MME. MATHILDE MARCHESI
Prepared in co-operation with her daughter Mme. Blanche Marchesi
[The name of Marchesi is so well known in the musical world that it seems somewhat idle to essay an introduction to the following article. Mme. Marchesi was born Mathilde Graumann, in Frankfort-am-Main, March 26, 1826. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant who lost his fortune. Thereupon she took up the study of music and determined to become a professional musician. In Vienna she studied with Nicolai and in Paris with Garcia. Sixty- five years ago she appeared in concert in London with great success. She taught at the Vienna Conservatory from 1854 to 1861 in which year she moved to Paris. Her next position was at Cologne (1865) where she remained for three years. Then she returned to Vienna (1868) remaining at the conservatory for ten years. This was followed by three years of private teaching after which she returned to Paris at the height of her fame and soon was surrounded by a coterie of remarkable students many of whom became historically renowned in the world of song. This list includes such names as Gerster, Eames, Calvé, Melba, de Murska and others. In 1852 she married Marchesi de Castrone (Salvatore de Castrone, Marchesi della Rajata). This distinguished musician and teacher was a pupil of Lamperti, Garcia and others. He sang in New York as early as 1848. Later he met with wide success on the European continent. He composed many songs and vocalises. Mme. Marchesi’s daughter Blanche (Baronne Caccamisi) made her operatic debut in Prague in 1900. In 1899 she gave successful recitals in the United States. She now resides with her mother in London.—Editor of The Etude.]
My work is done. I owe to the world one thing—to say the truth. There are many things I say to-day which I have hesitated to write down for years; but to-day, when I am reaching the highest age that man can reach, I have no more time to disguise my thoughts or to display useless modesty.
As The Etude has kindly invited me to speak to students, especially to the aspiring singer, through its medium, I will try (although at my age it is a difficult task and may make me more enemies than I already have the honor to possess) to say some things which will be of the highest importance to each one of them and which may guide them through the great difficulties that students encounter when they start searching for a teacher. I shall have to restrain myself to say all I would like to say regarding the really atrocious state of things in the world of singing teaching. I do not speak without due deliberation and I have no animosity toward any person. I would not say anything so iconoclastic that it might take away the daily bread from those teachers who in their teaching might not agree with the opinions I have evolved from a lifetime of experience. But I can not hesitate between the teacher who teaches what he does not know and the innocent student who wishes to learn what he does not know, because the student may be guided through wrong paths by which he never will reach the goal.
I have given my life to students. My last word shall be a word of help to them. The questions I will treat are of vital interest and for many a girl may prove her salvation.
VOICE LITTLE UNDERSTOOD.
It takes many years for great simple truths to penetrate the human mind—and truths are always simple.
For over thirty years Garcia and myself worked at the service of that truth, and worked hard indeed to make it known, and yet we were not able to spread it all over the world. Garcia lived a very retired life, and shunned publicity and anything that looked like advertising. My life was filled with such hard work that I have really never taken the time to write about these matters; I only taught, and my teaching speaks for itself. To-day I must admit that through the work of Garcia, that embraced a period of seventy years, and through my own teaching, lasting sixty-five years, after all, something has penetrated—something has taken root, and to-day one hears people speaking of the larynx, the vocal cords, the breathing, the blending of registers, voice production, etc., etc.—a thing that was unheard of years ago. I do not say that people understand the meaning of all these words they use, but nevertheless it is certainly admitted and known to-day, that voices must be trained, and it also is admitted that they can be ruined.
Here we have already great indications of progress. In olden times one thought that one was either born a singer or without the gift of song. When a voice, loved by the public, began to decay, this was attributed to various reasons. To-day, the idea that a voice can be trained, spoiled, or saved, has spread very extensively.
The reason why Garcia’s glorious discovery, that I carried to a positive mathematical art, was not better known in the world, is that there are only a very few persons born in a century who unite all the necessary inborn, genial qualities, to form a singing teacher.
Garcia trained me, and I think he was proud of his pupil, but he did not find many people born with the special genius of teaching. It was hard work—but it was beautiful too, because what can there be more sublime than to feel in one’s self the power of giving the human being a voice, at least to train it so to give it to him for ever, to win it back if it had been lost, and to make hundreds, yes, thousands of existences happy and sometimes glorious and always bread-winning? To train apostles, who spread all over the earth the art you have imparted to them? But that this art should be more understood there should be more knowing teachers.
There are only a few people who find time and money to study their own singing thoroughly, but there are none intelligent enough to grasp the tremendous importance of learning to teach, to be a thorough, and to become a complete, and knowing, singing teacher. I would like to say more; there ought to be all over the world an understanding like there is in medicine and surgery, that only one method should be allowed to be taught—the one that makes, saves, and preserves the voice.
THE TEACHER’S FITNESS.
A teacher must, as I said at first, be born with a general musical talent; with a special disposition, and genius for singing; genius for grasping composition (without which style cannot be taught); with a strong pathological sense, with psychical insight, with patience “à outrance,” (the principal teaching virtue); with love of imparting, imagination, complete literary historical, and musical historical education, and complete mastery of at least four of the principal living languages, as you cannot teach masterpieces if you do not know the spirit in which they were created. Important, also, is the special gift that lies in the ear—of discerning the real nature of the voice—all its possibilities, and its future line in Art.
INSPIRING THE PUPIL.
The crowd sees, hears, and feels, and it is only those that carry high ideals, who become loved by the crowd. The public that understands great moral qualities in painting and sculpture is a small one, but the people who listen to music form vast crowds who feel, know, and judge perfectly well the artist who stands before them.
The first thing a person does who wishes to sing is to consult her friends whom to take as a teacher.
Here already we must stop, and speak out frankly. Don’t go to the inefficient; go to the able teacher. When I go to a doctor I go to the one most celebrated for effecting real cures. Don’t ask advice of inconsequential people. Go to some prominent person and try to awake his interest. It will spare you many years of useless waiting, money-spending, and heart-rending deception. Try first to learn if you have a voice worth while cultivating.
WHO SHALL JUDGE MY VOICE.
THE ADVICE OF TOURING ARTIST.
I do not want to credit great artists with a lack of sincerity, but the little human touch which makes them jealous of similar voices seems as natural as it is common. Men as a rule are fairer and kinder, but rarely possess valuable judgment in the matter of the female voice.
When you have been able to form an opinion from the advice gathered from different gifted musical people who have all declared your voice beautiful, or at least promising, then at once seek the best teacher in your town. Who is the best teacher in your town? Not the one who makes the loudest pretensions, but the one who has actually turned out and presented to the public the greatest number of successful singers. The painter can only be judged by his pictures. He can write volumes on painting, how great painters paint, what constitutes a fine picture, or indeed any phase of art as for instance did John Ruskin, but he may in turn fail as completely as did Ruskin in becoming a great artist. It is the picture on the wall that speaks and it is by that picture that the artist must be judged. It is the same with the voice teacher. Garcia was great as a voice teacher not solely because he wrote upon the voice, made vocal discoveries, and sang himself, but because he produced great pupils. Only the pupil tells the story. In this I do not refer to famous teachers who teach a pupil for only a few months and claim all the glory, whereas some other lesser known teacher may have spent years in developing the voice,—I refer only to the master-teacher capable of teaching the voice from the beginning to the highest artistic accomplishment.
TEACHERS MUST PRODUCE PUPILS.
When you have selected a teacher place the utmost confidence in that teacher, but do not be misguided in the matter. Regard all things sensibly and if in your best judgment things are not moving as they should be moving give the matter careful thought and if necessary make a change. The matter of the right teacher is a very serious matter and may affect your whole career. It is right for you to be selfish,—that is to think wholly of your own interests. Suppose, for instance, you have heard pupils whom you considered well trained and you have entered the master’s school. Immediately there arises the very important question,—”Will he understand my particular case?” Your case seeming easy to a lay ear, may really be an especially complicated one. Your teacher may not have had enough experience for this new case. How are you to determine whether the teacher is doing right or wrong? How can you tell whether he is doing you good or harm? Naturally quick and intelligent persons will find out through their own intelligence whether they are being treated properly. They will not believe blindly what they are told. They will look for continuous improvement and if this does not occur they may well be justified in rebelling and discontinuing.
Changing teachers frequently is of course a fearfully bad practice. My daughter once had a comparatively young pupil who had changed at least fourteen times. While it is a huge mistake to go on for months and years with the voice growing steadily worse and worse, imploring the ignorant teacher to tell one what to do, not daring to leave him, always hoping, believing and waiting patiently for the best, the student must not get in a panic, or become so mistrusting, that the teacher can not do good work. I would not write anything that would upset the pupil. Think deeply and seriously before you make a change, but once you have made your decision let nothing stop you. Remember, that the teacher is quite as anxious as you are to make you a successful singer and that unless he is an absolute fraud he is leaving nothing undone to bring about success.