with nine hours a day at schools and institutes, and are obliged to pay for this with the loss of their health and the joyousness of youth.

Mrs. S. It is very well known that your daughters are obliged to play the whole day long.

Dominie. And not all night too? You probably might explain their skill in that way. I am [74]astonished that you have not heard that too, since you have picked up so many shocking stories about me and my daughters.

Mrs. S. (dismisses the subject, and asks suddenly). Now just how old is your daughter Emma?

Dominie. She is just sixteen years and seven weeks old.

Mrs. S. Does she speak French?

Dominie. Oui, elle parle Français, and in musical tones, too,—a language which is understood all over the world.

Mrs. S. But she is so silent! Does she like to play?

Dominie. You have given her no opportunity to speak, she is certainly not forth-putting. For the last two years she has taken great pleasure in playing.

Mrs. S. You acknowledge, then, that formerly you had to force her to it?

Dominie. In the earlier years of her natural development, as she was a stranger to vanity and other unworthy motives, she certainly played, or rather pursued her serious studies, chiefly from obedience and habit. Does your daughter of thirteen years old always practise her exercises without being required to do so? Does she like to go [75]to school every day? Does she always sew and knit without being reminded of it?

Mrs. S. (interrupting). Oh, I see you are quite in love with your daughters! But they say you are terribly strict and cruel in the musical education of your children; and, in fact, always.

Dominie. Do you suppose I do this from affection? or do you infer it, because they have proved artists, or because they look so blooming and healthy, or because they write such fine letters, or because they have not grown crooked over embroidery, or because they are so innocent, unaffected, and modest? or—

Mrs. S. (irritably). We will drop that subject. But I must give you one piece of good advice. Do not make your daughter Emma exert herself too much, as you have done with your eldest daughter.

Dominie. If that is so, Mrs. Spriggins, it seems to have agreed with her very well.

Mrs. S. (vehemently). But she would have been better—

Dominie. If she had not played at all? That I can't tell exactly, as I said yesterday. Well, you are satisfied now with Emma's state of health?

Mrs. S. It is of no use to advise such people as you.

[76]Dominie. I have always devoted myself to my business as a teacher, and have daily taken counsel with myself about the education of my daughters, and of other pupils whom I have formed for artists; and, it must be acknowledged, I have done so with some ability.

Mrs. S. (not attending to him, but turning to Emma). But does it not make your fingers ache to play such difficult music?

Dominie. Only when her teacher raps her on the knuckles, and that I never do.

(Emma looks at the parrot which is hanging in the parlor, and strokes the great bull-dog.)

John Spriggins (entering with his daughter Lizzie). Herr Dominie, will you be so good as to hear our daughter Lizzie play, and advise us whether to continue in the same course. Music is, in fact, hereditary in our family. My wife played a little, too, in her youth, and I once played on the violin; but my teacher told me I had no talent for it, no ear, and no idea of time, and that I scraped too much.

Dominie. Very curious! He must have been mistaken!

John S. But I always was devotedly fond of music. My father and my grandfather, on our [77]estate, often used to play the organ for the organist in church, and the tenants always knew when they were playing. My father used often to tell that story at table. Ha, ha! It was very droll!

Dominie. Curious!

John S. Well, to return to my violin. I gave it up after a year, because it seemed rather scratchy to me, too.

Dominie. Curious! Probably your ear and your taste had become more cultivated.

John S. Afterwards, when I accepted an office, my wife said to me, "My dear, what a pity it is about your violin." So I had it restrung, and took a teacher. It seems as if it were only yesterday.

Dominie (casting down his eyes,—the servant brings ice). That was very curious!

John S. But the government horn-player thought he could not get on in duets with me.

Dominie. Curious! So you were obliged to play only solos? But to return to your daughter. Will you be good enough to play me something, Miss Lizzie?

Mrs. S. (condescendingly, in a low voice). She is a little timid and embarrassed at playing before your daughter Emma.

Emma. You really need not be so.

[78]Mrs. S. Bring "Les Graces" by Herz, and Rosellen's "Tremolo."

Lizzie. But, mamma, I have forgotten that piece by Herz, and I have not learned the "Tremolo" very well yet. That is always the way with me. Mr. Shepard says I may console myself: it was always the same with his other scholars. He says I shall finally make my way. But Mr. Shepard is so strict. Are you very strict, Herr Dominie?

Mrs. S. Why, my child, you have heard me say so before. Herr Dominie is the very strictest—but (playfully) he will not acknowledge it.

Dominie. There is one thing you must allow, Mrs. Spriggins,—that my pupils always take pleasure in my lessons; and that must be the case because their progress is evident and gives them delight, and every thing is developed in the most natural way.

Mrs. S. (less sharply). We won't discuss that; but how are your daughters able to play so many pieces to people, and moreover without notes, if they have not been obliged to practise all day long, and if you have not been very cruel with them, while my Lizzie cannot play a single thing without bungling?

[79]Dominie. Allow me, madam, it must be the fault of Mr. Shep—

Mrs. S. No, no! you must excuse me, but we don't permit any reflections on our Mr. Shepard: he is very particular and unwearied.

Dominie. It does not depend entirely upon that, but—

John S. Upon my honor, it is marvellous to see how talented pupils always seem to flock to you. It is easy to teach such! Ha, ha! You must not forget, however, that my grandfather played on the organ. Now, Lizzie, sit down and play something.

(She chooses a cavatina from "The Pirates," with variations. The introduction begins with e flat in unison. Lizzie strikes e in unison and the same in the bass, and exclaims: "There, mamma, didn't I tell you so? I don't remember it now." Mr. Shepard enters, steps up hastily, and puts her finger on e flat.)

Shepard. Pardon me, Herr Dominie, I will only set her going: it makes her a little confused to play before such connoisseurs; she loses her eyesight. Don't you see, Lizzie, there are three flats in the signature?

John S. Courage now! Aha! Lizzie can't [80]get at the pedal, the bull-dog is lying over it. John, take him out.

(After the removal of the bull-dog, Lizzie plays as far as the fourth bar, when she strikes c sharp instead of c, and stops.)

Mrs. S. Never mind, begin again. Herr Dominie is pleased to hear that: he has gone through it all with his own children.

(Lizzie begins again at the beginning, and goes on to the eighth bar, where she sticks fast.)

Shepard. Don't make me ashamed of you, Lizzie. Now begin once more: a week ago it went quite tolerably.

(Lizzie begins once more, and plays or rather scrambles through it, as far as the eighteenth bar; but now it is all over with her, and she gets up.)

Dominie. Skip the introduction, it is too difficult: begin at once on the theme.

John S. (to his wife). We will go away and leave the gentlemen alone. By and by, gentlemen, we will talk about it further over a cup of tea.

(Lizzie refuses to play.)

Dominie. Mr. Shepard, let Lizzie play a few scales or some chords; a few finger exercises, or some easy dance without notes.

[81]Shepard. She has nothing of that kind ready. You see I always take up one piece after another, and have each one played as well as I can; she repeats the difficult parts, I write the proper fingering over them, and am very particular that she does not use the wrong fingers. I have taken a great deal of pains, and quite worn myself out over the lessons. Lizzie does the same, and practises her pieces two hours a day; but—but—

(Lizzie goes away with Emma.)

Dominie. Mr. Shepard, with the best intentions in the world, you will never accomplish your end. Even if Miss Lizzie is only to play as an amateur, and is not intended for any thing higher, for which in fact she has not sufficient talent, you must pay some attention beforehand to the acquirement of a correct tone, and get rid of this robin-red-breast touch; and you must then endeavor, by scales and exercises of every kind, to give to her hands and fingers so much firmness, decision, and dexterity, that she can master her pieces, at least with a certain distinct tone and a tolerable touch. You are not less in error in the choice of her pieces, which are far too difficult,—a fault of most teachers, even with the most skilful pupils. The pieces which your pupils are to execute should be below their [82]mechanical powers; for, otherwise, the struggle with difficulties robs the player of all confidence in the performance, and gives rise to stumbling, bungling, and hurry. The mechanical powers should be cultivated by studies and exercises, in preference to pieces, at least to those of certain famous composers, who do not write in a manner adapted to the piano; or who, at any rate, regard the music as of more importance than the player. This may apply even to Beethoven, in the higher grade of composition; for his music is full of danger for the performer. The only course which can ever lead to a sure result, without wearying both pupil and parent, and without making piano-playing distasteful, is first to lay a foundation in mechanical power, and then to go on with the easier pieces by Hünten and Burgmüller. If you try to produce the mechanical dexterity essential for piano performance by the study of pieces, except with the most careful selection, you will waste a great deal of time and deprive the pupil of all pleasure and interest; and the young Lizzie will be much more interested in the hope of a husband than in the satisfaction of performing a piece which will give pleasure to herself and her friends. There can be no success without gradual development and culture, without [83]a plan, without consideration and reflection,—in fact, without a proper method. How can there be any good result, if the pupil has to try at the same time to play with a correct touch, with the proper fingering, in time, with proper phrasing, to move the fingers rightly, to gain familiarity with the notes, and to avoid the confusion between the treble and the bass notes,—and in fact has to struggle with every thing at once? And what vexations! what loss of time without success!

(Shepard listened with attention, and a light seemed to dawn upon him.)

(Dominie and Shepard go in to tea.)

Mrs. S. Well, gentlemen, have you come to any conclusion? Is not Lizzie a good pupil? She is obliged to practise two hours every day, however tired she may be. Do you think we should continue in the same course, Herr Dominie?

Shepard. Herr Dominie has called my attention to some points which will be of use to me.

Dominie. Only a few trifles.

John S. After tea will not Miss Emma play to us?

Emma. The piano is very much out of tune, some of the keys stick, the action is too light, and [84]the instrument generally is not calculated for the successful execution of any thing.

John S. I beg your pardon: it was considered by everybody a very fine instrument when we bought it, sixteen years ago. We had a great bargain in it at the time, for we purchased it of a neighbor who had improved it very much by use. Mr. Shepard will confirm what I say, Miss.

(Emma bows her head thoughtfully, and looks at Shepard suspiciously.)

John S. My violin has very much improved during the last twenty years. On my honor, if Lizzie were a boy, she should learn to play on the violin, to keep it in the family. Ha, ha, ha!

Dominie. That would be curious!

(Dominie wishes to take leave with his daughter.)

Mrs. S. (condescendingly). I hope you will come to see us again soon. The next time Lizzie will play you Rosellen's "Tremolo;" and Miss Emma must play us a piece too.

Dominie. You are extremely kind! (Takes leave.)


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