excerpt from 'My Musical Life' pp. 81-3 (541 words)

excerpt from 'My Musical Life' pp. 81-3 (541 words)

part of

My Musical Life

original language

urn:iso:std:iso:639:ed-3:eng

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81-3

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text excerpt

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WHEWELL’S ability was of a truly cosmic and universal character, but nature had denied him one gift the gift of music. He always beat time in chapel, and generally sang atrociously out of tune. I do not think he had any ear; music to him was something marvellous and fascinating; he could talk learnedly on music, admire music, go to concerts, have music at his house, worry over it, insist upon silence when it was going on ; and yet I knew, and he knew that I knew, that he knew nothing about it; it was a closed world to him, a riddle, yet one he was incessantly bent upon solving, and he felt that I had the key to it and he had not.

On that night I played ERNST'S "Elegie," not quite so hackneyed then as it is now, and some other occasional pieces by ERNST, in which I gave the full rein to my fancy. The Master left his company, and taking a chair in front of where I stood, remained in absorbed meditation during the performance. I was naturally a little elated at this mark of respect shown to an unknown freshman in the presence of so many "Heads" of Houses and the elite of the University. I played my best and indulged rather freely in a few more or less illegitimate dodges, which I thought calculated to bewilder the great man. I was rewarded, for at the close DR. WHEWELL laid his hand upon my arm. "Tell me one thing; how do you produce that rapid passage, ascending and descending notes of fixed intervals?" I had simply as a tour de force glided my whole hand up and down the fourth open string, taking, of course, the complete series of harmonics up and down several times and producing thus the effect of a rapid cadenza with the utmost ease; the trick only requires a certain lightness of touch, and a knowledge of where and when to stop with effect. I replied that I had only used the series of open harmonics which are yielded, according to the well-known mathematical law, by every stretched string when the vibration is interrupted at the fixed harmonic nodes. The artistic application of a law which, perhaps, he had never realised but in theory seemed to delight him intensely, and he listened whilst I repeated the cadenza, and again and again showed him the various intervals on the finger-board, where the open harmonics might be made to speak; a hairVbreadth one way or the other producing a horrid scratch instead of the sweet, flute-like ring. It struck him as marvellous how a violinist could hit upon the various intervals to such a nicety, as to evoke the harmonic notes. I replied that this was easy enough when the hand was simply swept up and down the string as I had done, but that to hit upon the lesser nodes for single harmonics was one of the recognised violin difficulties. I then showed him a series of stopped harmonics, and played, much to his surprise, a tune in stopped harmonics. He was interested to hear that PAGANINI had been the first to introduce this practice, which has since become common property.

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excerpt from 'My Musical Life' pp. 81-3 (541 words)

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