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Leon Sametini

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Leon Sametini, at present director of the violin department of the Chicago Music College, where Sauret, Heermann and Sebald preceded him, is one of the most successful teachers of his instrument in this country. It is to be regretted that he has not played in public in the United States as often as in Europe, where his extensive _tournÈes_ in Holland--Leon Sametini is a Hollander by birth--Belgium, England and Austria have established his reputation as a virtuoso, and the quality of his playing led Ysaye to include him in a quartet of artists "in order of lyric expression" with himself and Thibaud. Yet, the fact remains that this erstwhile protege of Queen Wilhelmina--she gave him his beautiful Santo Serafin (1730) violin, whose golden varnish back "is a genuine picture,"--to quote its owner--is a distinguished interpreting artist besides having a real teaching gift, which lends additional weight to his educational views.


Reminiscences of Sevcik

"I began to study violin at the age of six, with my uncle. From him I went to Eldering in Amsterdam, now Willy Hess's successor at the head of the Cologne Conservatory, and then spent a year with Sevcik in Prague.

Yet--without being his pupil--I have learned more from Ysaye than from

any of my teachers. It is rather the custom to decry Sevcik as a

teacher, to dwell on his absolutely mechanical character of

instruction--and not without justice. First of all Sevcik laid all the

stress on the left hand and not on the bow--an absolute inversion of a

fundamental principle. Eldering had taken great pains with my bow

technic, for he himself was a pupil of Hubay, who had studied with

Vieuxtemps and had his tradition. But Sevcik's teaching as regards the

use of the bow was very poor; his pupils--take Kubelik with all his

marvelous finger facility--could never develop a big bow technic. Their

playing lacks strength, richness of sound. Sevcik soon noticed that my

bowing did not conform to his theories; yet since he could not

legitimately complain of the results I secured, he did not attempt to

make me change it. Musical beauty, interpretation, in Sevcik's case were

all subordinated to mechanical perfection. With him the study of some

inspired masterpiece was purely a mathematical process, a problem in

technic and mental arithmetic, without a bit of spontaneity. Ysaye used

to roar with laughter when I would tell him how, when a boy of fifteen,

I played the Beethoven concerto for Sevcik--a work which I myself felt

and knew it was then out of the question for me to play with artistic

maturity--the latter's only criticisms on my performance were that one

or two notes were a little too high, and a certain passage not quite



"Sevcik did not like the Dvor·k concerto and never gave it to his

pupils. But I lived next door to Dvor·k at Prague, and meeting him in

the street one day, asked him some questions anent its interpretation,

with the result that I went to his home various times and he gave me his

own ideas as to how it should be played. Sevcik never pointed his

teachings by playing himself. I never saw him take up the fiddle while I

studied with him. While I was his pupil he paid me the compliment of

selecting me to play Sinigaglia's engaging violin concerto, at short

notice, for the first time in Prague. Sinigaglia had asked Sevcik to

play it, who said: 'I no longer play violin, but I have a pupil who can

play it for you,' and introduced me to him. Sinigaglia became a good

friend of mine, and I was the first to introduce his _Rapsodia

Piedmontese_ for violin and orchestra in London. To return to

Sevcik--with all the deficiencies of his teaching methods, he had one

great gift. He taught his pupils _how to practice_! And--aside from

bowing--he made all mechanical problems, especially finger problems,

absolutely clear and lucid.






"Still, all said and done, it was after I had finished with all my

teachers that I really began to learn to play violin: above all from

Ysaye, whom I went to hear play wherever and whenever I could. I think

that the most valuable lessons I have ever had are those unconsciously

given me by four of the greatest violinists I know: Ysaye, Kreisler,

Elman and Thibaud. Each of these artists is so different that no one

seems altogether to replace the other. Ysaye with his unique

personality, the immense breadth and sweep of his interpretation, his

dramatic strength, stands alone. Kreisler has a certain sparkling

scintillance in his playing that is his only. Elman might be called the

Caruso among violinists, with the perfected sensuous beauty of his tone;

while Thibaud stands for supreme elegance and distinction. I have

learned much from each member of this great quartet. And if the artist

can profit from hearing and seeing them play, why not the student? Every

recital given by such masters offers the earnest violin student

priceless opportunities for study and comparison. My special leaning

toward Ysaye is due, aside from his wonderful personality, to the fact

that I feel music in the same way that he does.





'My teaching principles are the results of my own training period, my

own experience as a concert artist and teacher--before I came to America

I taught in London, where Isolde Menges, among others, studied with

me--and what either directly or indirectly I have learned from my great

colleagues. In the Music College I give the advanced pupils their

individual lessons; but once a week the whole class assembles--as in

the European conservatories--and those whose turn it is to play do so

while the others listen. This is of value to every student, since it

gives him an opportunity of 'hearing himself as others hear him.' Then,

to stimulate appreciation and musical development there are _ensemble_

and string quartet classes. I believe that every violinist should be

able to play viola, and in quartet work I make the players shift

constantly from one to the other instrument in order to hear what they

play from a different angle.


"For left hand work I stick to the excellent Sevcik exercises and for

some pupils I use the Carl Flesch _Urstudien_. For studies of real

_musical_ value Rode, of course, is unexcelled. His studies are the

masterpieces of their kind, and I turn them into concert pieces. Thibaud

and Elman have supplied some of them with interesting piano



"For bowing, with the exception of a few purely mechanical exercises, I

used Kreutzer and Rode, and Gavinies. Ninety-nine per cent. of pupils'

faults are faults of bowing. It is an art in itself. Sevcik was able to

develop Kubelik's left hand work to the last degree of perfection--but

not his bowing. In the case of Kocian, another well-known Sevcik pupil

whom I have heard play, his bowing was by no means an outstanding

feature. I often have to start pupils on the open strings in order to

correct fundamental bow faults.


"When watching a great artist play the student should not expect to

secure similar results by slavish imitation--another pupil fault. The

thing to do is to realize the principle behind the artist's playing, and

apply it to one's own physical possibilities.


"Every one holds, draws and uses the bow in a different way. If no two

thumb-prints are alike, neither are any two sets of fingers and wrists.

This is why not slavish imitation, but intelligent adaptation should be

applied to the playing of the teacher in the class-room or the artist on

the concert-stage. For instance, the little finger of Ysaye's left hand

bends inward somewhat--as a result it is perfectly natural for him to

make less use of the little finger, while it might be very difficult or

almost impossible for another to employ the same fingering. And certain

compositions and styles of composition are more adapted to one violinist

than to another. I remember when I was a student, that Wieniawski's

music seemed to lie just right for my hand. I could read difficult

things of his at sight.





"Would I care to discuss any special feature of violin technic? I might

say something anent double harmonics--a subject too often taught in a

mechanical way, and one I have always taken special pains to make

absolutely plain to my own pupils--for every violinist should be able to

play double harmonics out of a clear understanding of how to form them.


"There are only two kinds of harmonics: natural and artificial. Natural

harmonics may be formed on the major triad of each open string, using

the open string as the tonic. As, for example, on the G string [and Mr.

Sametini set down the following illustration]:


[Illustration: Musical Notation]


Then there are four kinds of artificial harmonics, only three of which

are used: harmonics on the major third (1); harmonics on the perfect

fourth (2); harmonics on the perfect fifth (3); and harmonics--never

used--on the octave:


[Illustration: Musical Notation]


Where does the harmonic sound in each case? Two octaves and a third

higher (1); two octaves higher (2); one octave and a fifth higher (3)

respectively, than the pressed-down note. If the harmonic on the octave

(4) were played, it would sound just an octave higher than the

pressed-down note.


"Now say we wished to combine different double harmonics. The whole

principle is made clear if we take, let us say, the first double-stop in

the scale of C major in thirds as an example:


[Illustration: Musical Notation]


"Beginning with the lower of these two notes, the C, we find that it

cannot not be taken as a natural harmonic


[Illustration: Musical Notation]


because natural harmonics on the open strings run as follows: G, B, D on

the G string; D, F{~MUSIC SHARP SIGN~}, A on the D string; A, C{~MUSIC SHARP SIGN~}, E on the A string; and

E, G{~MUSIC SHARP SIGN~}, B on the E string. There are three ways of taking the C before

mentioned as an artificial harmonic. The E may be taken in the following



Nat. harmonic Artificial harmonic

[Illustration: Musical Notation] [Illustration: Musical Notation]


Now we have to combine the C and E as well as we are able. Rejecting

the following combinations as _impossible_--any violinist will see why--


[Illustration: Musical Notation]


we have a choice of the two _possible_ combinations remaining, with the

fingering indicated:


[Illustration: Musical Notation]


"With regard to the _actual execution_ of these harmonics, I advise all

students to try and play them with every bit as much expressive feeling

as ordinary notes. My experience has been that pupils do not pay nearly

enough attention to the intonation of harmonics. In other words, they

try to produce the harmonics _immediately_, instead of first making sure

that both fingers are on the right spot before they loosen one finger on

the string. For instance in the following: [Illustration: Musical

Notation] first play [Illustration: Musical Notation] and then

[Illustration: Musical Notation] then loosen the fourth finger, and play

[Illustration: Musical Notation]


"The same principle holds good when playing double harmonics. Nine

tenths of the 'squeaking' heard when harmonics are played is due to the

fact that the finger-placing is not properly prepared, and that the

fingers are not on the right spot.


"Never, when playing a harmonic with an up-bow [Symbol: up-bow], at the

point, smash down the bow on the string; but have it already _on_ the

string _before_ playing the harmonic. The process is reversed when

playing a down-bow [Symbol: down-bow] harmonic. When beginning a

harmonic at the frog, have the harmonic ready, then let the bow _drop_

gently on the string.


"Triple and quadruple harmonics may be combined in exactly the same way.

Students should never get the idea that you press down the string as you

press a button and--presto--the magic harmonics appear! They are a

simple and natural result of the proper application of scientific

principles; and the sooner the student learns to form and combine

harmonics himself instead of learning them by rote, the better will he

play them. Too often a student can give the fingering of certain double

harmonics and cannot use it. Of course, harmonics are only a detail of

the complete mastery of the violin; but mastery of all details leads to

mastery of the whole.





"And what is mastery of the whole? Mastery of the whole, real violin

mastery, I think, lies in the control of the interpretative problem, the

power to awaken emotion by the use of the instrument. Many feel more

than they can express, have more left hand than bow technic and, like

Kubelik, have not the perfected technic for which perfected playing

calls. The artist who feels beauty keenly and deeply and whose

mechanical equipment allows him to make others feel and share the beauty

he himself feels is in my opinion worthy of being called a master of the










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