Arthur Hartmann is distinctly and unmistakably a personality. He stands
out even in that circle of distinguished contemporary violinists which
is so largely made up of personalities. He is a composer--not only of
violin pieces, but of symphonic and choral works, chamber music, songs
and piano numbers. His critical analysis of Bach's _Chaconne_,
translated into well-nigh every tongue, is probably the most complete
and exhaustive study of "that triumph of genius over matter" written.
And besides being a master of his own instrument he plays the _viola
d'amore_, that sweet-toned survival, with sympathetic strings, of the
17th century viol family, and the Hungarian _czimbalom_. Nor is his
mastery of the last-named instrument "out of drawing," for we must
remember that Mr. Hartmann was born in MatÈ Szalka, in Southern Hungary.
Then, too, Mr. Hartmann is a genial and original thinker, a
_littÈrateur_ of no mean ability, a bibliophile, the intimate of the
late Claude Debussy, and of many of the great men of musical Europe. Yet
from the reader's standpoint the interest he inspires is, no doubt,
mainly due to the fact that not only is he a great interpreting
artist--but a great artist doubled by a great teacher, an unusual
Characteristic of Mr. Hartmann's hospitality (the writer had passed a pleasant hour with him some years before, but had not seen him since), was the fact that he insisted in brewing Turkish coffee, and making his caller feel quite at home before even allowing him to broach the subject of his visit. And when he learned that its purpose was to draw on his knowledge and experience for information which would be of value to the serious student and lover of his art, he did not refuse to respond.
What Violin Playing Really Is
"Violin playing is really no abstract mystery. It's as clear as geography in a way: one might say the whole art is bounded on the South by the G string, on the North by the E string, on the West by the string hand--and that's about as far as the comparison may be carried out. The point is, there are definite boundaries, whose technical and esthetic limits may be extended, and territorial annexations made through brain power, mental control. To me 'Violin Mastery' means taking this little fiddle-box in hand [and Mr. Hartmann suited action to word by raising the lid of his violin-case and drawing forth his beautiful 1711 Strad], and doing just what I want with it. And that means having the right finger on the right place at the right time--but don't forget that to be able to do this you must have forgotten to think of your fingers as fingers. They should be simply unconscious slaves of the artist's psychic expression, absolutely subservient to his ideal. Too many people reverse the process and become slaves to their fingers.
The Problem of Technic
"Technic, for instance, in its mechanical sense, is a much exaggerated microbe of _Materia musica_. All technic must conform to its instrument.[A] The violin was made to suit the hand, not the hand to suit the violin, hence its technic must be based on a natural logic of hand movement. The whole problem of technical control is encountered in the first change of position on the violin. If we violinists could play in but one position there would be no technical problem. The solution of this problem means, speaking broadly, the ability to play the violin--for there is only one way of playing it--with a real, full, singing 'violin' tone. It's not a question of a method, but just a process based on pure reason, the working out of rational principles.
[Footnote A: This is the idea which underlies my system for ear-training and absolute pitch, "Arthur Hartmann's System," as I call it, which I have published. A.H.]
"What is the secret of this singing tone? Well, you may call it a
secret, for many of my pupils have no inkling of it when they first come
here, though it seems very much of an 'open secret' to me. The finished
beauty of the violin 'voice' is a round, sustained, absolutely smooth
_cantabile_ tone. Now [Mr. Hartmann took up his Strad], I'll play you
the scale of G as the average violin student plays it. You see--each
slide from one tone to the next, a break--a rosary of lurches! How can
there be a round, harmonious tone when the fingers progress by jerks?
Shifting position must not be a continuous movement of effort, but a
continuous movement in which effort and relaxation--that of dead
weight--alternate. As an illustration, when we walk we do not
consciously set down one foot, and then swing forward the other foot and
leg with a jerk. The forward movement is smooth, unconscious,
coordinated: in putting the foot forward it carries the weight of the
entire body, the movement becomes a matter of instinct. And the same
applies to the progression of the fingers in shifting the position of
the hand. Now, playing the scale as I now do--only two fingers should be
[Illustration: Musical Notation]
I prepare every shift. Absolute accuracy of intonation and a singing
legato is the result. These guiding notes indicated are merely a test to
prove the scientific spacing of the violin; they are not sounded once
control of the hand has been obtained. _They serve only to accustom the
fingers to keep moving in the direction in which they are going_.
"The tone is produced by the left hand, by the weight of the fingers
plus an undercurrent of sustained effort. Now, you see, _if in the
moment of sliding you prepare the bow for the next string, the slide
itself is lost in the crossing of the bow_. To carry out consistently
this idea of effort and relaxation in the downward progression of the
scale, you will find that when you are in the third position, the
position of the hand is practically the same as in the first position.
Hence, in order to go down from third to first position with the hand in
what might be called a 'block' position, another movement is called for
to bridge over this space (between third and first position), and this
movement is the function of the thumb. The thumb, preceding the hand,
relaxes the wrist and helps draw the hand back to first position. But
great care must be taken that the thumb is not moved until the first
finger will have been played; otherwise there will be a tendency to
flatten. In the illustration the indication for the thumb is placed
after the note played by the first finger.
"The inviolable law of beautiful playing is that there must be no
angles. As I have shown you, right and left hand coˆrdinate. The fiddle
hand is preparing the change of position, while the change of strings is
prepared by the right hand. And always the slides in the left hand are
prepared by the last played finger--_the last played finger is the true
guide to smooth progression_--just as the bow hand prepares the slides
in the last played bowing. There should be no such thing as jumping and
trusting in Providence to land right, and a curse ought to be laid on
those who let their fingers leave the fingerboard. None who develop this
fundamental aspect of all good playing lose the perfect control of
"Of course there are a hundred _nuances_ of technic (into which the
quality of good taste enters largely) that one could talk of at length:
phrasing, and the subtle things happening in the bow arm that influence
it; _spiccato_, whose whole secret is finding the right point of balance
in the bow and, with light finger control, never allowing it to leave
the string. I've never been able to see the virtue of octaves or the
logic of double-stops. Like tenths, one plays or does not play them. But
do they add one iota of beauty to violin music? I doubt it! And, after
all, it is the poetry of playing that counts. All violin playing in its
essence is the quest for color; its perfection, that subtle art which
hides art, and which is so rarely understood."
"Could you give me a few guiding rules, a few Beatitudes, as it were,
for the serious student to follow?" I asked Mr. Hartmann. Though the
artist smiled at the idea of Beatitudes for the violinist, yet he was
finally amiable enough to give me the following, telling me I would have
to take them for what they were worth:
NINE BEATITUDES FOR VIOLINISTS
"Blessed are they who early in life approach Bach, for their love and veneration for music will multiply with the years.
"Blessed are they who remember their own early struggles, for their merciful criticism will help others to a greater achievement and furtherance of the Divine Art.
"Blessed are they who know their own limitations, for they shall have joy in the accomplishment of others.
"Blessed are they who revere the teachers--their own or those of others--and who remember them with credit.
"Blessed are they who, revering the old masters, seek out the newer ones and do not begrudge them a hearing or two.
"Blessed are they who work in obscurity, nor sound the trumpet, for Art has ever been for the few, and shuns the vulgar blare of ignorance.
"Blessed are they whom men revile as futurists and modernists, for Art can evolve only through the medium of iconoclastic spirits.
"Blessed are they who unflinchingly serve their Art, for thus only is their happiness to be gained.
"Blessed are they who have many enemies, for square pegs will never fit into round holes."
ARRANGING VERSUS TRANSCRIBING
Arthur Hartmann, like Kreisler, Elman, Maud Powell and others of his
colleagues, has enriched the literature of the violin with some notably
fine transcriptions. And it is a subject on which he has well-defined
opinions and regarding which he makes certain distinctions: "An
'arrangement,'" he said, "as a rule, is a purely commercial affair, into
which neither art nor Êsthetics enter. It usually consists in writing
off the melody of a song--in other words, playing the 'tune' on an
instrument instead of hearing it sung with words--or in the case of a
piano composition, in writing off the upper voice, leaving the rest
intact, regardless of sonority, tone-color or even effectiveness, and,
furthermore, without consideration of the idiomatic principles of the
instrument to which the adaptation was meant to fit.
"A 'transcription,' on the other hand, can be raised to the dignity of
an art-work. Indeed, at times it may even surpass the original, in the
quality of thought brought into the work, the delicate and sympathetic
treatment and by the many subtleties* which an artist can introduce to
make it thoroughly a _re-creation_ of his chosen instrument.
*Transcriber's note: Original text read "subleties".
"It is the transcriber's privilege--providing he be sufficiently the
artist to approach the personality of another artist with reverence--to
donate his own gifts of ingenuity, and to exercise his judgment in
either adding, omitting, harmonically or otherwise embellishing the work
(_while preserving the original idea and characteristics_), so as to
thoroughly _re-create_ it, so completely destroying the very sensing of
the original _timbre_ that one involuntarily exclaims, 'Truly, this
never was anything but a violin piece!' It is this, the blending and
fusion of two personalities in the achievement of an art-ideal, that is
the result of a true adaptation.
"Among the transcriptions I have most enjoyed making were those of
Debussy's _Il pleure dans mon coeur_, and _La Fille aux cheveaux de
lin_. Debussy was my cherished friend, and they represent a labor of
love. Though Debussy was not, generally speaking, an advocate of
transcriptions, he liked these, and I remember when I first played _La
Fille aux cheveaux de lin_ for him, and came to a bit of counterpoint I
had introduced in the violin melody, whistling the harmonics, he nodded
approvingly with a '_pas bÍte Áa!_' (Not stupid, that!)
DEBUSSY'S POeME FOR VIOLIN
"Debussy came near writing a violin piece for me once!" continued Mr.
Hartmann, and brought out a folio containing letters the great
impressionist had written him. They were a delightful revelation of the
human side of Debussy's character, and Mr. Hartmann kindly consented to
the quotation of one bearing on the _PoËme_ for violin which Debussy had
promised to write for him, and which, alas, owing to his illness and
other reasons, never actually came to be written:
Of course I am working a great deal now, because I feel the need of writing music, and would find it difficult to build an aeroplane; yet at times Music is ill-natured, even toward those who love her most! Then I take my little daughter and my hat and go walking in the Bois de Boulogne, where one meets people who have come from afar to bore themselves in Paris.
I think of you, I might even say I am in need of you (assume an air of exaltation and bow, if you please!) As to the _PoËme_ for violin, you may rest assured that I will write it. Only at the present moment I am so preoccupied with the 'Fall of the House of Usher!' They talk too much to me about it. I'll have to put an end to all that or I will go mad. Once more I want to write it, and above all _on your account_. And I believe you will be the only one to play the _PoËme_. Others will attempt it, and then quickly return to the Mendelssohn Concerto!
Believe me always your sincere friend,
"He never did write it," said Mr. Hartmann, "but it was not for want of
good will. As to other transcriptions, I have never done any that I did
not feel instinctively would make good fiddle pieces, such as
MacDowell's _To a Wild Rose_ and others of his compositions. And
recently I have transcribed some fine Russian things--Gretchaninoff's
_Chant d'Automne_, Karagitscheff's _Exaltation_, Tschaikovsky's
_Humoresque_, Balakirew's _Chant du PechÍur_, and Poldini's little
_PoupÈe valsante_, which Maud Powell plays so delightfully on all her