Music Study – Conducting Studies Methodically And Logically

To gain this result, the great point is always to conduct the studies methodically and logically in the normal order that agrees with the first branch that we think advisable to adopt ; in a word, don’t ” put the cart before the horse.” In this way we shall constantly find points of contact between this branch and others, we shall never have learned anything really useless, and we shall be able to walk in the new path without having to go back too far ; while with studies pursued in a desultory manner and not linked together as they should be, we may squander and throw the most manifest talents into confusion, and cause the loss of a vocation.

Several years ago, Massenet, then Professor of Composition in the Conservatory, sent to me a young provincial, eighteen years of age, saying something to this effect : ” Here is a boy who is strongly recommended to me, he has ideas and a passion for composition, but as he has never studied harmony, he is as ignorant as a carp in the art of writing; I think that after he shall have studied two or three years with you, he will be ripe for counterpoint and fugue with me.” Naturally, I admitted him without examination, and I gave him for Mentor, as is the custom in our classes, which are too large for the professor to concern himself with each one individually, the oldest and the most serious of his comrades, not without telling him by whom he was sent to me and the importance that I attached to his being carefully directed. At the end of a few lessons, the latter, very much vexed, declared to me that it wouldn’t do at all, he could not possibly make him understand. I tried in my turn, and I discovered what was lacking in the pupil ; this was the first elements of solfeggio. He did not even know how to tell the keys. Heavens ! things looked grave. I then managed to get one of my colleagues, professor of solfeggio, to admit him into his class as a listener, for he was long past the regulation age when he could have been received as a pupil ; there, he worked steadily, but he was already thick-headed, and it took more than two years of effort, aided by private lessons, to turn him into a passable reader. Now then, he is back in my class, still full of courage, and this time in good condition; he can now, at the age of twenty-one years, at last be-gin his special studies in composition. Everything was going well, extremely well, and he was giving un-deniable proofs of intelligence and facility, when the period of military service arrived ; his regiment was sent to garrison in a little isolated spot ; no theatre, no concerts, no means of intellectual development. When he returned to me for the third time, three years later, he had lost in a great measure the benefit of his first studies in harmony, and, after several fresh attempts, we were forced to agree with one accord that it was really too late to dream of recovering henceforth the suppleness of mind necessary to ac-quire all the knowledge in which he was deficient, that he could not enter that career before an age when it ought to be already clearly marked out, and that finally, after having expended so much courage and energy, there was nothing to do but to give up all hope of ever becoming a composer such as he had dreamed of being. Inconsolable, but unable to bring himself to the complete renunciation of the art which he had thought to have made the aim of his life, the poor boy became a clarinettist ! and as he had not began to study that instrument until late, he plays it very badly, which greatly distresses him, for he has still an exquisite taste.

It is very certain that if his parents, who now deplore their blunder, instead of having opposed the flight of his genius, (for he had always begged them to let him study music) had only consented during his early years to let him have some solfeggio lessons and to study music as an amateur according to his desire, things would have been entirely different. He would have come to the Conservatoire at the required time, and sufficiently prepared to learn harmony, and the rest would have gone along smoothly. Their terror at his aspirations to become a composer led them to make a bad clarinettist of him.

This example may be instructively accompanied by an anecdote humourously related by Berlioz.

” A man, a rich landowner, deigned to present to me his son, aged twenty-two years, who, according to his own confession, was still unable to read music.

” I come to entreat you, Monsieur,” he said, ” to be good enough to give lessons in high composition to this young man, who will, I hope, shortly be an honour to you. His first idea was to be a colonel, but notwithstanding the éclat of military glory, that of art with its seductions decided him positively ; he prefers to make himself a great composer.”

” Oh ! Monsieur what a mistake ! If you but knew all the vexations of this career ! The great composers all devour each other ; there are so many of them ! . . . Moreover, I am not willing to charge myself with conducting him to the goal of his noble ambition. In my opinion it would be better for him to follow his first idea and to enlist in the regiment which you have just mentioned to me.”

” What regiment? ”

” Parbleu! the regiment of colonels.”

” Monsieur, your pleasantry is greatly misplaced ; I will importune you no longer. Happily you are not the only master and my son can make himself a great composer without your assistance. We have the honour to salute you.”

A great depth of truth is hidden under this amusing form. Persons who imagine that they can become great composers at will by desiring glory and taking a few lessons from a great master are legion. They are ignorant of the patient study to which it is necessary to submit even with the best natural endowments before attaining the level of an honest mediocrity ; above all, they are ignorant of the utility of the methodical spirit so indispensable to every form of education, and, perhaps, artistic education more than all.