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The Etude Magazine March 1921

Life Maxims of Great Musicians

Great musicians: It is self-evident that one who wishes to accomplish any great undertaking must at least know what he intends to accomplish. Then, too, it must be something in accordance with his real inner character and the nature of his talents. One may, with diligence and skill, raise finer and finer roses from a rose bush, but never potatoes; the best razor in the world would make but an indifferent can opener - and it would ruin the razor, at that. Great musicians.

In examining the lives of the great musicians we find that each one of them had some guiding principle in his work which he carried out resolutely without counting the cost or reckoning the reward; but we must not expect that in every case this principle is to be found expressed in the form of a brief, pithy saying. Few great musicians have been great phrase makers or proverb quoters, but as it is a dictum both of law and of common sense that a man's intentions are to be judged by his actions, it is not difficult, supposing we are sufficiently familiar with the facts of a person's life and work, to deduce the chief underlying motives in each individual's case.  A "maxim", then is not necessarily a verbal utterance, but simply a guiding principle sanctioned by experience and relating to the practical conduct of life of great musicians.

One other caution before we proceed - what do we mean by "success"? If we mean the accumulation of a great fortune, we shall find  but an unprofitable field for discussion in the musical profession, although it is a pleasure to be able to recall some worthy exceptions, such as Verdi, who became immensely wealthy and made good use of his wealth; Paderewski; Caruso; Patti; Ole Bull; some half dozen others perhaps, Brahms, a composer and great musician, whom many critics reckon in the same class with Bach and Beethoven, by a lifetime of the most conscientious and enduring sort of work, accumulated a fortune of $80,000. He is worthy of all respect, but on one, unless through a false and distorted sense of life's true values, would attempt to maintain that he was a great "success" than Mozart, a great musician, although the latter through a lack of worldly wisdom passed up his best opportunities for advancement (for instance a most flattering offer of a high salary from the King of Prussia) and at last filled a pauper's grave.

What then is success? What is a great musician? To be what one is born to be - to develop one's powers to the utmost - to live life as a great adventure, taking bravely whatever hard knocks come to one, but never turning aside from one's main purpose! If one has great and peculiar talents, this is a great and peculiar problem, for other than that which comes to those whom Wagner (in one of his letters to Liszt) designated as "Dutzend-Menschen" - people who come in dozen packages!) Great musicians indeed!



Appreciating Classical Music


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