Sunday, May 19, 2013

Recollections of Celebrated Musicians

[EDITOR’S NOTE.—Among the many noted teachers of European birth who have made America their home, Henry Schradieck, has always been prominent, despite his naturally retiring disposition.  Born in Hamburg, April 29th, 1846, the son of a violinist, his whole life has been spent in music.  In 1854 he became a pupil of Léonard at the famous Conservatory in Brussels.  At the end of four years of study under the famous master he gained the first prize.  In 1864 he became the Professor of Music at Moscow, in the Conservatory founded by Nicholas Rubinstein.  In 1868 he became Auer’s successor as the concertmeister of the Hamburg Philharmonic.  In 1874 he went to Leipsic, where he was concertmeister of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.  His next appointment was at the Cincinnati College of Music, where he remained until 1889, when he went back to teach in the Hamburg Conservatory and act as concertmeister in the Hamburg Philharmonic.  But the call of the New World was too strong and Schradieck returned to America to lead hundreds of young American violinists in their educational journey, teaching in New York, and at the South Broad Street Conservatory in Philadelphia.  Mr. Schradieck is probably best known for his widely used studies for violin.  Among Mr. Schradieck’s famous pupils are John Dunn, Maud Powell and Geraldine Morgan.]

          The child who is born with music on all sides of him every day of his life hardly knows when his first musical experiences commence.  In my case, my father was a most enthusiastic but exceptionally retiring and modest musician.  I can barely remember his rejoicing when he first discovered that I possessed the faculty of absolute pitch.  Walking along the street with him one day I heard a choral and was able to tell him the names of the notes being sung.  Then he tried me with his violin and I responded correctly.  Accordingly I was introduced to music lessons at the age of four—earlier than most children in America commence their school work.  At five I gave a little concert, and at six I was able to play some of the duets for two violins by Spohr.
          At that time Spohr had the importance of a deity in my little life.  He was one of the great violinists and composers of the day, and his coming and going was a matter of great consequence in all musical circles.  Naturally when he was announced for a concert in Hamburg my father was all excitement.  Unselfish as he was, father did not think so much of meeting Spohr himself as having me meet him.  One fine day we set out to go to Spohr’s hotel.  At the outstart my father walked very briskly with the prospect of meeting the great musician.  Gradually, his natural modesty got the better of him and as we approached the hotel I noticed that he seemed to be going slower and slower.  It must have taken a great deal of courage for him to go in at all.  Word came out that the “General Music Director” (for that was Spohr’s awe-inspiring title) was busily engaged in his room.  Father led me to the door of the room and then he bent down and looked through the keyhole for a moment.  After a time he bade me do the same with the remark, “There, my boy, is the great composer, violinist and General Music Director Spohr.”  After this he took my hand and we trudged solemnly home.  We had seen Spohr.

          One day the celebrated violin virtuoso Teresa Milanollo visited Hamburg.  At that time she was one of the great players of the day.  Now, comparatively little is heard of her, but her life was one of beautiful romance.  Together with the sister Maria, who unfortunately died at the age of sixteen, she became one of the sensations of musical Europe.  The Milanollo sisters were born in a little Italian village near Turin.  Their father was a poor carpenter, with a family of thirteen children.  He was wise enough to recognize the talent of two of his daughters, and after giving them the best instruction he could obtain in and about his own home the playing of the girls was so favorably received that the father and the daughters set out on foot to journey over the Alps to Paris.  Hungry, half-frozen and exhausted, they reached the city of light only to find that even there success did not rush forth to greet all who passed through the portals of the great city.  But the talent of the girls was so evident that they soon attracted wide attention.  The playing of Teresa was characterized by great emotional warmth, and she accordingly was known as Mademoiselle Adagio, while the playing of her sister was sparkling and bright and she accordingly was called Mademoiselle Staccato.   Teresa studied for a time with Habeneck and de Bériot.  She made a fortuitous marriage, and her later years were spent in charitable pursuits.  She used to give concerts in Lyons charging a large fee for admission.  A few days later she would give a concert at which the poor of the city were admitted without charge, and the earnings of the previous concert for the rich were handed back to the poor in the shape of needed clothing and food.  One may imagine the halo that surrounded such a personality, and when she played in my native town, my father was very anxious to meet her.  My father was a member of the orchestra, and after the concert I went on the stage.  With the curiosity of the boy, and much to my father’s dismay, I picked up the great artist’s violin and commenced to play upon it.  Mme. Milanollo was extremely kind and urged me to play more and more, and at the end took our breath way by saying that she would defray the cost of my lessons with the great Léonard at Brussels.  We went to her hotel the next day and arrangements were completed for the trip and she took me to Léonard and paid my expenses for two years.  Encouraged by her example, good friends of my father in Hamburg came to the front and paid for two additional years so that I had the wonderful good fortune to be under the great master of the violin for a sufficient time to establish correct principles and mould my career for the future.  Fortunately this came in my most impressionable years when I was willing to lend myself to the advice of so distinguished a musician as Léonard.
          Léonard was the successor of de Beriot at the Brussels Conservatoire.  As is generally known, in addition to being a teacher he had been a distinguished performer.  In fact he was the first to play the famous Mendelssohn violin concerto in Berlin under the direction of the composer.  He was an especially painstaking teacher and remarkably thorough in certain branches of technic.  He was noted for his wonderful playing of arpeggios and staccato passages.  His right arm technic was nothing short of marvelous.  In that day such technical studies as we know them now were practically unknown or, perhaps we should say, little used.  The pupil went to the master who had a general idea of how his progress should be mapped out, and day after day he tried harder and harder to excel in more difficult passages.  Léonard was like a father to me.  I was constantly under his care and every day I learned something new.  Although I was one of the first to introduce studies in the modern sense of the term in the literature of the violin, I nevertheless cannot help feeling that the whole matter of studies is somewhat over-done.  Given a teacher of the type of Léonard—a real master—and a pupil who earnestly aspires to please that teacher in all things, and we have an ideal combination.  The teacher would have the ability and consideration which would prompt him to compose special technical studies for the deficiencies of the pupil.  But there is only a Léonard here and there through the centuries, and those less gifted must of course have material prepared for them.  At least, that was the kind of a teacher I found in Léonard.  Later I went to Leipsic where I studied under the great David.  Wilhelmj was in the same class and we lived under the same roof for a considerable time.  Boyhood friends, as we then were, we dreamed of the future but saw little of what the future years had in store for us.

          My first professional engagement was at Bremen, where I was made concertmeister of the Symphony orchestra when I was eighteen years of age.  At the time a rich Russian merchant was endeavoring to build up the musical life of Moscow and an opportunity was made for me in that city in the conservatory founded by Nicholas Rubinstein.  I had the good fortune to be one of the very first teachers.  The language spoken was French, and as I had had a long experience in that language with Léonard in Brussels I felt quite comfortable in going to that city.  I lived in the home of Nicholas Rubinstein and his famous bother Anton came to visit his brother very often, as did such artists as Laub and Wieniawski.  Anton Rubinstein played indefatigably every day.  I can see him now with a cigarette in his mouth working industriously at the keyboard.  Indeed he would play for two or three hours at a time.  Nicholas Rubinstein’s playing was in some ways much surer than that of Anton, but it lacked the warmth that the genius of Anton brought into everything he did.  Rubinstein had a way of forming his exercises from the difficult passages in the pieces he played.  These he would repeat time and again until a certain passage went right.  Not every one has the inventive skill to do this, and there must of course be books of exercises for many, but for a Rubinstein any other course would have been inconceivable after the foundation work in finger exercises, scales, arpeggios and octaves has been passed.
          It was at this time that Tchaikowsky came to Moscow as a very young and very talented man.  How little one may look into the future.  While we all realized that the Russian was unusual in his work there was hardly one there who would have predicted that he ever would have been ranked with the great masters.  This was in a large measure due to his great modesty.  Although he was very genial his whole demeanor was so quiet and retiring that far too little notice was given to him.  He had just completed his studies and became the teacher of theory at the conservatory.  He also lived for a time at the home of Nicholas Rubinstein.  He worked day and night, and for this reason kept pretty much to himself.  He had great ideals and great ideas.  Generous in all other things, he was somewhat selfish with the time required to work them out.  His first symphony was produced at Moscow, and while it attracted favorable attention he had yet to convince the musical world that he was a composer of first rank.
 Enjoy Tchaikowsky's first symphony, peformed by the State Symphony Orchestra (USSR), Evgeny Svetlanov, conducting:
          In 1868 I went to Hamburg as concert master of the Philharmonic, as the successor of Leopold Auer, who then went to St. Petersburg as the successor of Wieniawski, where he later became the teacher of Mischa Elman and other successful violinists of the present day.
 Enjoy Mischa Elman in a performance of Dvořák's "Humoresque" and Gossec's "Gavotte":

          I remember one incident in connection with the life of Richard Wagner which may be interesting to ETUDE readers.  Wagner made numerous tours for the purpose of gaining additional support in his great project at Bayreuth.  He appeared in Hamburg as a conductor.  In playing the violin part of this Magic Fire music from Die Walkure I had great difficulty in keeping the violins together as a body.  I thought to myself, “How can anyone write music which is next to impossible to play rightly and at the same time keep in touch with others.”  I evidently expressed my discomfort with a frown.  Wagner turned quickly and noted my expression.  Although I could barely see him I had the feeling that all people have when they are conscious of being observed.  Finally Wagner broke out, “Why are you making such a hostile, angry face?”  I explained the difficulty and he laughed it away with the remark, “Don’t try to get it exactly as it is written.  I never expected that when I wrote it.  I strive for effects.  Play this passage with slight irregularity and it will give just the shimmering effect that I desire.  It is not how it sounds to you but how it will sound at the back of the auditorium that will count.”
 Enjoy Bryn Terfel's performance of the "Magic Fire" music from Wagner's "Die Walkure":
          After six years I went to Leipsic to take the place of David at the Conservatory and as Concertmeister of the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Reinecke.  The great orchestra frequently played in the theatre, and with it all I was badly overworked and had to give up part of my duties at the end of the year.  One of the most gratifying experiences one may have in Leipsic is the opportunity to meet distinguished musicians.  Now and then I see all of the famous faces passing before me and the recollection of great personalities is certainly one of the most pleasant of all experiences.

          The promise of musical America is indescribably great.  I say promise, because, with all the achievements of recent years, all the fine operative performances, symphony orchestras, schools, publishers, contributing to American musical progress we are still only at the beginning of America’s musical greatness.  No other country is so cosmopolitan in its scope or in it ideals.  All the world looks to America for great deeds, strong men and women in all arts and professions, generous support of high ideals and constant activity in all directions.  Europe is gradually being relieved of the idea that America is purely a “dollarland.”  In addition to the immense contribution of money being constantly made for musical development in America there is something better.  Thousands of students are devoting their lives to music, and still more thousands of amateurs are giving their time and energy to music, just for the joy they find in it.  Were it not for this desire to study music, to find out more about it, to make one’s self accomplished in singing or the performance of some instrument, American music would be in a sad state.  Of course one takes a national pride in the appearance of a new and great virtuoso or a brilliant composer, but after all the musical strength of a nation is in the number of skilled music lovers who take a little time from their daily work to devote to music, and who will see that their children have the benefit of a thorough musical training along the lines of the highest principles of the art.  I have lived in America a score of years.  It is my home and naturally I am anxious to see nothing left undone to promote American musical ideals.

by Henry Schradieck

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