Etude 1912

In September 1911 the American publication Etude reported on a lecture Huberman had given in Vienna on violin playing.

The ideas he discusses were expounded upon three years later in his book Aus der Werkstatt des Virtuosen.

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The theories of a great violinist concerning his art are always of interest, since every real artist sees the elements of the musical art as interpreted by violin playing from a different angle. For this reason a number of theories advanced by Bronislaw Huberman, who must be classed among the most noted violinists of Europe, in a lecture on violin playing recently in Vienna, have attracted wide attention.
Mr. Huberman first denies that one must be possessed by any special mental gift in order to become an eminent musician. He said, “I should like to put forward an argument in favor of the theory that only outward circumstances, and by no means a special endowment, are responsible for the choice of a career. I deny any special gift. There are only different grades of talent, which I would define as a greater or lesser capacity of the brain to absorb impressions from without, and give them out again in an entirely new form. I even go further and say that any one who has achieved eminence in any walk of life would have gained equal distinction in another if the same assistance had been given him in that case. Outside influences which play a part are family tradition, the question of means, education, environment, impressions of nature, influence of parents, and, lastly, purely psychological conditions. Every human being is subject in his inclinations to the influence and habits of his age, his nationality, and surroundings.”


Mr. Huberman then gave an interesting account of his own career, showing how much chance had entered into his choice of a calling. His father had an intense love for music and always regretted he had not made it his life study. Little Bronislaw, at the age of four, was able to sing correctly any melody he heard, and his father had hopes that he might become a musician. A child musician of Warsaw (Huberman’s birthplace) attracted the favorable notice of the Shah of Persia, and forthwith every parent became desirous of attaining the same fame for his child. This incident decided Huberman’s father in devoting the boy to the musical profession, and, as a piano was too expensive, a violin was purchased for three roubles, from a musician of no special note, who thereupon gave the boy lessons.
Speaking of his progress, the violinist said: “My master saw much promise in his new pupil, as he discovered that my hands were specially made for violin playing. I did, indeed, make extraordinary progress in a short time. I played frequently in public, and combined study with these public appearances; and this was a good thing, for a concert is of great worth as a means of education. The artist gets an immense advantage from the inspiration which more often stirs him in the concert hall, than in the troubled atmosphere of his study.


“I was for the most part self-taught, for at twelve years old I had my last lesson. As I was not conceited enough to imagine myself a finished artist, I do not feel that I am repudiating a debt of gratitude to my teachers when I say this. In teaching myself I early learned the curse which is bestowed upon us instrumentalists, ‘In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou gain thy–technic.’ Truly, there is no greater torment for an artist who feels and thinks than to be constantly repeating technical passages from works which have been previously mastered and laid aside. People often express wonder that an artist always needs to practice. Nothing is more strange than such an expression, for even though the accomplishment of a musician is an intellectual one, it is nevertheless carried out by the arms and fingers, and these need drill and training. No man would trust his legs to carry him up Mont Blanc after he had spent several weeks in bed, and the fingerboard is to a violinist what Mont Blanc is to a tourist.
“Now, with regard to a methodical acquisition of technic. My theories are –(1) Work at studies which deal with the most frequently recurring stretches, runs, and varieties of bowing. (2) Make use of the technical knowledge previously gained when studying a new composition. (3) Training–here the most depressing fact is that really successful passages often fail when connected with the whole. Either one’s strength does not carry one through the entire work, or the ‘memory of the fingers’ is at fault. What we understand by memory has really only a small share in playing from memory. There is no absolutely certain ‘memory.’ What gives us the power to play a whole repertoire by heart is a specific musical ear, which enables us to put the work together like the links of a chain. To this is added something much more important: the ‘Memory of the Fingers.’
“This has often saved me unconsciously in many situations in which I have found myself, either through passing carelessness or momentary weakness. The fingers have so impressed themselves with the many thousand notes in a piece that they accomplish these successive notes with a certain unconscious movement, like the performance of many of our life’s functions. Nothing vies a greater idea of the immense value of work and training than this. A real danger to violinists–that of acquiring mannerisms–I overcome by refraining from playing for a period of several weeks when I return from a concert tour of several months’ duration. In training, the psychological aspect must not be forgotten. For instance, I might stumble over a run or a particularly difficult note. I have often succeeded in overcoming the difficulty by means of autosuggestion, because I either, as it were, challenge the note by strongly accentuating it, or remain on it for a long time; but this, be it understood, only in my mind and not in reality.


“The technic of the true artist must be more solid and reliable than that of the mere virtuoso. The public has a fine instinct, and does not carelessly pass by the divine signs of talent, but, through not using the sense of logic and perception, fails to distinguish between what is accomplished by work and what by talent. For instance, things often erroneously reckoned as difficult are pizzicato and harmonics, which are quite easy in themselves. If the public, on the contrary, does not notice the difficult passages, it is a good sign for the artist.
“With talent there rises simultaneously in man the irresistible desire to use it. Gifts bring as many delights as duties, and the least of us should find himself prepared to carry out the obligations resulting therefrom. Therefore I would say, the greater the talent the greater the need for work.”
The two statements of Mr. Huberman to which the greatest exceptions have been taken by musical reviews and critics are those denying that a man must have a supreme natural special gift in order to become a great musician, and the one expressing such intense disgust for practice. It has heretofore been almost universally conceded that a great musician must be born and not made, and it has also been the world’s opinion that an artist should work cheerfully at his technic in order to create the wings with which he is to fly.

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Bronislaw Huberman