We were ushered into a large room, much longer than it was broad. At either end stood a grand piano... The pianos were of course fine. Frau Wieck and "Papa" received us graciously. We began by taking tea, but soon the old man became impatient, and said, "Come! the ladies wish to perform (vortragen) something before me, and if we don't begin we shan't accomplish anything." He lives entirely in music, and has a class of girls whom he instructs every evening for nothing. Five of these young girls were there. He is very deaf, but strange to say, he is as sensitive as ever to … more >>
We were ushered into a large room, much longer than it was broad. At either end stood a grand piano... The pianos were of course fine. Frau Wieck and "Papa" received us graciously. We began by taking tea, but soon the old man became impatient, and said, "Come! the ladies wish to perform (vortragen) something before me, and if we don't begin we shan't accomplish anything." He lives entirely in music, and has a class of girls whom he instructs every evening for nothing. Five of these young girls were there. He is very deaf, but strange to say, he is as sensitive as ever to every musical sound, and the same is the case with Clara Schumann. Fräulein Wieck then opened the ball. She is about forty, I should think, and a stout, phlegmatic-looking woman. However, she played superbly, and her touch is one of the most delicious possible. After hearing her, one is not surprised that the Wiecks think nobody can teach touch but themselves. She began with a nocturne by Chopin, in F major...
After Fräulein Wieck had finished the nocturne, I asked for something by Bach, which I'm told she plays remarkably. She said that at the moment she had nothing in practice by Bach, but she would play me a gigue by a composer of Bach's time,—Haesler, I think she said, but cannot remember, as it was a name entirely unknown to me. It was very brilliant, and she executed it beautifully. Afterward she played the last movement of Beethoven's Sonata in E flat major, but I wasn't particularly struck with her conception of that... The old Herr then said, "Now we'll have something else;" and got up and went to the piano, and called the young girls. He made three of them sing, one after the other, and they sang very charmingly indeed. One of them he made improvise a cadenza, and a second sang the alto to it without accompaniment. He was very proud of that. He exercises his pupils in all sorts of ways, trains them to sing any given tone, and "to skip up and down the ladder," as they call the scale.
After the master had finished with the singing, Fräulein Wieck played three more pieces, one of which was an exquisite arrangement by Liszt of that song by Schumann, "Du meine Seele." She ended with a gavotte by Glück, or as Papa Wieck would say, "This is a gavotte from one of Glück's operas, arranged by Brahms for the piano. To the superficial observer the second movement will appear very easy, but in my opinion it is a very hard task to hit it exactly." I happened to know just how the thing ought to be played, for I had heard it three times from Clara Schumann herself. Fräulein Wieck didn't please me at all in it, for she took the second movement twice as quickly as the first. "Your sister plays the second movement much slower," said I. "So?" said she, "I've never heard it from her." She then asked, "So slow?" playing it slower. "Still slower?" said she, beginning a third time, at my continual disapproval. "Streng im Tempo (in strict time)", said I, nodding my head oracularly. "Väterchen." called she to the old Herr, "Miss Fay says that Clara plays the second movement so slow," showing him. I don't know whether this correction made an impression, but he was then determined that I should play, and on my continued refusal he finally said that he found it very strange that a young lady who had studied more than two years in Tausig's and Kullak's conservatories shouldn't have one piece that she could play before people. This little fling provoked me, so up I jumped, and saying to myself, "Kopf in die Höhe, Brust heraus,—vorwärts!" (one of the military orders here), I marched to the piano and played the fugue at the end of Beethoven's A flat Sonata, Op. 110. They all sat round the room as still as so many statues while I played, and you cannot imagine how dreadfully nervous I was. I thought fifty times I would have to stop, for, like all fugues, it is such a piece that if you once get out you never can get in again, and Bülow himself got mixed up on the last part of it the other night in his concert. But I got well through, notwithstanding, and the old master was good enough to commend me warmly. He told me I must have studied a great deal, and asked me if I hadn't played a great many Etuden. I informed him in polite German "He'd better believe I had!" << less