Franz Xaver Scharwenka

Franz Xaver Scharwenka was born at Samter, Posen (Polish Prussia), January 6, 1850. He was a pupil of Kullak and Würst at Kullak’s Academy in Berlin, from which he graduated in 1868. Shortly thereafter he was appointed a teacher in the same institution. The next year he made his début as a virtuoso at the Singakademie. For many years thereafter he gave regular concerts in Berlin in connection with Sauret and Grünfeld. In 1874 he gave up his position in the famous Berlin music school and commenced the career of the touring virtuoso. In 1880 he founded the Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin together with his brother Philipp Scharwenka, an able composer.

In 1891 Scharwenka came to New York to establish a conservatory there. This, however, was closed in 1898 when Scharwenka returned to Berlin as Director of the Klindworth-Scharwenka conservatory. He has been the recipient of numerous honors from the governments of Austria and Germany. He received the title of “Professor” from the King of Prussia (Emperor Wilhelm II) and that of Court Pianist from the emperor of Austria.

His many concert tours in America and in Europe have established his fame as a pianist of great intellectual strength as well as strong poetical force. His compositions, including his four Concertos, have been widely played, and his opera, Mataswintha, has received important productions. One of his earlier works, the Polish Dance, has been enormously popular for a quarter of a century.

(The following conference was conducted in German and English.)



Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Economy in Music Study


It is somewhat of a question whether any time spent in music study is actually wasted, since all intellectual activity is necessarily accompanied by an intellectual advance. However, it soon becomes apparent to the young teacher that results can be achieved with a great economy of time if the right methods are used. By the use of the words “right methods” I do not mean to infer that only one right method exists. The right method for one pupil might be quite different from that which would bring about the best results with another pupil. In these days far more elasticity of methods exists than was generally sanctioned in the past, and the greatness of the teacher consists very largely of his ability to invent, adapt, and adjust his pedagogical means to the special requirements of his pupil. Thus it happens that the teacher, by selecting only those exercises, etudes and teaching pieces demanded by the obvious needs of the pupil, and by eliminating unnecessary material, a much more rapid rate of advancement may be obtained. One pupil, for instance, might lack those qualities of velocity and dexterity which many of the etudes of Czerny develop in such an admirable manner, while another pupil might be deficient in the singing tone, which is almost invariably improved by the study of certain Chopin etudes.


Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Time Lost in Early Study

Although my educational work for many years has been almost exclusively limited to pupils preparing for careers as teachers and as concert pianists, I nevertheless have naturally taken a great interest in those broad and significant problems which underlie the elementary training of the young music student. I have written quite extensively upon the subject, and my ideas have been quite definitely expressed in my book, Methodik des Klavierspiels: Systematische Darstellung der technischen und æsthetischen Erfordernisse für einen rationellen Lehrgang. I have also come in close contact with this branch of musical work in the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin.

My observations have led to the firm conviction that much of the time lost in music study could be saved if the elementary training of the pupil were made more comprehensive and more secure. It is by no means an economy of time to hurry over the foundation work of the pupil. It is also by no means an economy of money to place the beginner in the hands of a second-rate teacher. There is just as much need for the specialist to train the pupil at the start as there is for the head of the “meisterschule” to guide the budding virtuoso. How can we expect the pupil to make rapid progress if the start is not right? One might as well expect a broken-down automobile to win a race. The equipment at the beginning must be of the kind which will carry the pupil through his entire career with success. If any omissions occur, they must be made up later on, and the difficulty in repairing this neglect is twice as great as it would have been had the student received the proper instruction at the start.



Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Ear-Training

The training of the ear is of great importance, and if teachers would only make sure that their pupils studied music with their sense of hearing as well as with their fingers, much time would be saved in later work. Young pupils should be taught to listen by permitting them to hear good music, which is at the same time sufficiently simple to insure comprehension. Early musical education is altogether too one-sided. The child is taken to the piano and a peculiar set of hieroglyphics known as notation is displayed to him. He is given a few weeks to comprehend that these signs refer to certain keys on the keyboard. He commences to push down these keys faithfully and patiently and his musical education is thus launched in what many consider the approved manner. Nothing is said about the meaning of the piece, its rhythm, its harmonies, its æsthetic beauties. Nothing is told of the composer, or of the period in which the piece was written. It would be just about as sensible to teach a pupil to repeat the sounds of the Chinese language by reading the Chinese word-signs, but without comprehending the meaning of the sounds and signs. Is it any wonder that beginners lose interest in their work, and refuse to practise except when compelled to do so?

I am most emphatically in favor of a more rational, a more broad, and a more thorough training of the beginner. Time taken from that ordinarily given to the senseless, brainless working up and down of the fingers at the keyboard, and devoted to those studies such as harmony, musical history, form, and in fact, any study which will tend to widen the pupil’s knowledge and increase his interest, will save much time in later work.


Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Waste in Technical Study

Geometrically speaking, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Teachers should make every possible effort to find the straight line of technic which will carry the pupil from his first steps to technical proficiency without wandering about through endless lanes and avenues which lead to no particular end. I suppose that all American teachers hear the same complaint that is heard by all European teachers when any attempt is made to insist upon thorough practice and adequate study from the dilettante. As soon as the teacher demands certain indispensable technical studies, certain necessary investigations of the harmonic, æsthetic or historical problems, which contribute so much to the excellence of pianistic interpretations, he hears the following complaint: “I don’t want to be a composer” or “I don’t want to be a virtuoso—I only want to play just a little for my own amusement.” The teacher knows and appreciates the pupil’s attitude exactly, and while he realizes that his reasoning is altogether fatuous, it seems well-nigh impossible to explain to the amateur that unless he does his work right he will get very little real pleasure or amusement out of it.

The whole sum and substance of the matter is that a certain amount of technical, theoretical and historical knowledge must be acquired to make the musician, before we can make a player. There is the distinction. Teachers should never fail to remember that their first consideration should be to make a musician. All unmusical playing is insufferable. No amount of technical study will make a musician, and all technical study which simply aims to make the fingers go faster, or play complicated rhythms, is wasted unless there is the foundation and culture of the real musician behind it.

To the sincere student every piece presents technical problems peculiar to itself. The main objection to all technical study is that unless the pupil is vitally interested the work becomes monotonous. The student should constantly strive to avoid monotony in practicing exercises. As soon as the exercises become dull and uninteresting their value immediately depreciates. The only way to avoid this is to seek variety. As I have said in my Methodik des Klavierspiels: “The musical and tonal monotony of technical exercises may be lessened in a measure by progressive modulations, by various rhythmical alterations, and further through frequent changes in contrary motion.” Great stress should be laid upon practice in contrary motion. The reason for this is obvious to all students of harmony. When playing in contrary motion all unevenness, all breaks in precision and all unbalanced conditions of touch become much more evident to the ear than if the same exercises were played in parallel motion. Another important reason for the helpfulness of playing in contrary motion is not to be undervalued. It is that a kind of physical ‘sympathy’ is developed between the fingers and the nerves which operate them in the corresponding hands. For instance, it is much easier to play with the fifth finger of one hand and the fifth finger of the other hand than it is to play with the third finger of one hand and the fifth finger of another.”



Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Waste in Unimportant Subjects

There is a general impression among teachers to-day that much time might be saved by a more careful selection of studies, and by a better adaptation of the studies to particular pupils. For instance, Carl Czerny wrote over one thousand opus numbers. He wrote some of the most valuable studies ever written, but no one would think of demanding a pupil to play all of the Czerny studies, any more than the student should be compelled to play everything that Loeschhorn, Cramer and Clementi ever wrote. Studies must be selected with great care and adapted to particular cases, and if the young teacher feels himself incapable of doing this, he should either use selections or collections of studies edited by able authorities or he should place himself under the advice of some mature and experienced teacher until the right experience has been obtained. It would not be a bad plan to demand that all young teachers be apprenticed to an older teacher until the right amount of experience has been obtained. The completion of a course in music does not imply that the student is able to teach. Teaching and the matter of musical proficiency are two very different things. Many conservatories now conduct classes for teachers, which are excellent in their way. In the olden days a mechanic had to work side by side with his master before he was considered proficient to do his work by himself. How much more important is it that our educators should be competently trained. They do not have to deal with machinery, but they do have to deal with the most wonderful of all machines—the human brain.

Some studies in use by teachers are undeserving of their popularity, according to my way of thinking. Some studies are altogether trivial and quite dispensable. I have never held any particular fondness for Heller for instance. His studies are tuneful, but they seem to me, in many cases, weak imitations of the style of some masters such as Schumann, Mendelssohn, etc., who may be studied with more profit. I believe that the studies of Loeschhorn possess great pedagogical value. Loeschhorn was a born teacher: he knew how to collect and present technical difficulties in a manner designed to be of real assistance to the student. The studies of Kullak are also extremely fine.

This is a subject which is far more significant than it may at first appear. Whatever the student may choose to study after he leaves the teacher, his work while under the teacher’s direction should be focused upon just those pieces which will be of most value to him. The teacher should see that the course he prescribes is unified. There should be no waste material. Some teachers are inclined to teach pieces of a worthless order to gain the fickle interest of some pupils. They feel that it is better to teach an operatic arrangement, no matter how superficial, and retain the interest of the pupil, than to insist upon what they know is really best for the pupil, and run the risk of having the pupil go to another teacher less conscientious about making compromises of this sort. When the teacher has come to a position where he is obliged to permit the pupil to select his own pieces or dictate the kind of pieces he is to be taught in order to retain his interest, the teacher will find that he has very little influence over the pupil. Pupils who insist upon mapping out their own careers are always stumbling-blocks. It is far better to make it very clear to the pupil in the first place that interference of this kind is never desirable, and that unless the pupil has implicit confidence in the teacher’s judgment it is better to discontinue.



Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Brain Technic Versus Finger Technic

Few pupils realize that hours and hours are wasted at the piano keyboard doing those things which we are already able to do, and in the quest of something which we already possess. When we come to think of it, every one is born with a kind of finger dexterity. Any one can move the fingers up and down with great rapidity; no study of the pianoforte keyboard is necessary to do this. The savage in the African wilds is gifted with that kind of dexterity, although he may never have seen a pianoforte. Then why spend hours in practicing at the keyboard with the view of doing something we can already do? It may come as a surprise to many when I make the statement that they already possess a kind of dexterity and velocity which they may not suspect. One does not have to work for years to make the fingers go up and down quickly. It is also a fact that a few lessons under a really good teacher and a few tickets for high-class piano recitals will often give the feeling and “knack” of producing a good touch, for which many strive in vain for years at the keyboard.

No, the technic which takes time is the technic of the brain, which directs the fingers to the right place at the right time. This may be made the greatest source of musical economy. If you want to save time in your music study see that you comprehend your musical problems thoroughly. You must see it right in your mind, you must hear it right, you must feel it right. Before you place your fingers on the keyboard you should have formed your ideal mental conception of the proper rhythm, the proper tonal quality, the æsthetic values and the harmonic content. These things can only be perfectly comprehended after study. They do not come from strumming at the keyboard. This, after all, is the greatest possible means for saving time in music study.

A great deal might be said upon the subject of the teacher’s part in saving time. The good teacher is a keen critic. His experience and his innate ability enable him to diagnose faults just as a trained medical specialist can determine the cause of a disease with accuracy and rapidity. Much depends upon the diagnosis. It is no saving to go to a doctor who diagnoses your case as one of rheumatism and treats you for rheumatic pains, whereas you are really suffering from neurasthenia. In a similar manner, an unskilled and incompetent teacher may waste much treasured time in treating you for technical and musical deficiencies entirely different from those which you really suffer. Great care should be taken in selecting a teacher for with the wrong teacher not only time is wasted, but talent, energy, and sometimes that jewel in the crown of success—“ambition.”



Franz Xaver Scharwenka: A Case in Point

An illustration of one means of wasting time is well indicated in the case of some pedagogs who hold to old ideas in piano-playing simply because they are old. I believe in conservatism, but at the same time I am opposed to conservatism which excludes all progressiveness. The world is continually advancing, and we are continually finding out new things as well as determining which of the older methods will prove the best in the long run. All musical Europe has been upset during the last quarter of the century over the vital subject of whether the pressure touch is better than the angular blow touch. There was a time in the past when an apparent effort was made to make everything pertaining to pianoforte technic as stiff and inelastic as possible. The fingers were trained to hop up and down like little hammers—the arm was held stiff and hard at the side. In fact, it was not uncommon for some teachers to put a book under the armpit and insist upon their pupils holding it there by pressing against the body during the practice period.

H. Ehrlich, who in his day was a widely recognized authority, wrote a pamphlet to accompany his edition of the Tausig technical studies in which this system is very clearly outlined. He asserts that Tausig insisted upon it. To-day we witness a great revolution. The arms are held freely and rigidity of all kind is avoided. It was found that the entire system of touch was under a more delicate and sensitive control when the pressure touch was employed than when the mechanical “hitting” touch was used. It was also found that much of the time spent in developing the hitting touch along mechanical lines was wasted, since superior results could be achieved in a shorter time by means of pressing and “kneading” the keys, rather than delivering blows to them. The pressure touch seems to me very much freer and I am emphatically in favor of it. The older method produced cramped unmusical playing and the pupil was so restricted that he reminded one for all the world of the new-fangled skirts ("hobble-skirts”) which seem to give our ladies of fashion so much difficulty just now.

The American pupils who have come to Germany to study with me have been for the most part exceedingly well trained. In America there are innumerable excellent teachers. The American pupil is almost always very industrious. His chief point of vantage is his ability to concentrate. He does not dissipate his time or thought. In some instances he can only remain in Europe for two years—sometimes less. He quite naturally feels that a great deal must be done in those two years, and consequently he works at white heat. This is not a disadvantage, for his mental powers are intensified and he is faithful to his labor.

The young women of America are for the most part very self-reliant. This is also very much to their advantage. As a rule, they know how to take care of themselves, and yet they have the courage to venture and ask questions when questions should be asked. My residence in America has brought me many good friends, and it is a pleasure to note the great advance made in every way since my last visit here. I am particularly anxious to have some of my later compositions become better known in America, as I have great faith in the musical future of the country. I wish that they might become familiar with such works as my Fourth Concerto. I should deeply regret to think that Americans would judge my work as a composer by my “Polish Dance” and some other lighter compositions which are obviously inferior to my other works.



Franz Xaver Scharwenka: Questions in Style, Interpretation,

Expression and Technic of Pianoforte Playing

1. Is any time spent in music study really wasted?

2. How may the pupil’s elementary work be made more secure?

3. State the importance of ear-training.

4. What additional musical studies should be included in the work of the pupil?

5. What should be the teacher’s first consideration?

6. Why must monotony be avoided in technical study?

7. State the value of practice in contrary motion.

8. May time be wasted with unprofitable studies?

9. What is the difference between brain technic and finger technic?

10. State how a revolution in methods of touch has come about.


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