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SECTION XXXVII

BEFORE THE PUBLIC

In the wide reaches of the theatre it is
needful to give an exaggeration to the expres-
sion, which in the concert hall, where the
forms of society rule, must be entirely aban-
doned. And yet the picture must be pre-
sented by the artist to the public from the
very first word, the very first note; the mood
must be felt in advance. This depends partly
upon the bearing of the singer and the ex-
pression of countenance he has during the
prelude, whereby interest in what is coming
is aroused and is directed upon the music as
well as upon the poem.

The picture is complete in itself; I have
only to vivify its colors during the perform-
ance. Upon the management of the body,
upon the electric current which should flow

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266 HOW TO SING

between the artist and the public, — a current
that often streams forth at his very appear-
ance, but often is not to be established at all,
— depend the glow and effectiveness of the
color which we impress upon our picture.

No artist should be beguiled by this into
giving forth more than artistic propriety per-
mits, either to enhance the enthusiasm or to
intensify the mood; for the electric connection
cannot be forced. Often a tranquillizing feel-
ing is very soon manifest on both sides, the
effect of which is quite as great, even though
less stimulating. Often, too, a calm, still
understanding between singer and public ex-
ercises a fascination upon both, that can only
be attained through a complete devotion to
the task in hand, and renunciation of any at-
tempt to gain noisy applause.

To me it is a matter of indifference whether
the public goes frantic or listens quietly and
reflectively, for I give out only what I have
undertaken to. If I have put my individu-
ality, my powers, my love for the work, into


BEFORE THE PUBLIC 267

a role or a song that is applauded by the
public, I decline all thanks for it to myself
personally, and consider the applause as be-
longing to the master whose work I am inter-
preting. If I have succeeded in making him
intelligible to the public, the reward therefor
is contained in that fact itself, and I ask for
nothing more.

Of what is implied in the intelligent inter-
pretation of a work of art, as to talent and
study, the public has no conception. Only
they can understand it whose lives have been
devoted to the same ideals. The lasting un-
derstanding of such, or even of a part of the
public, is worth more than all the storm of
applause that is given to so many.

All the applause in the world cannot repay
me for the sacrifices I have made for art, and
no applause in the world is able to beguile me
from the dissatisfaction I feel over the failure
of a single tone or attempted expression.

What seems to me bad, because I demand
the greatest things of myself, is, to be sure,


268 HOW TO SING

good enough for many others. I am, how-
ever, not of their opinion. In any matter
relating to art, only the best is good enough
for any public. If the public is uncultivated,
one must make it know the best, must edu-
cate it, must teach it to understand the best.
A naive understanding is often most strongly
exhibited by the uncultivated — that is, the
unspoiled — public, and often is worth more
than any cultivation. The cultivated public
should be willing to accept only the best; it
should ruthlessly condemn the bad and the
mediocre.

It is the artist's task, through offering his
best and most carefully prepared achieve-
ments, to educate the public, to ennoble it;
and he should carry out his mission without
being influenced by bad standards of taste.

The public, on the other hand, should con-
sider art, not as a matter of fashion, or as an
opportunity to display its clothes, but should
feel it as a true and profound enjoyment, and
do everything to second the artist's efforts.


BEFORE THE PUBLIC 269

Arriving late at the opera or in the con-
cert hall is a kind of bad manners which
cannot be sufficiently censured. In the same
way, going out before the end, at unfitting
times, and the use of fans in such a way as
to disturb artists and those sitting near,
should be avoided by cultivated people.
Artists who are concentrating their whole
nature upon realizing an ideal, which they
wish to interpret with the most perfect ex-
pression, should not be disturbed or dis-
quieted.

On the other hand, operatic performances,
and concerts especially, should be limited in
duration and in the number of pieces pre-
sented. It is better to offer the public a
single symphony or a short list of songs or
pianoforte pieces, which it can listen to with
attention and really absorb, than to provide
two or three hours of difficult music that
neither the public can listen to with sufficient
attention nor the artist perform with suffi-
cient concentration.


SECTION XXXVIII

INTERPRETATION

Let us return to the subject of Expression,
and examine a song; for example,

"Der Nussbaum," by Schumann.

The prevailing mood through it is one
of quiet gayety, consequently one demanding
a pleasant expression of countenance. The
song picture must rustle by us like a fairy
story. The picture shows us the fragrant
nut tree putting forth its leaves in the spring j
under it a maiden lost in reverie, who finally
falls asleep, happy in her thoughts. All is
youth and fragrance, a charming little pic-
ture, whose colors must harmonize. None
of them should stand out from the frame.
Only one single word rises above the rus-
tling of the tree, and this must be brought
plainly to the hearing of the listening maiden

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INTEPPRETATION 271

— and hence, also, of the public — the second
" next" year. The whole song finds its point
in that one word. The nut tree before the
house puts forth its green leaves and sheds
its fragrance; its blossoms are lovingly em-
braced by the soft breezes, whispering to each
other two by two, and offer their heads to be
kissed, nodding and bowing; the song must
be sung with an equal fragrance, each musi-
cal phrase in one breath: that is, with six
inaudible breathings, without ritenuto.

They whisper of a maiden who night and
day is thinking, she knows not of what her-
self. Between " selber" and " nicht was "
a slight separation of the words can be made,
by breaking off the r in " selber" nasally;
and holding the tone nasally, without taking
afresh breath, attacking the "nicht" anew.
In this way an expression of uncertainty is
lent to the words " nicht was."

But now all becomes quite mysterious.
" They whisper, they whisper " — one must
bend one's thoughts to hear it; who can


272 HOW TO SING

understand so soft a song ? But now I hear
plainly, even though it be very soft — the
whisper about the bridegroom and the next
year, and again quite significantly, the next
year. That is so full of promise, one can
scarcely tear one's self away from the
thoughts, from the word in which love is im-
parted, and yet that, too, comes to an end!

Now I am the maiden herself who listens,
smiling in happiness, to the rustling of the
tree, leaning her head against its trunk, full
of longing fancies as she sinks to sleep and
to dream, from which she would wish never
to awaken.

"Feldeinsamkeit " by Brahms.

This song interprets the exalted mood of
the soul of the man who, lying at rest in the
long grass, watches the clouds float by, and
whose being is made one with nature as he
does so. A whole world of insects buzzes
about him, the air shimmers in the bright
sunlight, flowers shed their perfume; every-
thing about him lives a murmuring life in

INTERPRETATION 273

tones that seem to enhance the peace of
nature, far from the haunts of men.

As tranquil as are the clouds that pass by,
as peaceful as is the mood of nature, as luxu-
rious as are the j flowers that spread their fra-
grance, so tranquil and calm must be the
breathing of the singer, which draws the
long phrases of the song over the chords of
the accompaniment, and brings before us in
words and tones the picture of the warm
peace of summer in nature, and the radiant
being of a man dissolved within it.

I mark the breathing places with V. " Ich
liege still im Nohen griinen Gras V und sende
lange meinen Blick V nach oben V [and
again comfortably, calmly] nach oben.

"Von Grillen rings umschwarmt V ohn'
Unterlass V von Himmelsblaue wundersam
umwoben V von Himmelsblaue V wundersam
umwoben."

Each tone, each letter, is connected closely
with the preceding and following; the expres-
sion of the eyes and of the soul should be


274 HOW TO SING

appropriate to that of the glorified peace of
nature and of the soul's happiness. The last
phrase should soar tenderly, saturated with a
warm and soulful coloring.

" Die schonen weissen Wolken zieh'n dahin

" The Erlking," by Schubert.

For him who is familiar with our native
legends and tales, the willows and alders in
the fields and by the brooks are peopled with
hidden beings, fairies, and witches. They


INTERPRETATION 275

stretch out ghostly arms, as their veils wave
over their loose hair, they bow, cower, raise
themselves, become as big as giants or as lit-
tle as dwarfs. They seem to lie in wait for
the weak, to fill them with fright.

The father, however, who rides with his
child through the night and the wind, is a
man, no ghost; and his faithful steed, that
carries both, no phantom. The picture is pre-
sented to us vividly; we can follow the group
for long. The feeling is of haste, but not
of ghostliness. The prelude should conse-
quently sound simply fast, but not over-
drawn. The first phrases of the singer
should be connected with it as a plain
narrative.

Suddenly the child hugs the father more
closely and buries his face in terror in his
bosom. Lovingly the father bends over
him; quietly he asks him the cause of his
fear.

Frightened, the child looks to one side, and
asks, in disconnected phrases, whether his


276 HOW TO SING

father does not see the Erlking, the Erlking
with his crown and train. They had just rid-
den by a clump of willows. Still quietly, the
father explains smilingly to his son that what
he saw was a bank of fog hanging over the
meadow.

But in the boy's brain the Erlking has
already raised his enticing whisper. 1 The
still, small voice, as though coming from
another world, promises the child golden
raiment, flowers, and games.

Fearfully he asks his father if he does not
hear the Erlking's whispered promises.

" It is only the dry leaves rustling in the
wind." The father quiets him, and his voice

1 The voice of the Erlking is a continuous, soft, uninter-
rupted stream of tone, upon which the whispered words
are hung. The Erlking excites the thoughts of the fever-
sick boy. The three enticements must be sung very rapidly,
without any interruption of the breath. The first I sing as
far as possible in one breath (if I am not hampered by the
accompanist), or at most in two; the second in two, the
third in three; and here for the first time the words " reizt"
and "brauch ich Gewalt" emerge from the whispered
pianissimo.


INTEEPEETATION 277

is full of firm and loving reassurance, but he
feels that his child is sick.

For but a few seconds all is still; then the
voice comes back again. In a low whisper
sounds and words are distinguished. Erlking
invites the boy to play with his daughters,
who shall dance with him and rock him and
sing to him.

In the heat of fever the boy implores his
father to look for the Erlking's daughters.
The father sees only an old gray willow; but
his voice is no longer calm. Anxiety for
his sick child makes his manly tones break;
the comforting words contain already a
longing for the journey's end — quickly,
quickly, must he reach it."

Erlking has now completely filled the
feverish fancy of the child. With ruthless
power he possesses himself of the boy — all
opposition is vain — the silver cord is loos-
ened. Once more he cries out in fear to his
father, then his eyes are closed. The man,
beside himself, strains every nerve — his own


278 HOW TO SING

and his horse's; his haste is like a wild flight.
The journey's end is reached; breathless they
stop — but the race was in vain.

A cold shudder runs through even the
narrator; his whole being is strained and
tense, he must force his mouth to utter the
last words.


SECTION XXXIX

IN CONCLUSION

The class of voice is dependent upon the
inborn characteristics of the vocal organs.
But the development of the voice and all
else that appertains to the art of song, can,
providing talent is not lacking, be learned
through industry and energy.

If every singer cannot become a famous
artist, every singer is at least in duty bound
to have learned something worth while, and
to do his best according to his powers, as soon
as he has to appear before any public. As
an artist, he should not afford this public
merely a cheap amusement, but should ac-
quaint it with the most perfect embodiments
of that art whose sole task properly is to
ennoble the taste of mankind, and to bestow
happiness; to raise it above the miseries of

270


280 HOW TO SING

this workaday world, withdraw it from them,
to idealize even the hateful things in human
nature which it may have to represent, with-
out departing from truth.

But what is the attitude of artists toward
these tasks ?

Cleveland , January ll, 1902.


NOTE
A Good Remedy for Catarrh and Hoarseness

Pour boiling hot water into a saucer, and let a
large sponge suck it all up. Then squeeze it firmly
out again. Hold the sponge to the nose and mouth,
and breathe alternately through the nose and mouth,
in and out.

I sing my exercises, the great scale, passages, etc.,
and all the vowels into it, and so force the hot steam
to act upon the lungs, bronchial tubes, and especially
on the mucous membranes, while I am breathing in
and out through the sponge. After this has been
kept up for ten or fifteen minutes, wash the face
in cold water. This can be repeated four to six
times a day. The sponge should not be full of
water, but must be quite squeezed out. This has
helped me greatly, and I can recommend it highly.
It can do no injury because it is natural. But after
breathing in the hot steam, do not go out immedi-
ately into the cold air.

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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III