The Potocki had luxurious tastes. They were cultivated people, whocared for beautiful things, and were rich enough to have them. TheCastle itself, a fine old building, stood in the middle of a largepark, surrounded by trees and plenty of open land; it contained apicture-gallery and a private theatre. This was the home in whichLeschetizky passed his childhood, seeing life as a delightful thing,full of grace and ease, which might have been quite perfect had therebeen no music lessons. But at the age of five he began to learn thepiano,[Pg 2] and had to study two hours a day from the beginning. He lovedmusic intensely, and might even have loved practising; but his father,according to the parental custom of the day, was so extremely severethat the lessons were a misery to both, and, but for his mother'sgentle help, might have ended in his hating the instrument altogether.
He tells of the magnificent carriage sent to convey him to the palace,of the sumptuous apartment and dainty supper to greet him when hegot there and, alas, of the intolerable piano, upon which he flatlyrefused to play, and went home instead. Expecting to be ordered outof Russia, a little later on he received to his surprise a secondinvitation, accompanied this time by no beautiful carriage, and gracedby only a very meagre supper served in a miserable little bedroom. Butthe piano was all he could wish, and he played on it so much to theirMajesties' satisfaction that, his sins forgiven, bedtime discoveredhim once more in the gorgeous apartment of his first visit.
In his capacity as Capellmeister he had also to fill the part ofconductor. In speaking of this part of his career he says: \"Conductingis not difficult. It is harder to play six bars well on the pianothan to conduct the whole of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven.\" Inillustration of this view he relates how, when he was once conductingthe Schumann Concerto, Rubinstein, who was taking the solo, suddenlyforgot the music so completely that Leschetizky was obliged to stopthe orchestra. On rushed Rubinstein, playing anything that came intohis head, till he found himself[Pg 15] in the Cadenza, when Leschetizkyat once passed the word round the orchestra to be ready to come inwith the theme, if Rubinstein ever got there. Rubinstein did getthere. Leschetizky brought down the stick, and all went merrily tothe end. On another occasion he had to conduct an overture that hehad never seen; but he ran it over in his mind before the concertbegan, and it went without a hitch. He thinks far too much issaid about a conductor's difficulties. He protests also against\"virtuoso-conducting.\" \"Why should the orchestra rise Why shouldso much be said about the way in which things are done It is thecomposer who should have the applause, not the conductor.\" When aconcert is over, he would have all the lights put out, the portrait ofthe composer thrown by a lantern on a screen, and make the audienceapplaud that. Leschetizky's own career as a conductor ended whenRubinstein came back to take up his position as \"Janitor of Music\" atthe Court. Since then he has not sought the opportunity of carryingthese ideas into practice.
He had by now published a considerable number of compositions, many ofwhich had become popular; but, never able to devote his whole energiesto composing, most of his works are valuable solely as admirablepianoforte studies, wherein he has expressed his perfect knowledge ofthe instrument. Everything he writes is full of charm and handled witha delicacy that is peculiarly his own. Though difficult to play well,his works are all effective and repay the trouble of study.
Over a hundred and fifty years ago, in the year 1747, John SebastianBach went to Potsdam to visit Frederick the Great, and while there hewas asked to try over some of the new fortepianos that had recentlybeen made for the King by Silbermann. He did so, and disliked thenoise extremely. His ears, too long accustomed to the gentle tinkleof his beloved clavichord, could not accept this harsh, moderninstrument, and he returned home thankful that Providence had notbrought him up on such an abominable invention.
Wiping out their stiffness, poking fun at their propriety, it wasBeethoven who broke through their foolish little rules and gave themsomething deeper and more vital to think of. Full of dramatic power,of orchestral effects, of changing moods, his music outstretched theirlimits entirely. It created a new element and offered them a newproblem: the study of tone. He demanded of the piano what had neverbeen demanded of it before; both the instrument and its players wereforced to change. Henceforward the art of pianism stood on an entirelydifferent level. A new school was growing up.
In about eighty years both players and instruments had developedbeyond recognition, virtuosity became an art in itself, and thepiano so increased in importance that instead of being regarded aslittle worse than an accompaniment, it had become popular as a soloinstrument, and long recitals, without the relief of song or strings,were given for it alone.
\"The Leschetizky Method\" conveys to most people the idea of atechnical system by which pianists can be taught to play the pianowell. Probably this is so because technical perfection is one of themost obvious characteristics of his school, and a quality immediatelycomprehensible to the average audience. Virtuosity is, after all, buta high development of the natural use of the hands, to which, in aless skilled form, every one is habituated from childhood up; commonground, whereon all sorts of people, from the prizefighter to thejuggler, from the juggler to the virtuoso, can meet, it is suitablefood for even the least intelligent; and unusual feats of executionwill be marked out long before those points which are of higherimportance to the interpretation of art strike home.
The majority of students, coming to him in the single expectation offinding untold treasures of pianistic wisdom, are surprised to findthat these treasures play but a small part in his scheme of work,and that the larger proportion of their time must be devoted, notto the development of manual skill, but to the art of studying themusic written for the piano. This question of study is the principalpoint of difference between Leschetizky's and other methods. His isnot a technical system, including advice on musical matters, but asystem which makes its primary aim the study of the music written forthe piano; its second, that of the effects to be obtained from theinstrument; its third, that of the development of the hand.
With reference to technique, the gist of what Leschetizky considersphysically necessary is this: the hand, wrist, and arm must be undersuch complete control that whatever part be called upon to play, itshall be able to do so independently of its neighbour. It should bepossible to contract one part, while leaving the other relaxed; tohold one part taut while the other is slack; to put one part in motionwhile the other is at rest. He lays special stress on a few points:the development of strength and sensitiveness in the finger-tips;clear distinction between the many varieties of touch; the necessityof an immaculate pedalling.
He had a pupil who played so accurately by ear that she could not bepersuaded to study in any other way. It served her faithfully fora long time, until one day, when playing in the class, her memoryfailed, and she could not[Pg 59] collect herself. Nemesis came at the nextlesson, for Leschetizky shut down the cover of her keyboard, and lefther, bereft of all sound, to learn a page of unfamiliar music by meansof her eyes alone. Another, who was unnerved by the merest trifle, hecured by accustoming her to shocks. One day, suddenly jumping up fromthe piano, he stared intently into the garden, exclaiming, \"Ha! whatis that I see out there\" Of course the pupil hurried to the window,but, seeing nothing exciting, turned back, startled and perplexed.\"It's all right,\" nodded the master suddenly; \"go on exactly whereyou left off.\" This kind of treatment continued till she could standany disturbance with composure.
When all goes well, a lesson with Leschetizky is a really wonderfulexperience. His point of view is so interesting, the depth of hiscomprehension so profound, his power of clear exposition so great,the parallels he draws between art and life so unexpected, that hislistener is held under a spell of wondering enthusiasm throughout.Both his ear and his memory are very remarkable. He is able to retainaccurately in his mind every detail in a piece of music on hearingit for the first time; and not only to play it through immediatelyafterwards, but to discuss points in it, making a suggestion here, analteration there, exactly as if the music were before his eyes. Heplays a great deal during the lesson in a fragmentary way, but rarelyanything straight through. His piano is on the left of the pupil, thetwo instruments standing side by side, their keyboards level.
The Professor knew exactly who was there and who was not, and whoeverfailed to put in an appearance heard about it at the next lesson.Every one sat where he or she liked, either round the pianos or at theopposite end of the room, where the black sheep were tactfully herdedout of sight if possible.
In this respect it differs from all other pianoforte classes,in which, as a rule, the pupils have not yet emerged from theConservatoire[Pg 69] shell into public life. Liszt's class was the nearestapproach to it; but this again differed from it, inasmuch as Liszt'sgathering was drawn together for the love of music, whereasLeschetizky's is entirely for the study of music. Tausig foundedone on the same lines as Leschetizky, but he had not the patience tocarry it on for more than a very short time, in spite of the enormoussuccess it had during its lifetime. Leschetizky's class now standsquite alone, the only assemblage of its kind.
The Russians stand first in Leschetizky's opinion. United to aprodigious technique, they have passion, dramatic power, elementalforce, and extraordinary vitality. Turbulent natures, difficult tokeep within bounds, but making wonderful players when they have thepatience to endure to the end. 153554b96e