The Point of View (1899)

by Frederic Woodman Root

NOTE: this 1899 article was published in Music and Musicians in Chicago: The City's Leading Artists, Organizations and Art Buildings; Progress and Development; Illustrated Gathered and Compiled by Florence Ffrench (Representative of the Musical Courier for Chicago and the Central Western States). The article appears on pages 126-128. A biographic sketch and portrait of Frederic Woodman Root also appears on pages 177-178.

America is musically under the domination of Europe. Europe is its schoolhouse and law-giver in artistic matters. We look to Europe for our standards and send our talent there for instruction and approval. In a certain sense, music is cosmopolitan and knows no nationality. The best there is in the art is sought for and adopted by the best taste in all countries; but the average of musical activity in each of the four great European countries, Germany, Italy, France and England, is what a student has to consider when he goes from this to one of them to absorb the theory and practice of the art of music. The average might be illustrated thus:

In England, music is a retainer. There social eminence is the most desirable and the most honored thing there is. Everything is subservient to it and music is made to walk humbly in the train of society. There is a great deal of activity in the lower grades of musical effort which does not come under this classification.

School music and choral singing, including church music, flourish independently and admirably in England, but taking London to represent that country, the success of a musician seems to be measured by the social eminence which his art can aid him to attain. The Queen and the Prince of Wales can make, even if they cannot unmake, the career of a musician with very secondary reference to musical excellence.

Artists must, indeed, be the demigods of the musical world to feel that they can achieve success independently of the great ones of society. Concerts to be really first-class must be under the patronage of Lord This, my Lady That, or Sir The Other. The feeling of exalted importance which takes possession of the English musician who has obtained a title is something which an American music come in contact with to fully realize. An American musician, returning recently from a residence of several years in London, and speaking of some musicians of that city, who, judged at this distance by their artistic productions only, seem like ordinary mortals, said, lowering his voice in a sort of awe, "They are great people over there." It is probable that social distinction is valued in other countries, but in no other does society, however exalted, succeed in chaining music to its triumphal chariot.

In France, music is royalty. Probably in no other country is musical talent honored in so distinguished a manner. The most eminent musicians of Paris are often men of slender means, but the esteem in which they are held by their countrymen might be indicated by a paraphrase of the old saying, "To be a Roman was greater than to be a king"--substituting the word Musician for "Roman." The great musicians there can confer distinction and need not give solicitous care to obtaining it for themselves.

In Italy, music is an innamorata. It is a goddess to which human adoration is paid. It received the intense, passionate, exaggerated, overwrought treatment of the laver to the one he idealizes. The exaggeration which one witnesses in musical performance in Italy is carried to grotesque extremes and appears to outside observers in the same catagory with the hyperbole, superlatives and heated protestations of one who is very much in love.

In Germany, music is a Divinity. It is reverently esteemed by the Germans. Exaggeration is not countenanced. Society has no influence whatever in determining its status. Indeed, at least two of the prominent German musicians have taken the postition that their art rendered them superior to the behests of royalty. An sudience of Germans, listening to the classics, reminds one of an audience of devout worshipers in church. One who comes in late, making a disturbance, to the solemn rites of a German classical concert is regarded with withering indignation. One might as well interpolate slang in the Scriptures as to interpret the acknowledge masters flippantly to German connoisseurs.

Music students, returning to this country from a considerable sojourn in any one of these countries, generally hear the impress of the prevailing ideals which have just been indicated.

One returning from France, if he has received anything more than could have been gotten at home, will manifest in his treatment of the art something of the finish and refinement which suggests the consummation of human luxury--the purple and fine linen of kings' palaces. These have an element in their musical attainments which is highly prized by the daintiest tast of our communities on this side--a certain genuine flavor of aristocracry.

Those who return from Italy are likely to bring too many exaggerations to find favor. They invariably have the tremelo in a highly developed state. They place great dependence on a very high note at the end of a song, for instance, and their repertoires always have the biggest concert numbers which the operatic library can afford. Their former friends usually disown them in the remark that their style is "too operatic" for church music, or any of the ordinary uses to which singers hereabouts are put.

Those who have had a considerable residence in England generally show that they have been under influences which were not purely musical. Their expenses in London have been so great that business considerations, including the patronage of the mighty, have out-weighed or suffocated their artistic endeavors.

From Germany one is likely to return in pretty good order. They have worked toward as pure art ideal as can be found anywhere on the globe and they show the effects of few or no distractions from a course of earnest work. Their wardrobe may be scant, but their repetoire is rich. Their social triumphs may be few, but their artistic attainments are apt to amount to something. They have not been patronized, nor bullied, nor fleeced unduly, and they are usually in pretty good condition for musical use. In every other department than in voice, the German ideal is quite irreproachable; but their standards of vocal tone are often poor, for they are in the habit of exalting the thought and the inspiration of music to such an extent that the tone which conveys this thought to the ear becomes in their estimation comparitively insignificant.

So it seems that when we speak of the influence of Europe upon this country or of adopting European training for students, we need to know which country we are talking about. We need to get a point of view which takes in the whole horizon.


NOTE: in reference to the above comments (and from the same book, on page 178), in 1869, F. W. Root studied and traveled abroad for eighteen months, receiving instructions at Florence, Italy, from Vannuccini. In 1893 he again visited Europe with his family and closely observed methods of teaching voice production in England and on the continent.

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