Many years ago there lived a man widely known as a writer of practical – though rather dry – piano studies. He had tried his hand at more pretentious work (trios, quartets, solo pieces) but it was unsuccessful for reasons which the course of this story will reveal. His name, familiar probably to most of my kindly readers, was C. A. Loeschhorn, born 1819 in Berlin, which city he never left, and in which he died, 1905. I knew him but slightly, just well enough to exchange greetings, and once in a while a few words when we met on the street. It was generally known among musicians at the time of my studies in Berlin that he was teaching the earlier grades of piano-playing ten or eleven hours a day, and that he used his Sundays for the writing of finger studies. He was never seen at concerts or operas.
If I had ever heard the slightest unfavorable comment upon his responsibility as a man or any doubt about his musical knowledge and his reliability as a teacher, his name should not have been mentioned here. (De mortuis–). It is mentioned, however, because what I wish to say about him will not detract from his memory, and it will show that I did not invent a figure for my tale, but that the story I am about to tell is true. And it teaches a lesson which every young person – especially a young music teacher, should take seriously to heart; a lesson which, in this curious era of specialization, is of particular importance and of great instructive value.
Loeschhorn has, in the course of years, by frugality and fortunate investments, accumulated a fortune so large as to enable him not only to retire from teaching (1883) but also to buy a handsome villa in the “swellest” part of Berlin, a regular little chateau, with a fine part around it; to keep a number of servants, gardeners, a coachman for his horses and carriages; in short, to live like a prince.
About three years after his retirement, on my way from New York to my native Petrograd, I stopped a few days in Berlin, and whom should I meet on the street but Mr. Loeschhorn, a roll of sheet music under his arm, and with every appearance of being very busy. I intended merely to salute him, but he stopped to tell me that, in order to be free from all business cares, he had entrusted the administration of his fortune to a well-known banker who, after a few months, failed and absconded with all of Loeschhorn’s money; that his beautiful property had to be sold at a great loss and that he had resumed his teaching over a year ago.
“It Was All Gone”
Naturally, I expressed my sincere regret that such a misfortune should have befallen him after a long life of honest work, but – imagine my amazement – he laughingly said that he was very glad, indeed, that “it was all gone,” because, in less than a month after his retirement, he had grown heartily tired of his princely surroundings; that time had been hanging heavily at his hands; the he did not know what to do with himself, and so forth. In a sober, matter-of-fact way, he explained that his former busy life had left him no time to form close associations; that he was – as he said – respected by all who knew him, but had no real “friends,” and so, for literature, pictures, sciences, nature and such “things,” he had had – “naturally,” as he said – no time to “bother” about them enough to become interested. He had not married and was, at his retirement, too old for it, and so – he thought it necessary to lay great stress on the point – he was desperately lonely! Liberty from money earning has evidently had no charms for him.
A sad case, no doubt; but was the sadness of it altogether underserved? He had spent his life in giving lessons and writing finger studies; studies which reflected his experience as a teacher, but nothing else, for there is not a trace of fancy, imagination or emotion in them, such as we find in the studies of Heller, Jensen and others. He had neither read nor traveled; neither loved nor hated; his circle of interests was only a single point, a dot of life surrounded by nothing and, this solitary point once abandoned, his mind and heart had nothing to enjoy, nothing to live for. The error of his life was in believing that happiness and joy of life could be brought to him from the outside; that they could be bought if one had only money enough to buy them.
(Just between ourselves, dear reader, and in a whisper; isn’t that the very idea that our average business man holds? doesn’t he want to “die in the saddle” rather than give some younger fellow a chance? And is it not so because his circle of interests begins and ends with his business; is it not that he is afraid to retire because he feels that he has no funds within himself wherewith to fill out and beautify the remainder of life after retirement?)
It may be said that all great musicians have kept at their work until death, but this is, in the first place, not true of many of them. (Rossini, for instance, wrote his William Tell at 45, and “never wrote a not” afterwards, though he lived until 78 – but of this later.) Secondly, our friend was not a “great” musician. Many of those whom the world has crowned with immortality have kept at their work until death because it was through and in the work that they could best express their life, their experiences; experiences not of finger exercises, but soul experiences – of which our friend, Loeschhorn, was quite innocent. The master musicians have, in their works, revealed a view of the world so broad and an insight into life so deep that – if some accident had put a premature end to their artistic work – their lives should still have bee full of joy, of companionship, of many other blessings.
Spending Time Profitable
Now, let us try to depict to our mind the same Loeschhorn under such conditions as should have been found to arise if, all through his busy days, he had given only two lessons a day less than he did, and if the time so gained had been spent in forming friendships, in social intercourse, in the open, in picture galleries, in reading good books, say, books on travel. All this would have brought him into touch with congenial people, with superior minds. It would have stimulated his imagination and created “Wanderlust” in him, a proper curiosity to know something about the “people behind the mountains.” He would, then, have traveled and seen something of life, of the world. He might have become interested in one of the innumerable revelations which Nature is so generously ready to make to an inquiring mind. Any one of these things would have awakened and developed dormant qualities in him that might have interested some good woman sufficiently to make him think that he wanted to marry her – but why heap up suggestions? Two hours a day are, in the short space of eighteen months, over a thousand hours, and a thousand well spent hours (which beget other thousands) are bound to produce a considerable and favorable change in a man’s mental and physical make-up. Are we not all influenced by the books we read, by the sights we see, by the people we meet? True, his fortune might, then, not have grown enough to buy a chateau and to live in an unaccustomed style, like whilom Petronins’ “donkey on a roof,” but it should have still sufficed to indulge his fond little habits of life without the drudgery of teaching rudiments and without writing more dry studies. This smaller fortune he could very well have administered, himself, and oh, how he could have enjoyed his freedom from money earnings! His “at homes” would have been a rendezvous of fine minded men and women. His love of music, no longer enfeebled by hearing finger exercises and false notes for ten or eleven hours a day, would have driven him into the converts and operas which, for obvious reasons, he had formerly shunned, and it would have been the crowning joy of his life to indulge this love of music in utter freedom – thing of it – in utter freedom from money earnings! How useful he could have made himself in one of the many so-called “unremunerative pursuits” by filling some honorary position where a broad mental scope, coupled with leisure, might have benefited a multitude of fellow beings. How rich a life he might have led had he taught but two hours a day less; a life rich in experience, in interests, in friendships and – in conception of music far higher than his form rudimentary routine work had enabled him to form. The life of his younger years would then have been well worth the strain to earn the reward of such a blissful leisure!
The Case of Franz Liszt
Is this fictitious picture overdrawn? Let us see; Liszt, who died at the age of 74, ceased his money earning activities practically at 50, excepting compositions to which he devoted a few hours now and then when he felt in the mood for it. Yes, I venture to assert that during his remaining twenty-four years there was not a minute of tedium, for he remained the center of interest and of respectful and loving attention wherever he went, be it in Rome, Budaspesth, Weimar or in Beyreuth, where even Wagner’s presence could not dim his lustre. The notables in all branches of art and science, the princes, kings, emperors and popes sought eagerly to know him, to do him homage, and as for the young men and women that gathered at his feet in Weimar and Rome – (ah, how those glorious times come back to my mind) – we just adored him; yes, we loved him, not only the master artist but the man; we loved him so much that our love often threatened to outweigh our admiration and respect. He could not help noticing that our affection was not of an exclusively musical nature, and more than once he may have caught the look of admiration for his magnetic personality in our eyes. It was perhaps, for this reason that in advising us he did not confine himself to musical matters, but emphasized so often the development of “personality” by saying: “My young friends, gather memories! You can live on them in after years. Leave no avenue of higher pleasures, of mental joys, untrodden and – yes, gather memories, gather memories!” He, surely; was a master musician, both creatively and executively, but – was that all? Was not his great learning, outside of music, his vast experience of life, the almost limitless extent of his extra-musical interests – I say, were not these great qualities, outside of the musical, the very ones that brought out his marvelous personality which spoke so plainly out of his playing and his compositions? Did he not write his book on Chopin in classic French and the book on the gypsies in classic German, neither of which was his mother tongue? And did he not converse with equal ease in Italian and fairly well in English? And what a profound Latin scholar he was, and how poetically he could talk at times!
Ah, yes, at the risk of over repetition, I must say again, which I have often said before, that a man’s greatness in his vocation is usually – I might as well say, always – due to the knowledge and interest he possesses outside of it. This was as true in the cases of Bach and Beethoven as of Johannes Bitter, who was a clarinetist in a Berlin orchestra, wrote a fine biography of Bach in four volumes and ended as Prussian minister of finance.
And if Paderewski’s culture had been confined to music the Prime Minister of Poland should surely have been someone else. I wonder how many there were among the Paris conferees that could have addressed the French, the English and Americans, the Italians and Germans, each in their language (none of which was Paderewski’s own) as he was able to do; not to speak of the general demeanor and the style of utterance customary in higher diplomatic circles, all of which Paderewski had, so to speak, at his fingers’ ends.
And how about my friend, Josef Hofmann, whose playing is admired by all the world, and who is, besides, a biologist, chemist, electrician, engineer master mechanic, and inventor of no mean achievement, a philosopher and a write of highly interesting and profound essays? If he should some day retire form the concert stage – and may a kind fate prevent him for a long time form doing so – would he be likely not to know “what to do with himself?”
Making the Most of Life
People speak usually of “dying in the saddle” as of something that is meritorious beyond all doubt. Well, it shall not be denied that it is entirely honorable – for a cavalry man. It may, however, be regarded also as a well-deserved punishment for a mounted bandit. Which shows that the merit of things upon circumstances; more especially so when we reflect that even the cavalry man might possibly have preferred to live, rather than to die, in the saddle. What we should aim at is, therefore, not to die in the saddle but to remain as long as possible fit for some saddle, and by this fitness I refer, of course, (with due appreciation of its physical application) to the impressionableness and vigor of mind and soul. There is no regimen for preserving this particular fitness like the one which dear master Liszt prescribed – “Gather memories!” Turn mere occurrences into experiences, in the professional pursuit of life as well as outside of it; have a hobby, or, better, have several hobbies; to have friends, be a friend and – above all – love! Love the daily work! Love humanity! Love all God’s nature! For, unless our heart is eloquent with love we can never draw a response from other hears, and all our playing, singing, conducting and composing remains meaningless, like unto a “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”