Gottschalk as a Teacher
Schumann advised students to play with the artist, feeling. It is not uncommon for young musicians to make extravagant statements as to the high price they would be willing to pay in order to play like some celebrated artist, And then they balk at doing the little things that the artist knows are an essential part of the correet routine.
If the student could go into the market, and buy a good technic for several thousand dollars he would probably consider it a good investment. But he is careless about another means of paying the price for a satisfactory technic, such as systematic practice, careful attention to fingering, to pedaling, to accurate memorizing, to learning a composition by short, sections at a time, to getting in the mind a clear conception of every detail of his playing, all details of the artist's method of mastering a composition.
In the Life and Letters of Gottschalk, the author relates an incident. of a lesson received by a pupil in New York, during a stay in that city in the spring of 1856. The young lady was somewhat nervous about playing for the distinguished artist, who asked her to play a certain composition. During the playing Gottschalk remained at the farthest corner of the room.
When the piece was finished he came to the piano. "You did not finger that passage," he .said, "as I should have done; at least it did not sound firm enough. Of course I didn't, see; but did you not take it thus?" and he played it, using her habit of fingering.
"Now take it thus, binding the passage in a legato-staccato, if I may so express it, by using the fourth and fifth fingers for the preparatory trill." He gave the passage with exquisite delicacy of touch.
A few more simple suggestions followed, and he left it for her to study, adding to it an étude by Heller. In addition he advised her to read four or five pages from Beethoven every day, noting carefully the phrasing, but more particularly the rhythm of each measure in its beautiful completeness, yet dependent upon the following measures.
The reference to the fingering carries a helpful suggestion to both teacher and student, both of whom are far too frequently negligent as to this most important item in the preparation of a compositon for performance. It is advisable that without, exception a student play a passage without any change of fingering. To insure this it is best to pencil on the music page the fingering which trial indicates to be the easiest and best. Then, having settled these points, the student should play the passages slowly enough to make a definite impression upon the mind of the proper finger successions. Memorize fingering as well as notes.
The teacher will recall that Gottschalk placed emphasis upon phrasing and rhythm. These are two items in regard to which there is far too much negligence. Follow the phrasing on the printed copy if it commends itself to your taste and judgment; if not make such changes as you prefer. But make them on the copy in such a way that, you can play the piece with the same phrasing every time. The value of study lies in considerable measure upon a carefully thought out. plan which is afterward followed with little or no deviation in consecutive performances.
There is an application: The artist asked of his pupil nothing which he was not ready to do on his own account. If he had asked her to play a certain passage one hundred times, or five hundred times, without a break it. would have been only what he would have been ready to do himself if he felt that it were necessary. It is this spirt, which drives away the thought, of drudgery. The result pays, and there is interest in watching the successive steps that may have the appearance of drudgery to see the result show.