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Jacques Thibaud

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The Ideal Program

Jacques Thibaud, whose gifts as an interpreting artist have brought him so many friends and admirers in the United States, is the foremost representative of the modern French school of violin-playing. And as such he has held his own ever since, at the age of twenty, he resigned his rank as concert-master of the Colonne orchestra, to dedicate his talents exclusively to the concert stage. So great an authority as the last edition of the Riemann _Musik-Lexicon_ cannot forbear, even in 1915, to emphasize his "technic, absolutely developed in its every detail, and his fiery and poetic manner of interpretation."

But Mr. Thibaud does not see any great difference between the ideals of _la grande Ècole belge_, that of Vieuxtemps, De BÈriot, LÈonard, Massart and Marsick, whose greatest present-day exponent is EugËne Ysaye, and the French. Himself a pupil of Marsick, he inherited the French traditions of Alard through his father, who was Alard's pupil and handed them on to his son. "The two schools have married and are as one," declared Mr. Thibaud. "They may differ in the interpretation of music, but to me they seem to have merged so far as their systems of finger technic, bowing and tone production goes.


The Greatest Difficulty to Overcome

"You ask me what is most difficult in playing the violin? It is bowing. Bowing makes up approximately eighty per cent. of the sum total of violinistic difficulties. One reason for it is that many teachers with

excellent ideas on the subject present it to their pupils in too

complicated a manner. The bow must be used in an absolutely natural way,

and over elaboration in explaining what should be a simple and natural

development often prevents the student from securing a good bowing, the

end in view. Sarasate (he was an intimate friend of mine) always used

his bow in the most natural way, his control of it was unsought and

unconscious. Were I a teacher I should not say: 'You must bow as I do';

but rather: 'Find the way of bowing most convenient and natural to

you and use it!' Bowing is largely a physical and individual matter. I

am slender but have long, large fingers; Kreisler is a larger man than I

am but his fingers are small. It stands to reason that there must be a

difference in the way in which we hold and use the bow. The difference

between a great and a mediocre teacher lies in the fact that the first

recognizes that bowing is an individual matter, different in the case of

each individual pupil; and that the greatest perfection is attained by

the development of the individual's capabilities within his own norm.


[Illustration: JACQUES THIBAUD, with signature]





"Marsick was a teacher of this type. At each of the lessons I took from

him at the _Conservatoire_ (we went to him three days a week), he would

give me a new _Ètude_--Gavinies, Rode, Fiorillo, Dont--to prepare for

the next lesson. We also studied all of Paganini, and works by Ernst and

Spohr. For our bow technic he employed difficult passages made into

_Ètudes_. Scales--the violinist's daily bread--we practiced day in, day

out. Marsick played the piano well, and could improvise marvelous

accompaniments on his violin when his pupils played. I continued my

studies with Marsick even after I left the _Conservatoire_. With him I

believe that three essentials--absolute purity of pitch, equality of

tone and sonority of tone, in connection with the bow--are the base on

which everything else rests.





"Sevcik's purely soulless and mechanical system has undoubtedly produced

a number of excellent mechanicians of the violin. But it has just as

unquestionably killed real talent. Kubelik--there was a genuinely

talented violinist! If he had had another teacher instead of Sevcik he

would have been great, for he had great gifts. Even as it was he played

well, but I consider him one of Sevcik's victims. As an illustration of

how the technical point of view is thrust to the fore by this system I

remember some fifteen years ago Kubelik and I were staying at the same

villa in Monte-Carlo, where we were to play the Beethoven concerto, each

of us, in concert, two days apart. Kubelik spent the live-long day

before the concert practicing Sevcik exercises. I read and studied

Beethoven's score, but did not touch my violin. I went to hear Kubelik

play the concerto, and he played it well; but then, so did I, when my

turn came. And I feel sure I got more out of it musically and

spiritually, than I would have if instead of concentrating on its

meaning, its musical message, I had prepared the concerto as a problem

in violin mechanics whose key was contained in a number of dry technical

exercises arbitrarily laid down.


"Technic, in the case of the more advanced violinist, should not have a

place in the foreground of his consciousness. I heard Rubinstein play

when a boy--what did his false notes amount to compared with his

wonderful manner of disclosing the spirit of the things he played!

PlantÈ, the Parisian pianist, a kind of keyboard cyclone, once expressed

the idea admirably to an English society lady. She had told him he was a

greater pianist than Rubinstein, because the latter played so many wrong

notes. 'Ah, Madame,' answered PlantÈ, 'I would rather be able to play

Rubinstein's wrong notes than all my own correct ones.' A violinist's

natural manner of playing is the one he should cultivate; since it is

individual, it really represents him. And a teacher or a colleague of

greater fame does him no kindness if he encourages him to distrust his

own powers by too good naturedly 'showing' him how to do this, that or

the other. I mean, when the student can work out his problem himself at

the expense of a little initiative.


"When I was younger I once had to play Bach's G minor fugue at a concert

in Brussels. I was living at Ysaye's home, and since I had never played

the composition in public before, I began to worry about its

interpretation. So I asked Ysaye (thinking he would simply show me),

'How ought I to play this fugue?' The Master reflected a moment and then

dashed my hopes by answering: _'Tu m'embÍtes!'_ (You bore me!) 'This

fugue should be played well, that's all!' At first I was angry, but

thinking it over, I realized that if he had shown me, I would have

played it just as he did; while what he wanted me to do was to work out

my own version, and depend on my own initiative--which I did, for I had

no choice. It is by means of concentration on the higher, the

interpretative phases of one's Art that the technical side takes its

proper, secondary place. Technic does not exist for me in the sense of a

certain quantity of mechanical work which I must do. I find it out of

the question to do absolutely mechanical technical work of any length of

time. In realizing the three essentials of good violin playing which I

have already mentioned, Ysaye and Sarasate are my ideals.





"All really good violinists are good artists. Sarasate, whom I knew so

intimately and remember so well, was a pupil of Alard (my father's

teacher). He literally sang on the violin, like a nightingale. His

purity of intonation was remarkable; and his technical facility was the

most extraordinary that I have ever seen. He handled his bow with

unbelievable skill. And when he played, the unassuming grace of his

movements won the hearts of his audiences and increased the enthusiasm

awakened by his tremendous talent.


"We other violinists, all of us, occasionally play a false note, for we

are not infallible; we may flat a little or sharp a little. But never,

as often as I have heard Sarasate play, did I ever hear him play a wrong

note, one not in perfect pitch. His Spanish things he played like a god!

And he had a wonderful gift of phrasing which gave a charm hard to

define to whatever he played. And playing in quartet--the greatest solo

violinist does not always shine in this _genre_--he was admirable.

Though he played all the standard repertory, Bach, Beethoven, etc., I

can never forget his exquisite rendering of modern works, especially of

a little composition by Raff, called _La FÈe d'Amour_. He was the first

to play the violin concertos of Saint-SaÎns, Lalo and Max Bruch. They

were all written for him, and I doubt whether they would have been

composed had not Sarasate been there to play them. Of course, in his own

Spanish music he was unexcelled--a whole school of violin playing was

born and died with him! He had a hobby for collecting canes. He had

hundreds of them of all kinds, and every sovereign in Europe had

contributed to his collection. I know Queen Christina of Spain gave him

no less than twenty. He once gave me a couple of his canes, a great sign

of favor with him. I have often played quartet with Sarasate, for he

adored quartet playing, and these occasions are among my treasured






"My violin? It is a Stradivarius--the same which once belonged to the

celebrated Baillot. I think it is good for a violin to rest, so during

the three months when I am not playing in concert, I send my

Stradivarius away to the instrument maker's, and only take it out about

a month before I begin to play again in public. What do I use in the

meantime? Caressa, the best violin maker in Paris, made me an exact copy

of my own Strad, exact in every little detail. It is so good that

sometimes, when circumstances compelled me to, I have used it in

concert, though it lacks the tone-quality of the original. This

under-study violin I can use for practice, and when I go back to the

original, as far as the handling of the instrument is concerned, I never

know the difference.


"But I do not think that every one plays to the best advantage on a

Strad. I'm a believer in the theory that there are natural Guarnerius

players and natural Stradivarius players; that certain artists do their

best with the one, and certain others with the other. And I also believe

that any one who is 'equally' good in both, is great on neither. The

reason I believe in Guarnerius players and Stradivarius players as

distinct is this. Some years ago I had a sudden call to play in Ostende.

It was a concert engagement which I had overlooked, and when it was

recalled to me I was playing golf in Brittany. I at once hurried to

Paris to get my violin from Caressa, with whom I had left it, but--his

safe, in which it had been put, and to which he only had the

combination, was locked. Caressa himself was in Milan. I telegraphed him

but found that he could not get back in time before the concert to

release my violin. So I telegraphed Ysaye at Namur, to ask if he could

loan me a violin for the concert. 'Certainly' he wired back. So I

hurried to his home and, with his usual generosity, he insisted on my

taking both his treasured Guarnerius and his 'Hercules' Strad

(afterwards stolen from him in Russia), in order that I might have my

choice. His brother-in-law and some friends accompanied me from Namur to

Ostende--no great distance--to hear the concert. Well, I played the

Guarnerius at rehearsal, and when it was over, every one said to me,

'Why, what is the matter with your fiddle? (It was the one Ysaye always

used.) It has no tone at all.' At the concert I played the Strad and

secured a big tone that filled the hall, as every one assured me. When

I brought back the violins to Ysaye I mentioned the circumstance to him,

and he was so surprised and interested that he took them from the cases

and played a bit, first on one, then on the other, a number of times.

And invariably when he played the Strad (which, by the way, he had not

used for years) he, Ysaye--imagine it!--could develop only a small tone;

and when he played the Guarnerius, he never failed to develop that

great, sonorous tone we all know and love so well. Take Sarasate, when

he lived, Elman, myself--we all have the habit of the Stradivarius: on

the other hand Ysaye and Kreisler are Guarnerius players _par



"Yes, I use a wire E string. Before I found out about them I had no end

of trouble. In New Orleans I snapped seven gut strings at a single

concert. Some say that you can tell the difference, when listening,

between a gut and a wire E. I cannot, and I know a good many others who

cannot. After my last New York recital I had tea with Ysaye, who had

done me the honor of attending it. 'What strings do you use?' he asked

me, _‡ propos_ to nothing in particular. When I told him I used a wire E

he confessed that he could not have told the difference. And, in fact,

he has adopted the wire E just like Kreisler, Maud Powell and others,

and has told me that he is charmed with it--for Ysaye has had a great

deal of trouble with his strings. I shall continue to use them even

after the war, when it will be possible to obtain good gut strings






"The whole question of programs and program-making is an intricate one.

In my opinion the usual recital program, piano, song or violin, is too

long. The public likes the recital by a single vocal or instrumental

artist, and financially and for other practical reasons the artist, too,

is better satisfied with them. But are they artistically altogether

satisfactory? I should like to hear Paderewski and Ysaye, Bauer and

Casals, Kreisler and Hofmann all playing at the same recital. What a

variety, what a wealth of contrasting artistic enjoyment such a concert

would afford. There is nothing that is so enjoyable for the true artist

as _ensemble_ playing with his peers. Solo playing seems quite

unimportant beside it.


"I recall as the most perfect and beautiful of all my musical memories,

a string quartet and quintet (with piano) session in Paris, in my own

home, where we played four of the loveliest chamber music works ever

written in the following combination: Beethoven's 7th quartet (Ysaye,

Vo. I, myself, Vo. II, Kreisler, viola--he plays it remarkably well--and

Casals, 'cello); the Schumann quartet (Kreisler, Vo. I, Ysaye, Vo. II,

myself, viola and Casals, 'cello); and the Mozart G major quartet

(myself, Vo. I, Kreisler, Vo. II, Ysaye, viola and Casals, 'cello). Then

we telephoned to Pugno, who came over and joined us and, after an

excellent dinner, we played the CÈsar Franck piano quintet. It was the

most enjoyable musical day of my life. A concert manager offered us a

fortune to play in this combination--just two concerts in every capital

in Europe.


"We have not enough variety in our concert programs--not enough

collaboration. The truth is our form of concert, which usually

introduces only one instrument or one group of instruments, such as the

string quartet, is too uniform in color. I can enjoy playing a recital

program of virtuose violin pieces well enough; but I cannot help fearing

that many find it too unicolored. Practical considerations do not do

away with the truth of an artistic contention, though they may often

prevent its realization. What I enjoy most, musically, is to play

together with another good artist. That is why I have had such great

artistic pleasure in the joint recitals I have given with Harold Bauer.

We could play things that were really worth while for each of us--for

the piano parts of the modern sonatas call for a virtuose technical and

musical equipment, and I have had more satisfaction from this _ensemble_

work than I would have had in playing a long list of solo pieces.


"The ideal violin program, to play in public, as I conceive it, is one

that consists of absolute music, or should it contain virtuose pieces,

then these should have some definite musical quality of soul, character,

elegance or charm to recommend them. I think one of the best programs I

have ever played in America is that which I gave with Harold Bauer at

?olian Hall, New York, during the season of 1917-1918:



Sonata in B flat . . . . . . _Mozart_



Scenes from Childhood . . . . _Schumann_



PoËme . . . . . . . . . _E. Chausson_



Sonata . . . . . . . . . _CÈsar Franck_




Or perhaps this other, which Bauer and I played in Boston, during

November, 1913:



Kreutzer Sonata . . . . . . _Beethoven_



Sarabanda }

Giga } . . . . . . . _J.S. Bach_

Chaconne }



Kreisleriana . . . . . . . _Schumann_



Sonata . . . . . . . . . _CÈsar Franck_




Either of these programs is artistic from the standpoint of the

compositions represented. And even these programs are not too

short--they take almost two hours to play; while for my ideal program an

hour-and-a-half of beautiful music would suffice. You will notice that I

believe in playing the big, fine things in music; in serving roasts

rather than too many _hors d'oeuvres_ and pastry.


"On a solo program, of course, one must make some concessions. When I

play a violin concerto it seems fair enough to give the public three or

four nice little things, but--always pieces which are truly musical, not

such as are only 'ear-ticklers.' Kreisler--he has a great talent for

transcription--has made charming arrangements. So has Tivadar NachÈz, of

older things, and Arthur Hartmann. These one can play as well as shorter

numbers by Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski that are delightful, such as the

former's _Ballade et Polonaise_, though I know of musical purists who

disapprove of it. I consider this _Polonaise_ on a level with Chopin's.

Or take, in the virtuoso field, Sarasate's _Gypsy Airs_--they are equal

to any Liszt Rhapsody. I have only recently discovered that Ysaye--my

life-long friend--has written some wonderful original compositions: a

_PoËme ÈlÈgiaque_, a _Chant d'hiver_, an _Extase_ and a ms. trio for two

violins and alto that is marvelous. These pieces were an absolute find

for me, with the exception of the lovely _Chant d'hiver_, which I have

already played in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin, and expect to

make a feature of my programs this winter. You see, Ysaye is so modest

about his own compositions that he does not attempt to 'push' them, even

with his friends, hence they are not nearly as well known as they

should be.


"I never play operatic transcriptions and never will. The music of the

opera, no matter how fine, appears to me to have its proper place on the

stage--it seems out of place on the violin recital program. The artist

cannot be too careful in the choice of his shorter program pieces. And

he can profit by the example set by some of the foremost violinists of

the day. Ysaye, that great apostle of the truly musical, is a shining

example. It is sad to see certain young artists of genuine talent

disregard the remarkable work of their great contemporary, and secure

easily gained triumphs with compositions whose musical value is _nil_.


"Sometimes the wish to educate the public, to give it a high standard* of

appreciation, leads an artist astray. I heard a well-known German

violinist play in Berlin five years ago, and what do you suppose he

played? Beethoven's _Trios_ transcribed for violin and piano! The last

thing in the world to play! And there was, to my astonishment, no

critical disapproval of what he did. I regard it as little less than a



*Transcriber's note: Original text read "standad".


"But this whole question of programs and repertory is one without end.

Which of the great concertos do I prefer? That is a difficult question

to answer off-hand. But I can easily tell you which I like least. It is

the Tschaikovsky* violin concerto--I would not exchange the first ten

measures of Vieuxtemps's Fourth concerto for the whole of

Tschaikovsky's, that is from the musical point of view. I have heard the

Tschaikovsky played magnificently by Auer and by Elman; but I consider

it the worst thing the composer has written."


*Transcriber's note: Original text read "Tchaikovsky".









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