Obscure Teachers of Famous Pupils
Not long since we had the privilege of perusing a list of “famous violinist” which a person engage in a branch of literary work, not in general musical, have prepared for purposes of his own. We were somewhat perplexed to observe that the list contains several names of which we’ve never heard, and which were by no means prominent in musical history. Inquiry revealed the interesting fact that the listed been made up of in a curious way: the maker of the list had read the biographies of several universally known violinist, and an encyclopedia, and made note of the names of those who were there early teachers: then again, he had looked up data in regard to these teachers, and then again in regard to their teachers, until, as a woodsman would say, “the trail turned to a squirrel track and ran up a tree.” As a method of ascertaining who were “famous,” this was scarcely a success, but Herbert Spencer once said, “there is often a germ of truth and things erroneous,” and may it not be that some of these obscure teachers, not a violinist alone, and of many great composers, pianists and singers, well deserved more than a passing thought in our memory?
Not all teachers of great pupils in music and been obscure by any means. In some cases those who afterward became great musicians have enjoyed really distinguish advantages: Listz at an early age became the pupil of Czerny, who is a leading piano teacher of Vienna, and who, if he fell short (as he certainly did) of reaching even the foothills of the Olympian heights as a composer, was at least popular and successful with the public and the publishers of his day. Mozart’s father, who was also his teacher, was himself a deservedly famous musician – the author of the First Violin method printed in German and the composure of more than one symphony, as well as many smaller works.
In not a few cases the teacher has lived to see his reward, in the form of fame and material success which is come from the train of his pupils remarkable achievement; this was stoutly the case with the noted violin teacher, Sevecik, and his people, Kubelik, followed by Kocian, Marie Hall and other; similarly Leschetizky, already well recognized by the musical public, gained enormously and reputation to having been the teacher of Paderewski.
Schumann’s First Teacher
The subject is such a large one, then instead of attempting to cover the whole ground, we select a few of the more representative cases. One of the most striking and suggested is that of Robert Schumann, whose early teacher, J. G. Kuntsch, was one of those earnest, old-fashioned, somewhat pedantic musicians to whom his native country owes so much; who, born in the poorest ranks, raise themselves by unheard-of efforts and self-denial, live a humble and industrious life, and at length are gathered to the great silent majority without leaving any mark save the pupils they have helped to form.
Kuntsch was professor in the high school at Zwickau, and organist of one of the churches there; he taught young Schumann for several years, but at last became provoked because his pupil spent too much time is somewhat crude efforts at original composition. The old story of the “hand with ducklings!” He refused to continue the boys lessons further, but doubtless his task was already done, and Robert did not fail to remember his early teacher with veneration and gratitude in afterlife. On the 15th anniversary of the old man’s settlement at Zwickau, Schumann wrote him a most charming and affectionate letter of congratulation. He also dedicated to him a book of his Studies for Paddle Piano (an instrument then has now occasionally used by Morgan pupils for purposes of home practice.)
Schumann has a musical critic and journalists, the editor of the Allgemeine Musicalische Zeitung, was scarcely second in importance to Schumann as composer. His writing set a new high water mark in the matter of musical criticism – he was witty, kindly, shrewd and just, and many of his briefest reviews are literary gems. He had the acumen to appreciate the worth of Chopin, when the latter was still unpopular with the older and more conservative sort of musical people, and he foresaw and heralded the future greatness of Brahms to such an extent that the modest use was filled with trepidation lest he might not be able to make good Schumann’s prophecy. This all being so, it is by no means far-fetched to inquire who was Schumann’s early teacher in literary and journalistic activities, and the answer is – his father.
The elder Schumann was a bookseller and publisher, besides being himself and authoring compiler of literary works. His early life and struggles made an interesting, even romantic record, but we have only space here to narrate the fact that, at the age of 14, young Robert assisted his father in the editorial work on a book called Portraits of Contemporaneous Celebrities. This, and similar experiences, under his father’s guidance, were surely a great help to you in preparation for the work of later years.
We should add, right here, that although under burst in music himself, the elder Schumann showed the greatest sympathy with sons learnings in that direction, on one occasion even taking him to Carlsbad that he might hear the great pianist Moscheles. Schumann always Unabated the remembrance of his happy occasion, reserving a copy of the program for 30 years.
Who Taught Chopin?
Japan’s earliest teacher, Adelbert Zywny, was so far from famous that it is impossible at this day to learn more about him than that he was a good all round musician – violinist, pianist and composer – without being specially distinguished in any of these lines.
His next teacher, Elsner, was not altogether and “obscure” man, in his day, being conductor of the opera at Warsaw and a dramatic composer of some repute, as well as a violinist and pianist, yet he would be scarcely remembered but as Chopin’s teacher. Listz, in his Life of Chopin, pays Elsner a fine complement. He says: “Elsner taught Chopin those things most difficult to learn and the most rarely known; to be exacting to oneself, and to value the advantages that are only to be obtained by patience and labor.”
Although no one has remarked it, it seems to us that this complement to Elsner in itself a sidelight on the teacher Zywny – if Elsner had to teach Chopin “to be exacting to himself,” etc. is evident that Zywny had not so taught, but they has one of those teachers were more remarkable for their inspirational influence – for giving the pupil a love of music – than for insisting on finish conscientious accuracy. We do not, say that this altogether in blame; most sorts of teachers are useful, each is praiseworthy if he does his task according to his best ability. One can give only what one has, however, and he who is to develop a pupil into a future great artist must be able to teach him, above all things, the unwary striving after artistic perfection.
In a certain sense, all surpassingly great artists have been largely self-taught; no teacher can teach all he knows, and even if he could, the genius, with “sublime for running of his time” (as Longfellow expressed it), must discover the unknown way for himself.
All honor, nevertheless, to those few teachers who have been so fortunate as to equip a rising young hero was suitable armor, that he might be prepared for the struggle. Some have the prices gift of discerning just what is most needed, and giving it without needless delay, disregarding all but the things really of issue in the particular case. Such a teacher it was Wagner’s good fortune to meet with, at a critical informative point in the development of his talent. But let us hear Wagner’s own account:
“Weinlig had no special method, but he was clearheaded and practical. Indeed you cannot teach composition: you may show how music gradually came to be what it is, and thus guiding young man’s judgment, but this is historical criticism, and cannot directly result in practice.
All you can do is, to point to some working example, some particular piece, set a task in that direction, and correct the pupils work. This is what Weinlig did with me. He chose a piece, generally something of Mozart’s, your attentions to its construction, relative link and balance of sections, principal modulations, number and quality of themes, and general character of the movement. Then he set the task: you shall write about so many measures divided into so many sections with modulations to correspond so-and-so, the theme shall be so many, and of such and such as character. Similarly, he was set contrapuntal exercises, cannons, fugues: the analyzing example minutely and then gave simple directions how I was to go to work. But the true lesson consisted in his patient and careful inspection of what had been written. With infinite kindness he would put his finger on some defective bit and explain the why and wherefore of the alterations he thought desirable. I readily saw what he was aiming at, and soon managed to please him. He dismissed me, saying ‘you have learned to stand on your own legs.’”
The course with Weinlig had lasted scarcely six months!
Who was Weinlig? Cantor of the Thomas school and Leipsic, director of the choir in St. Thomas’s church – a position hallowed, it is true, by memories of the great Bach, but not always filled by men of equal ability. Weinlig was the author of a Magnificat for solos, chorus and orchestra, of some singing exercises and a book on a few, but his greatest work was – Wagner.