The Violin as a Means of Expression and Expressive Playing
The writer talked with Lieutenant David Hochstein, whose death in the battle of the Argonne Forest was only reported toward the end of January, while the distinguished young violinist, then only a sergeant, was on the eve of departure to France with his regiment and, as he modestly said, his "thoughts on music were rather scattered." Yet he spoke with keen insight and authority on various phases of his art, and much of what he said gains point from his own splendid work as a concert violinist; for Lieutenant Hochstein (whose standing has been established in numerous European as well as American recitals) could play what he preached.
Sevcik and Auer: A Contrast in Teaching
Knowing that in the regimental band he was, quite appropriately, a clarinetist, "the clarinet in the military band being the equivalent of
the violin in the orchestra"--and a scholarship pupil of the Vienna
_Meisterschule_, it seemed natural to ask him concerning his teachers.
And the interesting fact developed that he had studied with the
celebrated Bohemian pedagog Sevcik and with Leopold Auer as well, two
teachers whose ideas and methods differ materially. "I studied with
Sevcik for two years," said the young violinist. "It was in 1909, when a
class of ten pupils was formed for him in the _Meisterschule_, at
Vienna, that I went to him. Sevcik was in many ways a wonderful teacher,
yet inclined to overemphasize the mechanical side of the art. He
literally _taught_ his pupils how to practice, how to develop technical
control by the most slow and painstaking study. In addition to his own
fine method and exercises, he also used Gavinies, Dont, Rode, Kreutzer,
applying in their studies ideas of his own.
"Auer as a teacher I found altogether different. Where Sevcik taught his
pupils the technic of their art by means of a system elaborately worked
out, Auer demonstrated his ideas through sheer personality, mainly from
the interpretative point of view. Any ambitious student could learn much
of value from either; yet in a general way one might express the
difference between them by saying that Sevcik could take a pupil of
medium talent and--at least from the mechanical standpoint--make an
excellent violinist of him. But Auer is an ideal teacher for the greatly
gifted. And he is especially skilled in taking some student of the
violin while his mind is still plastic and susceptible and molding
it--supplying it with lofty concepts of interpretation and expression.
Of course Auer (I studied with him in Petrograd and Dresden) has been
especially fortunate as regards his pupils, too, because active in a
land like Russia, where musical genius has almost become a commonplace.
"Sevcik, though an admirable teacher, personally is of a reserved and
reflective type, quite different from Auer, who is open and expansive. I
might recall a little instance which shows Sevcik's cautious nature, the
care he takes not to commit himself too unreservedly. When I took leave
of him--it was after I had graduated and won my prize--I naturally (like
all his pupils) asked him for his photo. Several other pupils of his
were in the room at the time. He took up his pen (I was looking over
his shoulder), commenced to write _Meinem best_.... And then he stopped,
glanced at the other pupils in the room, and wrote over the _best_ ...
he had already written, the word _liebsten_. But though I would, of
course, have preferred the first inscription, had Sevcik completed it, I
can still console myself that the other, even though I value it, was an
afterthought. But it was a characteristic thing for him to do!
THE VIOLIN AS A MEANS OF EXPRESSION
"What is my idea of the violin as a medium of expression? It seems to me
that it is that of any other valid artistic medium. It is not so much a
question of the violin as of the violinist. A great interpreter reveals
his inner-most soul through his instrument, whatever it may be. Most
people think the violin is more expressive than any other instrument,
but this is open to question. It may be that most people respond more
readily to the appeal made by the violin. But genuine expression,
expressive playing, depends on the message the player has to deliver far
more than on the instrument he uses as a means. I have been as much
moved by some piano playing I have heard as by the violin playing of
some of the greatest violinists.
"And variety, _nuance_ in expressive playing, is largely a matter of the
player's mental attitude. Bach's _Chaconne_ or _Sicilienne_ calls for a
certain humility on the part of the artist. When I play Bach I do it
reverentially; a definite spiritual quality in my tone and expression is
the result. And to select a composer who in many ways is Bach's exact
opposite, Wieniawski, a certain audacious brilliancy cannot help but
make itself felt tonally, if this music is to be played in character.
The mental and spiritual attitude directly influences its own mechanical
transmission. No one artist should criticize another for differences in
interpretation, in expression, so long as they are justified by larger
concepts of art. Individuality is one of the artist's most precious
possessions, and there are always a number of different angles from
which the interpretation of an art work may be approached.
"Violin mastery? There have been only three violinists within my own
recollection, whom I would call masters of the violin. These are
Kubelik (when at his best), Franz von Vecsey, Hubay's pupil, whom I
heard abroad, and Heifetz, with his cameo-like perfection of technic.
These I would call masters of the violin, as an instrument, since they
have mastered every intricacy of the instrument. But I could name
several others who are greater musicians, and whose playing and
interpretation, to say nothing of tone, I prefer.
TONE PRODUCTION: RHYTHM
"In one sense true violin mastery is a question of tone production and
rhythm. And I believe that tone production depends principally upon the
imaginative ear of the player. This statement may seem somewhat
ambiguous, and one might ask, 'What is an imaginative ear?' My ear, for
instance, demands of my violin a certain quality of tone, which varies
according to the music I am playing. But before I think of playing the
music, I already know from reading it what I want it to sound like: that
is to say, the quality of the tone I wish to secure in each principal
phrase. Rhythm is perhaps the greatest factor in interpretation. Every
good musician has a 'good sense of rhythm' (that much abused phrase).
But it is only the _great_ musician who makes so striking and
individual an application of rhythm that his playing may be easily
distinguished by his use of it.
"There is not much to tell you as regards my method of work. I usually
work directly upon a program which has been previously mapped out. If I
have been away from my violin for more than a week or two I begin by
practicing scales, but ordinarily I find my technical work in the
programs I am preparing."
Asked about his band experiences at Camp Upton, Sergeant Hochstein was
enthusiastic. "No violinist could help but gain much from work with a
military band at one of the camps," he said. "For instance, I had a more
or less theoretical knowledge of wind instruments before I went to Camp
Upton. Now I have a practical working knowledge of them. I have already
scored a little violin composition of mine, a 'Minuet in Olden Style'
for full band, and have found it possible by the right manipulation to
preserve its original dainty and graceful character, in spite of the
fact that it is played by more than forty military bandsmen.
"Then, too," he said in conclusion, "I have organized a real orchestra
of twenty-one players, strings, brass, wood-wind, etc., which I hope is
going to be of real use on the other side during our training period in
France. You see, 'over there' the soldier boys' chances for leave are
limited and we will have to depend a good deal on our own selves for
amusement and recreation. I hope and believe my orchestra is not only
going to take its place as one of the most enjoyable features of our
army life; but also that it will make propaganda of the right sort for
the best music in a broad, catholic sense of the word!"
It is interesting to know that this patriotic young officer found
opportunities in camp and in the towns of France of carrying out his
wish to "make propaganda of the right sort for the best music" before he
gave his life to further the greater purpose which had called him