Tuesday, February 25, 2014
"Mute instruments, as they are called, have been invented. Try them awhile just to see how useless they are. The dumb cannot teach speech." That is one of Schumann's maxims which would seem to need frequent application in these days. Pianists in particular have become impatient of the old drudgery of practice, and are eager to seize upon anything which will lead their feet to the proverbial royal road. We have even got the length of pretending to teach "touch" and technic by correspondence! Surely, as a writer in a contemporary remarks, if there is is a subject in the world which demands practical as well as verbal illustration is to be conveyed by means of letters it is impossible to imagine. The advertisers must either be astonishingly clever men or atrociously bad teachers. With regard to mute instruments for practice very different opinions have been entertained. Mendelssohn at one time used to practice on a dumb keyboard while sitting up in bed. Henselt used a dumb instrument for conquering all technical difficulties and advised his pupils to do the same. He said the plan spared his nerves. Sgambati also used a mute instrument, not so much to spare his own nerves as the nerves of his neighbors. "No one who can avoid it," he said, "has any right to inflict on his neighbors the annoyance of listening to that amount of passage-practicing from which no talent can dispense any individual whatever." Would that everybody who plays the piano were so considerate! If an almost dumb pianoforte be required, we are reminded that it can be obtained by placing a long strip of heavy baize or flannel across the strings in a diagonal direction from treble to bass. I commend the idea to the attention of philanthropic people. Instead of sending blankets to the Hottentots, let them make judicious presents of flannel at home.