excerpt from 'Music-Study in Germany: The Classic Memoir of the Romantic Era' pp. 211-214 (680 words)

excerpt from 'Music-Study in Germany: The Classic Memoir of the Romantic Era' pp. 211-214 (680 words)

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Music-Study in Germany: The Classic Memoir of the Romantic Era

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... I went home and practiced tremendously for several days on Chopin's B minor sonata. It is a great composition, and one of his last works. When I thought I could play it, I went to Liszt, though with a trembling heart...

Well, on this day the artists Leitert and Urspruch, and the young composer Metzdorf, who is always hanging about Liszt, were in the room when I came. They had probably been playing. At first Liszt took no notice of me beyond a greeting, till Metzdorf said to him, "Herr Doctor, Miss Fay has brought a sonata." "Ah, well, let us hear it," said Liszt. Just then he left the room for a minute, and I told the three gentlemen that they ought to go away and let me play to Liszt alone, for I felt nervous about playing before them. They all laughed at me and said they would not budge an inch. When Liszt came back they said to him, "Only think, Herr Doctor, Miss Fay proposes to send us all home." I said I could not play before such great artists. "Oh, that is healthy for you," said Liszt, with a smile, and added, "you have a very choice audience, now." I don't know whether he appreciated how nervous I was, but instead of walking up and down the room as he often does, he sat down by me like any other teacher, and heard me play the first movement. It was frightfully hard, but I had studied it so much that I managed to get through with it pretty successfully. Nothing could exceed Liszt's amiability, or the trouble he gave himself, and instead of frightening me, he inspired me. Never was there such a delightful teacher! and he is the first sympathetic one I've had. You feel so free with him, and he develops the very spirit of music in you. He doesn't keep nagging at you all the time, but he leaves you your own conception. Now and then he will make a criticism, or play a passage, and with a few words give you enough to think of all the rest of your life. There is a delicate point to everything he says, as subtle as he is himself. He doesn't tell you anything about the technique. That you must work out for yourself. When I had finished the first movement of the sonata, Liszt, as he always does, said "Bravo!" Taking my seat, he made some little criticisms, and then told me to go on and play the rest of it.

Now, I only half knew the other movements, for the first one was so extremely difficult that it cost me all the labour I could give to prepare that. But playing to Liszt reminds me of trying to feed the elephant in the Zoological Garden with lumps of sugar. He disposes of whole movements as if they were nothing, and stretches out gravely for more! One of my fingers fortunately began to bleed, for I had practiced the skin off, and that gave me a good excuse for stopping. Whether he was pleased at this proof of industry, I know not; but after looking at my finger and saying, "Oh!" very compassionately, he sat down and played the whole three last movements himself. That was a great deal, and showed off all his powers. It was the first time I had heard him, and I don't know which was the most extraordinary,—the Scherzo, with its wonderful lightness and swiftness, the Adagio with its depth and pathos, or the last movement, where the whole key-board seemed to "donnern und blitzen (thunder and lighten)." There is such a vividness about everything he plays that it does not seem as if it were mere music you were listening to, but it is as if he had called up a real, living form, and you saw it breathing before your face and eyes. It gives me almost a ghostly feeling to hear him, and it seems as if the air were peopled with spirits.

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excerpt from 'Music-Study in Germany: The Classic Memoir of the Romantic Era' pp. 211-214 (680 words)


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