Violin Lessons | Violin Pedagogy | Free Sheet Music | Violin Teachers | Violinists
Violin Home Violin Mastery Leopold Auer

Leopold Auer

Related Links


A Method Without Secrets

When that celebrated laboratory of budding musical genius, the Petrograd Conservatory, closed its doors indefinitely owing to the disturbed political conditions of Russia, the famous violinist and teacher Professor Leopold Auer decided to pay the visit to the United States which had so repeatedly been urged on him by his friends and pupils. His fame, owing to such heralds as Efrem Zimbalist, Mischa Elman, Kathleen Parlow, Eddy Brown, Francis MacMillan, and more recently Sascha Heifetz, Toscha Seidel, and Max Rosen, had long since preceded him; and the reception accorded him in this country, as a soloist and one of the greatest exponents and teachers of his instrument, has been one justly due to his authority and preÎminence.

It was not easy to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Master anent his art, since every minute of his time was precious. Yet ushered into his presence, the writer discovered that he had laid aside for the moment other preoccupations, and was amiably responsive to all questions, once their object had been disclosed. Naturally, the first and burning question in the case of so celebrated a pedagogue was: "How do you form such wonderful artists? What is the secret of your method?"

"I know," said Professor Auer, "that there is a theory somewhat to the effect that I make a few magic passes with the bow by way of illustration and--_presto_--you have a Zimbalist or a Heifetz! But the truth is I have no method--unless you want to call purely natural lines of development, based on natural principles, a method--and so, of course, there is no secret about my teaching. The one great point I lay stress on in teaching is never to kill the individuality of my various pupils. Each pupil has his own inborn aptitudes, his own personal qualities as regards tone and interpretation. I always have made an individual study of each pupil, and given each pupil individual treatment. And always, always I have encouraged them to develop freely in their own way as regards inspiration and ideals, so long as this was not contrary to esthetic principles and those of my art. My idea has always been to help bring out what nature has already given, rather than to use dogma to force a student's natural inclinations into channels I myself might prefer. And another great principle in my teaching, one which is productive of results, is to demand as much as possible of the pupil. Then he will give you something!

"Of course the whole subject of violin teaching is one that I look at

from the standpoint of the teacher who tries to make what is already

excellent perfect from the musical and artistic standpoint. I insist on

a perfected technical development in every pupil who comes to me. Art

begins where technic ends. There can be no real art development before

one's technic is firmly established. And a great deal of technical work

has to be done before the great works of violin literature, the sonatas

and concertos, may be approached. In Petrograd my own assistants, who

were familiar with my ideas, prepared my pupils for me. And in my own

experience I have found that one cannot teach by word, by the spoken

explanation, alone. If I have a point to make I explain it; but if my

explanation fails to explain I take my violin and bow, and clear up the

matter beyond any doubt. The word lives, it is true, but often the word

must be materialized by action so that its meaning is clear. There are

always things which the pupil must be shown literally, though

explanation should always supplement illustration. I studied with

Joachim as a boy of sixteen--it was before 1866, when there was still a

kingdom of Hanover in existence--and Joachim always illustrated his

meaning with bow and fiddle. But he never explained the technical side

of what he illustrated. Those more advanced understood without verbal

comment; yet there were some who did not.


"As regards the theory that you can tell who a violinist's teacher is by

the way in which he plays, I do not believe in it. I do not believe that

you can tell an Auer pupil by the manner in which he plays. And I am

proud of it since it shows that my pupils have profited by my

encouragement of individual development, and that they become genuine

artists, each with a personality of his own, instead of violinistic

automats, all bearing a marked family resemblance."


Questioned as to how his various pupils reflected different phases of

his teaching ideals, Professor Auer mentioned that he had long since

given over passing final decisions on his pupils. "I could express no

such opinions without unconsciously implying comparisons. And so few

comparisons really compare! Then, too, mine would be merely an

individual opinion. Therefore, as has been my custom for years, I will

continue to leave any ultimate decisions regarding my pupils' playing to

the public and the press."





"How long should the advanced pupil practice?" Professor Auer was asked.

"The right kind of practice is not a matter of hours," he replied.

"Practice should represent the utmost concentration of brain. It is

better to play with concentration for two hours than to practice eight

without. I should say that four hours would be a good maximum practice

time--I never ask more of my pupils--and that during each minute of the

time the brain be as active as the fingers.





"I think there is more value in the idea of a national conservatory than

in the idea of nationality as regards violin playing. No matter what his

birthplace, there is only one way in which a student can become an

artist--and that is to have a teacher who can teach! In Europe the best

teachers are to be found in the great national conservatories. Thibaud,

Ysaye--artists of the highest type--are products of the conservatory

system, with its splendid teachers. So is Kreisler, one of the greatest

artists, who studied in Vienna and Paris. Eddy Brown, the brilliant

American violinist, finished at the Budapest Conservatory. In the Paris

Conservatory the number of pupils in a class is strictly limited; and

from these pupils each professor chooses the very best--who may not be

able to pay for their course--for free instruction. At the Petrograd

Conservatory, where Wieniawski preceded me, there were hundreds of free

scholarships available. If a really big talent came along he always had

his opportunity. We took and taught those less talented at the

Conservatory in order to be able to give scholarships to the deserving

of limited means. In this way no real violinistic genius, whom poverty

might otherwise have kept from ever realizing his dreams, was deprived

of his chance in life. Among the pupils there in my class, having

scholarships, were Kathleen Parlow, Elman, Zimbalist, Heifetz and






"Violin mastery? To me it represents the sum total of accomplishment on

the part of those who live in the history of the Art. All those who may

have died long since, yet the memory of whose work and whose creations

still lives, are the true masters of the violin, and its mastery is the

record of their accomplishment. As a child I remember the well-known

composers of the day were Marschner, Hiller, Nicolai and others--yet

most of what they have written has been forgotten. On the other hand

there are Tartini, Nardini, Paganini, Kreutzer, Dont and Rode--they

still live; and so do Ernst, Sarasate, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski.

Joachim (incidentally the only great German violinist of whom I

know--and he was a Hungarian!), though he had but few great pupils, and

composed but little, will always be remembered because he, together with

David, gave violin virtuosity a nobler trend, and introduced a higher

ideal in the music played for violin. It is men such as these who always

will remain violin 'masters,' just as 'violin mastery' is defined by

what they have done."





Replying to a question as to the value of the Bach violin sonatas,

Professor Auer said: "My pupils always have to play Bach. I have

published my own revision of them with a New York house. The most

impressive thing about these Bach solo sonatas is they do not need an

accompaniment: one feels it would be superfluous. Bach composed so

rapidly, he wrote with such ease, that it would have been no trouble for

him to supply one had he felt it necessary. But he did not, and he was

right. And they still must be played as he has written them. We have the

'modern' orchestra, the 'modern' piano, but, thank heaven, no 'modern'

violin! Such indications as I have made in my edition with regard to

bowing, fingering, _nuances_ of expression, are more or less in accord

with the spirit of the times; but not a single note that Bach has

written has been changed. The sonatas are technically among the most

difficult things written for the violin, excepting Ernst and Paganini.

Not that they are hard in a modern way: Bach knew nothing of harmonics,

_pizzicati_, scales in octaves and tenths. But his counterpoint, his

fugues--to play them well when the principal theme is sometimes in the

outer voices, sometimes in the inner voices, or moving from one to the

other--is supremely difficult! In the last sonatas there is a larger

number of small movements--- but this does not make them any easier to



"I have also edited the Beethoven sonatas together with Rudolph Ganz. He

worked at the piano parts in New York, while I studied and revised the

violin parts in Petrograd and Norway, where I spent my summers during

the war. There was not so much to do," said Professor Auer modestly, "a

little fingering, some bowing indications and not much else. No reviser

needs to put any indications for _nuance_ and shading in Beethoven. He

was quite able to attend to all that himself. There is no composer who

shows such refinement of _nuance_. You need only to take his quartets

or these same sonatas to convince yourself of the fact. In my Brahms

revisions I have supplied really needed fingerings, bowings, and other

indications! Important compositions on which I am now at work include

Ernst's fine Concerto, Op. 23, the Mozart violin concertos, and

Tartini's _Trille du diable_, with a special cadenza for my pupil,

Toscha Seidel.





"Prodigies?" said Professor Auer. "The word 'prodigy' when applied to

some youthful artist is always used with an accent of reproach. Public

and critics are inclined to regard them with suspicion. Why? After all,

the important thing is not their youth, but their artistry. Examine the

history of music--you will discover that any number of great masters,

great in the maturity of their genius, were great in its infancy as

well. There are Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Rubinstein, d'Albert, Hofmann,

Scriabine, Wieniawski--they were all 'infant prodigies,' and certainly

not in any objectionable sense. Not that I wish to claim that every

_prodigy_ necessarily becomes a great master. That does not always

follow. But I believe that a musical prodigy, instead of being regarded

with suspicion, has a right to be looked upon as a striking example of a

pronounced natural predisposition for musical art. Of course, full

mental development of artistic power must come as a result of the

maturing processes of life itself. But I firmly believe that every

prodigy represents a valuable musical phenomenon, one deserving of the

keenest interest and encouragement. It does not seem right to me that

when the art of the prodigy is incontestably great, that the mere fact

of his youth should serve as an excuse to look upon him with prejudice,

and even with a certain degree of distrust."









Violin Strings

Violin Bows

Memorizing Music | Violin Makers | Famous Composers | Violin Making | Violin Music

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.