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Robert Schumann - aphorisms

Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 14, 2007, 08:45:26 PM
One of the great perks of my new job (in the library) is that I have access to tons of great reading material, and also, lots of down-time to engage myself in them.

Today I checked out Schumann's On Music and Musicians, of which the aphorisms section seems to be a perfect fit for an internet forum such as this.

Here are a few favorites, chosen mostly for their profundity and retained relevancy:

Quote
“Workmanship, though of value, is subordinated to imagination, sincerity, and form.”

“Virtuoso tricks change with the times; only where proficiency serves higher purposes has it value.”

“Play in time! The playing of some virtuosos resembles the walk of a drunken man. Do not make these your models.”

“Try to play easy pieces well; it is better than to play difficult pieces poorly.”

“You ought not help to spread bad compositions, but, on the contrary, help to suppress them with all your force.”

“Never play bad compositions and never listen to them when not absolutely obliged to do so.”

“Do not judge a composition on a first hearing; that which please most at first is not always the best. Masters call for study. Many things will only become clear to you when you are old.”

“In judging compositions decide as to whether they belong in the realm of art, or merely in the domain of superficial entertainment. Stand for the first and not let the other irritate you.”

“ ‘Melody’ is the amateur’s war cry, and certainly music without melody is not music. Therefore you must understand what amateurs mean by this word: anything easily, rhythmically pleasing. But there are melodies of a very different type; at whatever page you open Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. they will appear to you in a thousand different guises. If you study these, you will soon tire of the monotony of modern Italian opera melodies.”

“People say, ‘It pleased’; or ‘It failed to please.’ As though there were nothing more important than the art of pleasing the public!”

“There are untalented people who, driven to music by external circumstances, have learned a good deal. They are the artisans.”

“It is a characteristic of the extraordinary that it cannot be easily understood; the majority is always attuned to the superficial, i.e., to the enjoyment of virtuoso display.”

“We forgive the diamond its sharp edges; it is most costly to round them.”

“Comparisons lead to results by detours; rather judge everything on its own merits and demerits.”

“A time may come when that saying, already denounced by you as the saying of demagogues, “That which sounds well is not wrong,” may be altered to “All that does not sound well is wrong.” And then woe to your canons—and particularly to the cancrizans.

“The emptiest head thinks it can hide behind a fugue; fugues are only for great masters.”

“Consider how many circumstances must favorably unite before the beautiful can emerge in all its dignity and splendor. We need lofty, serious intention and great ideality; enthusiasm in presentation; virtuosity of workmanship and harmonic cooperation; inner desire and need of the giver and the receiver; momentarily favorable mood in audience and artist alike; a fortunate combination of time, place and general conditions, as well as of the auspicious moment; direction and communication of impressions, feelings, views; a reflection of the joy of art in the eyes of others. Is not such a combination a happy throw with six dice of sixes?”

“Among the causes of the decline of music are bad opera houses and bad teachers. It is almost incredible how the latter affect whole generations either beneficially or destructively through primary and secondary education.”

“While playing Kalkbrenner’s four-part one-handed fugue, I thought of the excellent Thibaut, author of the book, On the Purity of Music, who told me that once, at a concert given by Cramer in London, a polite Lady Somebody, and art amateur, actually rose, against all English convention, and stood on tip-toe to stare at the artist’s hands. The ladies near her imitated her example, until finally the whole audience was standing; and the lady whispered ecstatically into Thibaut’s ear: ‘Heavens, what trills!—what trills! and with the fourth and fifth fingers!—and with both hands at once!’ The whole audience murmured in accompaniment: ‘Heavens! what a trill! what trills!—and with both,’ etc.
      This seems to me a very common characteristic of the public at concerts where the listeners like to see the virtuoso in person.
      Would to heaven that a race of freaks could arise in the world of artists, with one finger too many on each hand, then the dance of virtuosity would be at an end!”

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 14, 2007, 10:57:08 PM
Thanks for digging these up.  Does anybody in classical music in this day and age (in any capacity) express anything even close to these sentiments?

Classical music is always perceived as "snobbish" and "elitist" by the general public but rarely touches on any kind of real elitism anymore.

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 14, 2007, 11:46:38 PM
Quote
Thanks for digging these up.  Does anybody in classical music in this day and age (in any capacity) express anything even close to these sentiments?

Try http://www.artsjournal.com/postclassic; it's a composer's blog. You might not agree with everything he says, but it's actually fairly insightful and even the comments sections have some useful, non-circlejerky discourse.

On the issue of the older generations of composers, just go to your public library - there's quite a number of them that had a lot to say through criticism and correspondence. And there's also this inexpensive and emminently readable little number

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 15, 2007, 12:56:02 AM
Debussy's and Berlioz's critical works are specifically mentioned in the editor's introduction to my version of "On Music and Musicians," but the editor feels that they (along with the rest of the musicians-cum-critics from the Common Practice period) are a bit lacking in comparison to Schumann simply because they were too tightly ensnared by their own musical personalities to offer the same, sharpened sense of objectivity that Schumann shows in his canon of critical writing.

shadowmystic

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 17, 2007, 10:31:47 AM
Yeah the modern classical audience is retarded.  I went to my a baroque concert a couple of days ago and the way people looked down their noses at me was ridiculous, being 17 and wearing simple clothing.  As I sat down I heard the man behind me having a long conversation about which shade of red his new couch should be to best match his living room.   :-X

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 18, 2007, 12:19:40 AM
Quote
“A time may come when that saying, already denounced by you as the saying of demagogues, “That which sounds well is not wrong,” may be altered to “All that does not sound well is wrong.”


Or the inverse:

All that does not sound well is not wrong.

-> All that does not sound well is right, and anything else is uncreative.

That's jazz musicians talking about classical, in a nutshell.

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 18, 2007, 12:30:59 PM
Quote

Or the inverse:

All that does not sound well is not wrong.



Also, All that sounds well is wrong. A description of Top 40 music. May sound pleasant but it's wrong in the sense that it's lazy, repetitive, and unfruitful music.

Quote
-> All that does not sound well is right, and anything else is uncreative.
 
That's jazz musicians talking about classical, in a nutshell.


Stupid moralist translation from jazz hipsters. Since when did "not wrong"= "right"? Creating random stuff that doesn't sound well doesn't speak anything. It is merely that: random notes that do not sound well. Jazz music lacks ideology.

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 21, 2007, 12:29:15 AM
More wisdom to share:

Quote
“Half-educated people are generally unable to discover in music, without an accompanying text, more than the expression of grief and joy and perhaps melancholy (which lies midway between the two).”

“Simplicity alone does not make a work of art; indeed, it may be as blameworthy as its opposite--complexity. The sound tone-master, however, employs all means deliberately at the right moment.”

“German composers usually fail because they are too anxious to please the public. Let only one of them give us something personal, simple, and deeply felt, and he will see for himself that he can accomplish more in this way. The public is apt to turn a cold shoulder on the man who always approaches it with outstretched arms. Beethoven went about with a bowed head and folded arms; the crowd respectfully made way for him and gradually became familiar with, and fond of his extraordinary speech.”

“Young composers can never learn too soon that music does not exist for the fingers but the reverse, and that no one [should] dare be a bad musician in order to become a good virtuoso.”

"A flower may be painted merely in blue and green, a waltz may be built on tonic and dominant, but when painting a landscape one must know how to use colors freely. Let the musician courageously strike the keys. A passing false tone will quickly be covered up by a powerful idea...For aught I care the fifths may ascend or descend chromatically, the melody may be doubled in every interval in octaves. Yes, lately I heard (in a dream) an angelic muse filled with heavenly fifths, and this happened, so the angels assured me, because they had never found it necessary to study through-bass. Those for whom my words are intended will understand my dream."


Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 23, 2007, 01:30:16 PM
Half-witted people can appreciate one dimension out of many, in other words.

How apt.

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 25, 2007, 08:44:51 PM
I am about half-way through the collection now:

Quote
"It is true that of late we have had but few orchestral works of consequence; and those few have interested us rather as illustrations of their composers' progress, than for their art or as creations of decided influence on the general public. Most of the others have merely been pale reflections of Beethoven; not to forget those tiresome manufacturers of symphonies who recall the powder and perukes of Mozart and Haydn, but not the heads that wore them."

"With increasing years, with increasing demands, the circle of our favorites grows smaller and smaller. The cause of this is in ourselves as well as in them. Who is the master of whom one holds the same opinion all one's life? Experiences which youth has not yet achieved are necessary to the evaluation of Bach; it even underestimates Mozart's greatness. Mere musical studies are not enough to enable us to understand Beethoven, just as in certain years he inspires us with one work rather than with another. It is certain that equal ages exert a reciprocal attraction upon each other, that youthful enthusiasm is best understood by youth, and the power of the mature master by the full-grown man."

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 26, 2007, 04:13:41 PM
Quite clear that he would settle in fine here (if he were as metal as he was classical).

Re: Robert Schumann - aphorisms
September 29, 2007, 12:34:19 PM
I was re-reading Hessian.org, which I'm supposed to promote to a field of morons who like Cannibal Corpse and Pantera, and it struck me that the case is hopeless.

Hessianism is not for every headbanger. It's a mockery of a negative term for Hessians, which can only successfully be used by those who violate the rule.

I don't know about the rest of you, but popular music is a wasteland for me. Hip-hop is obviously for morons, but I've come to see rock music as not much different, since it is composed in only three additional scales and is totally cyclic in how it is written. Verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. Soak, lather, rinse, repeat. Eat, defecate, reproduce, eat, die.

Metal is a breath of fresh air. It took the hopelessness of punk and made it into something with grandeur and beauty, and hope that we can change our stupid human ways into smarter human ways.

Not everyone is on board with that plan, because it would make most of them obsolete.