HUMMEL'S INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE PIANOFORTE.*
THERE are few musicians of the present day whom we are inclined to place before HUMMEL. We should be content to risk our proof of his superiority over most of his contemporaries solely upon his Mass in E b. It would be easy to multiply proofs of his extraordinary talent, from his writings for the church and the theatre, for the chamber and the orchestra ; but one such instance is as good as a thousand. A sincere desire to further his art must have been the motive for his submitting to the labour of producing such a work as that now under our considera- tion, for its bulk must prevent its extensive sale. Here genius and fancy could do little. It is the result of correct taste superadded to long experience, and developed by patient industry. An English pro- fessor, intending to write an elementary work, produces one of fifty or sixty pages, because he writes his book for sale ; a German writes a thick folio of five hundred pages, because he is content to write for fame.
It is quite impossible in our limited space to give even an outline of this most valuable work. Its author does not profess to discover any short road to pianoforte-playing ; but those who have the patience to follow him, step by step, through his course of instruction, will (genius permitting) infallibly arrive at great excellence. His remarks are not * A complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instructions on the art of Playing the Pianoforte; commencing with the simplest elementary principles, and including every information requisite to the most finished style of performance. Written, and dedicated to his Majesty George IV. by J. N. Hummel, Chapel-master to the Grand Duke of Saxony, &c. &c. London, 1329. Boosey and Co. so voluminous as his examples,—the latter extending to more than two thousand : but they are plain, clear, and sensible. The following passage from the preliminary observations addressed to parents, may have some weight, coming from such a man as HUMMEL. We advise our English masters (quack musicians excepted) to copy them out and apply them.
" Parents are often so weak as to require that their children, in order to attract attention, should play all sorts of little tunes before their tuition is well begun ; not considering that this leads to nothing advantageous, and that it steals away so much from that expensive time, requisite to a complete course of elementary instructions, which is so necessary to fix the rudiments firmly in the mind, andwhich alone can produce any regular and useful result."
HUMMEL begins with elementary instructions of the simplest kind ; accompanied, as we have before said, with copious examples, all pro- gressively leading the scholar on to the desired end. The following extract we beg to recommend to the attention both of masters and pupils ; the bulk of that sort of music which is now put into the hands of the latter, consisting too often of those " flimsy extracts" which are here so properly denounced.
" As the uninterrupted study of the foregoing exercises might somewhat abate the energy of the beginner, I should advise the master to mix with them, from time to time, compositions of a light and pleasing character, avoiding only flimsy extracts from operas, ballets, overtures, dances, &c.; because they are not suited to the pianoforte, form neither the hands nor the fingers, em- ploy the left hand too little, spoil the taste for genuine pianoforte music, and interrupt the progress of a serious and rational study of music."
He then adds a list of those writers for the pianoforte, and in some cases, of their particular works, to which he wishes to direct the pupil's attention ; and, "as a termination to the whole, as a practice in the strict or fugue style of composition, and as a means of forming the taste for the loftiest departments of the art," he recommends the works Of SEBASTIAN BACH and HANDEL.
In the chapter "on Musical Performance in general," he enforces the necessity of an attention to vocal science, among those who desire to excel in instrumental composition or execution.
" What relates to beauty and taste in performance, will be best cultivated, and perhaps ultimately most easily obtained, by hearing music finely per- formed, and by listening to singers gifted with great powers of expression. Indeed, among those musicians and composers who have been singers (and in this class may be numbered Hasse, Naumann, Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart) there will generally be found more pure, correct, and critical musical feeling, than among such as have only a general and extrinsic idea of melody and good singing."
We cannot refrain from quoting the high authority of the author against a practice Which, among many merely superficial and showy pianoforte players, has been far too prevalent—we mean the lavish and constant use of the pedals.
" A performance with the dampers almost constantlyraised, resorted to by way of a cloak to an impure and indistinct method of playing, has become so much the fashion, that many players would be no longer recognized if they were debarred the use of the pedals. Let the pupil never employ the pedals before he can play a piece correctly and intelligibly. Indeed, generally speaking, every player should indulge in the use of them with the utmost moderation ; for it is an erroneous supposition that a passage correctly and beautifully executed without pedals, and of which every note is clearly un- derstood, will please the hearer less than a mere confusion of sounds, arising from a series of notes clashing one against another. Only ears accustomed to this can applaud such an abuse : sensible men will, no doubt, give their sanction to my opinion. Neither Mozart nor Clementi required these helps to obtain the highly-deserved reputation of the greatest and most expressive performers of their day. A demonstration that, without having recourse to such worthless means, a player may arrive at the most honourable rank."
Here we must stop. Our thanks are preeminently due to the author for his most admirable and valuable work. In the present time, when quackery and imposture have unhappily succeeded in obtaining such an influence in the direction of the musical taste, it is consolatory to find a man of the highest rank in his profession bringing his talents to the work of elementary instruction. Such efforts cannot, will not be lost. The progress towards refinement is slow, but it is sure, and the end will be attained.
To the English publishers of this work (Messrs. BOOSEY and Co.) the thanks of the musical world are also due for the complete and perfect form in which they have brought it out.