IN looking back over a fifty years' experience of pianoforte-playing and teaching the fact that stands out most vividly in my recollection is the enormous progress made all over the world, but more particularly in England, during the 'sixties and 'seventies of the last century. I say "more particularly in England" advisedly, for it must be confessed that this country stood at that time in more urgent need of musical progress than any other of the leading nations of the world. All the more honour to her and to her musicians for having wiped off the arrears so handsomely, and for winning her present proud position amongst the foremost of her rivals!
In submitting the facts of this progress to a brief review, I am afraid that the personal pronoun must inevitably crop up now and again, as the period of that improvement happens to coincide with my own musical growth, and I was therefore lucky enough to come into personal contact with nearly all the great pianists of that time, including Moscheles, Liszt, von Billow, Rubinstein, Tausig, and the rest of that glorious band of artists to whom the credit of raising the standard of pianoforte playing throughout the world is chiefly due.
I made my first public appearance in 1857 at the Crystal Palace as an infant prodigy, giving daily recitals, as well as playing with the orchestra two or three times a weekâan engagement which lasted for the best part of nine years, almost without a break.
Although the Crystal Palace concerts were admittedly the best in England after the Philharmonic and Musical Union concerts, my solo-programmes there were a medley of terribly mediocre music. I had to play Kuhe, DÃ¶hler, Alfred Jaell, Osborne, Ascher, Brinley Richards, and Thalberg, whose Home, Sweet Home became a nightmare to me through constant repetition, while the only compositions of Liszt that I played were his Rhapsodie No. 2 and some of his operatic Fantasias. These, together with a sprinkling of Lieder ohne Worte, and an occasional Nocturne or Waltz of Chopin, formed my entire repertoire.
I also played duets there with my elder brother Robert, including various operatic arrangements, arrangements of overtures, some of Schubert's Marches, and other music of the same description.
With the orchestra I played the Rondos of Hummel, the D minor Concerto of Mozart, the Concertos and Caprice of Mendelssohn, some of Moscheles' works, and, later on, Beethoven's 1st and 3rd Concertos. The most prominent pianists living at that time in England were Arabella Goddard, Charles HallÃ©, Ernst Pauer and Lindsay Sloper. I had every opportunity of hearing them all, and for a long time their playing was my only instruction. I am not certain, however, that I did not gain more in this way than by taking lessons, which were then of the most perfunctory character, as I quickly found out when I was able to afford them. The method, even of the best teachers, was primitive: one was either praised to the skies, or told that the piece wanted more practice: in the latter event the usual prescription was an hour's scales and a dose of Czerny's Ãtudes de la VelocitÃ© or Cramer's Studies, to be taken as many times a day as the poor sufferer could stand it â and this was all! As for any proper finger or touch training, such things did not enter the head of the pianoforte-teacher of those days. Could your instructor play, he or she would play the piece over to you, and if you were keen you tried to copy them. Looking back to that date, I often envy the young people of the present day, Who have the opportunity afforded them of being systematically trained from the very beginning, whilst we poor beggars had to pick up the crumbs of knowledge where and how we couldâ¦.
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