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Piano and Song

CHAPTER X.

VISIT AT MRS. N.'S.

Mrs. N.
Her daughter Fatima, eighteen years old.
An Aunt.
Dominie.
Towards the end of the evening, the piano-teacher, Mr. Feeble.

Dominie (rather anxiously to Fatima). Will you do me the favor, Miss, to play something on the piano? Your aunt has told me a great deal about your playing.

Fatima (smiling graciously). But, really, the piano is out of tune,—so my teacher says.

Dominie. But does not your teacher attend to having your piano always kept in tune?

Fatima. Mamma says it is too expensive to have it tuned so often; it gets out of tune again so quickly. It is an old, small-legged piano, as you see: mamma is always saying, when I am older I shall have a Chickering. The tuner comes regularly once in three months; the time is not yet up.

Dominie. But is your teacher satisfied with the tuning of your piano?

[122]Fatima. Well, he has got used to it. It is the same with the other instruments he teaches on.

Mrs. N. Now, pet, play us something. Mr. Dominie likes music; he is a judge of it; his daughters play too.

Fatima. But what shall I play, mamma?

Mrs. N. You have got heaps of notes there. Mr. Dominie, pray select something.

Dominie. But I don't know which pieces Miss Fatima can master, and which she has now at her fingers' ends.

Aunt. Pray, Mr. Dominie, choose any thing. They are all fine pieces. It makes no difference to her which she plays.

Dominie. But do you play that whole heap?

Aunt. She has played it all. She has played ever since she was ten years old, and she has a very good teacher. He taught here when my sister used to accompany her lover's solos on the flute. Oh, those were charming musical evenings! And the teacher often played the guitar with them extempore. It was just like a concert.

Dominie. Indeed! that must have been very fine. Now, Miss, I beg—

Fatima. But, mamma, just say what I shall play.

[123]Dominie. Is not your teacher here this evening? He will know best.

Aunt (whispers to Dominie). He is busy this evening, composing some grand bravoura variations, which are to be dedicated to Fatima on her eighteenth birthday, the day after to-morrow. You must come to see us on that day. Fatima will play them at sight.

Mrs. N. Fatima, don't hold back any longer. Play "The Huguenots" by Thalberg: that's a very fine piece.

Dominie. Pray do! I have not heard it since I heard Thalberg play it.

Aunt (to Dominie). Don't you make your daughters play it then? Oh, that magnificent choral! That brings tears to my eyes! But the dear child always takes it too fast: her fingers run away with her.

Mrs. N. Here it is. Please turn round so that you can see her hands, Mr. Dominie. You are such a famous teacher, perhaps you can make some suggestions. (I was expected only to admire.)

Dominie. I don't like to disturb her freedom in playing; but I will turn round, if you say so.

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(Fatima scurries through the piece excitedly, and plays in a bold way,—not, however, without ability, but with a feeble touch, without proper fingering, without tone, without time; and gets over the first two pages, with her foot always on the pedal, in such a senseless, indistinct manner that Dominie, in despair, was forced to interrupt with the remark, "But you might take the tempo a little more quietly.")

(Fatima leans back amazed, and stops playing, looking at her mother with a contemptuous expression.)

Aunt. It is owing to her great execution, and then, too, her youthful enthusiasm. Don't you like her natural expression?

Fatima. My teacher always makes me play it so. It is in that way that I have learned to play so much at sight.

Dominie. But don't you study your pieces?

Fatima. For the last four years I have played only at sight, so that now I can get on anywhere in the musical clubs. That is what mamma likes.

Dominie. But do you not play any scales and études? do you not practise any exercises?

Aunt. She has not done those things for the last four years. My sister thinks it is rather a [125]hindrance, and is too pedantic. Her teacher thinks so too, and he teaches her the fine concert pieces of Döhler, Liszt, Dreyschock, Willmer, and Thalberg. She learns execution by these. She has gone through all Thalberg's music; and we have sent to Leipzig for Willmer's "Pompa di Festa."

Dominie. All this shows great enthusiasm, but really a little too much hot haste.

(Dominie wishes to continue the conversation, in order to escape the unpleasant necessity of "turning round to the piano.")

Mrs. N. (interrupts). My child, just begin again at the beginning, and let us enjoy the whole of "The Huguenots." Mr. Dominie likes it.

(Fatima consents, and hurries through the whole Potpourri with a confident, conceited air, to the great despair of Dominie. At the choral, the aunt taps him on the shoulder, and whispers.)

Aunt. Is not that touching? It is a little too fast, you will agree; but then the execution! Has not the girl a great deal of talent? Just hear!


But what did Dominie say after the performance was over? He only bowed stiffly, and what he said to himself will always remain a secret. He only felt.

[126]They go in to supper. All who submitted to hearing the daughter perform on the badly tuned piano, which was at least a tone and a half too low, were invited to supper and handsomely treated. The wine was better than the piano. Presently the teacher, Mr. Feeble, having finished his birthday bravoura composition, appeared and was introduced. Fatima whispered to him, giggling, "I played the whole of 'The Huguenots;' it went splendidly." Mr. Feeble simpered. Dominie and he talked together, unheard, at the end of the table.


Dominie. The young lady has talent, Mr. Feeble.

Mr. Feeble. Indeed she has!

Dominie. How is it, Mr. Feeble, that she does not combine serious studies with her playing?

Mr. Feeble. Oh! I used to make her play exercises by A.E. Mueller, and some Etudes of Czerny's, and sometimes a few scales. But the child was so volatile, and had so little perseverance, and was so quick at learning every thing! And then her mother wanted her to play modern pieces for parties, and we had to busy ourselves with those. But our method has borne good fruit, as you can see. Is not it so?

[127]Dominie. Do you not think, with firmness and decision, you could have set Mrs. N. on the right track? Could not you cultivate the mechanical powers of your pupil, and combine an understanding of the musical construction of the piece, with her "playing at sight"? The young lady, not to speak of other faults, has no tone on the piano.

Mr. Feeble. She can use the pedal for that, and, when she is older, she will acquire more strength; her touch is a little too weak at present. And, besides, she is not to play in public for money, but only in company, and because it is the fashion. Indeed, my dear sir, if I insisted on scales and exercises, I should have very few lessons in this city. I have a wife and children to support, and my old father, the former organist, is dependent upon me. You can do all this with your own children; but think how much time it requires to study the music!

(The company bid each other "good-night.")

Fatima (flippantly to Dominie). I believe your daughter Emma is a very good player; but they say she has not so much talent as your eldest daughter.

Dominie. Indeed! who told you that?


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