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David Hochstein

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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!





"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.





"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








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