Music Study – The Dilettante

As for the amateur composer, we will not devote a special paragraph to him, because he is subject to the same laws as the artist ; and, truth to tell, there is no real difference between them. The public has no reason to be more indulgent to one than to the other.

But we will say a few words about a very particular and rather large class of amateurs : those who do not know how to compose, sing, or play any instrument at all; and who, not even trying to do so, are none the less sensitive to the beauties of music, greedily seek opportunities to hear them, know how to judge and appreciate them at their real worth, and are really fine connoisseurs, to the same extent as lovers of painting or sculpture, who, generally speaking at least, not painting nor modelling themselves, turn naturally to collecting. They may be defined as the dilettante type,* those who delight in the admiration and passionate contemplation of a work of art.

These are perhaps the happiest of all ; although, or because they are perfectly selfish. They somewhat resemble the Orientals, who do not understand why we should take the trouble of dancing ourselves, when it is so easy to watch somebody else frisking before us. Yes, he is indeed the happiest, since he shares in all the joys of the artist and knows only by hearsay the miseries and painful side of the career, not. even the little troubles of an inferior and secondary order which the militant-amateurs have to encounter.

If, however, the dilettante desires still to increase his share of contemplative pleasures, he can do so by enlarging his erudition, by simply reading good aesthetic works, and by a deep study of musical history and the lives of the great musicians, which will make him understand them in a more intimate and complete manner.

To know how to listen intelligently, without losing anything, is a veritable art ; an art that has to be learned and has its value. ” Everybody hears, but few listen, and a still smaller number comprehend. It is safe to say that the conditions for perfect hearing are as numerous as complicated ; and so much more difficult to fulfil since they exact a kind of self-abnegation. A listener who is attentive, educated without pedantry, without prejudice either of admiration or repugnance, sensitive and sympathetic to the beauties of the work, entering into the spirit of the performer so as to stimulate his eloquence, listening attentively for himself without imposing his ideas upon others, enthusiastic and discreet, is, from the point of view that we are considering, a perfect musician, a rare type, which alone can be produced by a happy mixture of instinct and experience.” Therefore, as we see, he is highly appreciated by true artists.

But a duty incumbent upon him is to show himself always affable, gracious and kind towards those to whom he is indebted for so many elevated pleasures, and who work to procure them for him; he owes them aid and protection quite as much as esteem and friendship. It is only thus that he may obtain pardon for his sybaritism.

And if it happens that he gets the idea of working in his turn, one day taking up the pen of a critic, which unfortunately is forbidden to nobody, it should be with the most extreme circumspection, and only for the sake of showing his personal impressions to others without ever trying to impose them upon anybody, and abstaining systematically from the abuse of those technical terms which he does not fail to use, with a comical conviction, entirely incorrectly. Jules Janin has said, I do not know exactly where, that ” Every man who meddles with criticism without having produced anything is a dishonest man.” This is excessive. That he has produced nothing would not be detrimental ; but it is necessary that he should possess the sum of the value and the knowledge of those who produce and whom he pretends to judge; as Voltaire, Proud’hon and La Bruyère, who can scarcely be suspected of having consciously agreed, have peremptorily established. One can accept the judgment of his equals and superiors only ; and this is what would render it notorious presumption on the part of a dilettante to pose as a professor of art and to formulate advice as to what people should do ; but if he knows how to limit himself, considering himself, with some reason, as the representative of the élite of the public, its most intelligent portion, guiding the great mass of this same public towards the works or the artists that are the objects of his greatest admiration, then he will render service to art and do estimable work. By keeping himself within these just limits, not only in his writings but also in his speech, he can contribute in his sphere of action to the development of dilettanteism, and favour the expansion of art by this very course to an appreciable extent.

It seems that we have thoroughly examined all the cases that may present themselves among amateurs whose studies have been insufficient or incomplete. There still remains one more, however, perhaps the most interesting of all, often also a very sad one, which it would be prudent always to foresee. The reader divines it. How often we see a man or woman of the world, more often a woman, sometimes indeed a young girl, obliged by some reverse of fortune to seek some resource, temporarily or permanently, in the exercise of an art that has never been studied except in the quality of an amateur?

It is here particularly that the inconvenience of superficial studies is sadly felt, as also the danger of family and social adulations. The individual believed himself or herself to be the possessor of real talent, accepted all the compliments as sterling, took pleasure in deceiving himself as to his proper value, and on the day when the necessity arose of making use of it, he saw it all vanish in smoke. Shall he launch out as a virtuoso? That is the first thing thought of, because it is the most brilliant and the most lucrative, when success is with us, but the examination is not a long one. It very soon becomes evident that he possesses nothing that is needed, and least of all the repertory, the qualities of endurance, solidity and assurance which can only result from long training. That is the first deception. Quite naturally, the next thought is of teaching. But to be a teacher, scholars are needed; and to attract scholars, unless we can make ourselves heard and applauded, we must be able at least to give some proof in some way of our qualifications for teaching, or show pupils already formed; but, in order to show them, we must have some ! Then, distressed and disillusioned, he turns in a fruitless circle, from which only a happy chance, upon which he must not count too much, can deliver him. He thought he had a tool in his hand, and it was only a plaything.

For this sad state of things, I do not know any remedy.

But there exists one means of avoiding this, which I have already hinted at, and this is to be trained for teaching in advance. I know personally, which makes me suppose that the case is not very rare, several fine examples of young women of the best society, having what is called ” a fine amateur talent,” and whose position with regard to fortune seems to be, as far as is possible, sheltered against all eventualities, who devote several hours every day, gratuitously, of course, to the musical instruction of young boys or girls whose parents could not pay for the luxury of an accomplishment. Some give them courses in solfeggio, often quite numerous; others give in the true meaning of the word, piano lessons ; and there are others who teach singing, the violin, or the harp, and, far from keeping to the elementary stage, conduct their pupils quite far.

Do they do this from a sentiment of pure charity? We may be permitted to doubt it, for their scholars do not belong for the most part to the indigent class, but are recruited rather from the lower middle class. In doing this, however, they accomplish an unquestionably beneficent act which it would be bad taste to disparage, for they give these children access to a class of studies which may lead them to a career which would remain closed to them without this intervention.

Do they do this with an idea of calculation and foresight into the future and the sorry surprises that it may have in store for them? I do not know, having never asked them about it ; but where would be the harm?

What is very certain is that whatever their incentive may be, there is nothing here but what is essentially honourable ; and if the days of adversity should come, they will find themselves quite differently armed for the struggle from those who have never done anything to prepare for it ; for not only will they have thus acquired the experience of teaching, upon the importance of which we have already insisted under all circumstances, so that there is no need to return to it here, but they have the means of justifying their qualifications for teaching by the exhibition of the results obtained, by making their little pupils heard, which is the best of all diplomas and ought to aid them strongly in recruiting from those about them the nucleus of a little following.

And if they should never need to have recourse to this resource, which I hope may be so, they will be re-warded in another way for the sacrifice that they have made of their time and trouble. One never knows anything so well as that which one has tried to teach to others ; and by this benevolent practice of teaching they will see their own talent develop and acquire quite an individual solidity and an assurance which is not the usual stamp of amateur talent.

Outside these cases and several others quite as rare, in which by the force of circumstances he is trans-formed into a veritable artist-militant, the intelligent amateur, whatever his degree of culture may be, and even if in some things he surpasses, or thinks he surpasses certain professionals, would always act in good taste by not trying to rival or enter into contest with them. The artist, on his side, will do well to avoid all occasions which may give rise to comparisons that are unbecoming, as unpleasant for the one as for the other. They should not encounter save with the noble and elevated aim of fraternal collaboration, and with the desire of completing one another and lending mutual support. An ill-understood and petty antagonism lowers and weakens both, while by remaining each in his own province, or in not associating except with the idea of cooperating in the work of art, they directly attain their common end, which is the contemplation or the production of the Beautiful.

If I have succeeded in making myself well under-stood up to this point, the reader can now conceive the strict solidarity that should exist between the amateurs and artists who are equally fond of matters of art. The artist’s life could not be understood without his desire of being appreciated by the public which is composed of amateurs. On the other hand, the amateur could not exist unless the artist were there to go before and show him the way. But, if their ideal is identical, it is otherwise with the ways and means by which they can or should pursue it. This is why, in the course of this chapter, dealing with the ways of rectifying an imperfect education or of making the best possible use of it, I have had to give different ad-vice for apparently analogous cases, according as they are addressed to one or other of these two categories. It is for everybody to judge for himself in which he should place himself, and to act accordingly, for his pleasure or for his profit, ad majorem artis gloriam.

I will only add here for the use of those unfortunate young artists or amateurs who see their studies stopped on account of the impossibility of procuring the advice of a teacher, a hint of a charming method that I have frequently seen succeed and which is called sympathy : this is the exchange of lessons. It is within the reach of everybody, with the exception of the absolutely ignorant,—those who have never learned anything, not even their own language. Really, two things only are necessary for this : first, you must know something, it does not matter what, but something, whether a language, or drawing, or history, or even some branch of music, and this well enough and thoroughly enough to be able to teach it. Then you must try to get into communication, by the aid of mutual friends or relations, or by some other means, even such as advertising in the papers, with some advanced student-musician who is in an analogous though inverse condition, being desirous of acquiring what you are able to teach him. And you may believe that this is not as difficult as one might suppose, for I have seen the exchange of Violin lessons for lessons in Harmony ; Piano for Violin ; Solfeggio for German, and even Mathematics for Counterpoint. I saw one of my pupils frequenting a Fencing-school for three years by giving a little course on the Flute to the master and his assistant ; and very recently I saw another, a good harmonist and organist, learning English and Grecian history at the same time by teaching the Organ to a young Englishman, and Harmony to a pupil in the École Normale; all concluding to the mutual satisfaction of the contracting parties, who afterwards generally remained excellent friends. This is mutual instruction without opening the purse.

The danger here lies in the inexperience of one or other of the Student-Professors; to remedy this they will have to make voluntary efforts, and struggle to divine what is incompletely explained to them, and more particularly to have that good faith which consists in recognizing without silly self-conceit when they are wrong. They will also act prudently in not making use of any books for study except those that have been used for their own instruction, and which they are likely to know how to make the best use of ; or, if there is any reason why they should have recourse to other methods, these should be chosen with the most suspicious circumspection, and only from those that have been proved and have passed into the rank of classics. In a case of this kind, we should never venture to make experiments ; and here more than ever it is important to follow only the best known and most frequented paths. People could scarcely believe the harm that is done to instruction by bad works of enticing titles and full of fallacious promises : The Violin Learned without a Master; The Piano in Fifteen Lessons; The Art of Composing Brought within the Reach of All; these are all fool-traps which we must guard against as pickpockets. Absolutely nothing can be learned in music without the necessary amount of time, or without a guide,—unless it is the accordion or the ocarina.