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Idealism and Art
In art, as in everything else, there are three categories of people -- those who say: "What was good enough for my father is not good enough for me"; others who say: "What was good enough for my father is good enough for me"; and, third, those who do not say anything, do not search anything, and follow what is, "a la mode." The first I will call progressive and creative; the second, reactionary and distractive, and the third do not interest me and I will leave them alone, and will dedicate these few lines to help the progressive spirits and to try and convert some of their reactionaries.
Music more and more is becoming a language and idiom to express and portray life and emotion. It is more and more becoming the harmonic mirror of the times we live in, and portrays in the musical harmonies a real life, a real emotion. With the evolution of music naturally comes the evolution of singing.
I look upon music and art from a very idealistic standpoint. To me, music is closely connected with the whole evolutionary process, the progress of the human race, the fundamental question of being -- of life -- of God. It is not my intention to dwell upon this great question. I only wish to put as my foundation in developing my idea on art the following doctrine, which will give us a point of departure.
Human beings are not material -- they are spiritual. Our mind is yet in a very low state of development -- it is coarse, cruel, selfish, brutal -- the material passions dominate. The evolutionary process of human mind to a greater spiritual development is slow but certain.
Art in all its forms is one of the most powerful factors in this process of evolution.
A human soul could never be perfect, unless it would understand and worship beauty, and art expresses and portrays beauty in all its forms. Therefore, art should be to the world like a religion, and the artists should be its priests.
The reader may ask what all these questions have to do with the art of singing. They have everything to do with it. Every question in life can be approached from different standpoints, and, therefore, given different coloring, different development, and different purpose, and it is the purpose, the ultimate goal, which matters above everything.
Suppose someone were to come to a young artist and persuade him that art is purely materialistic, that the world is materialistic, that singing exists only for his personal benefit and for the amusement of the people, to bring satisfaction to their senses, and the glory and money for him and his manager! Should he believe in such a doctrine, then his mind would take a definite course of developing his art on a materialistic basis; he would search in his (so-called) art expression of matter, of the senses. On the other hand, suppose a young singer should be persuaded that art is not only materialistic, but also spiritual, that it has a great mission in life to advance the evolutionary process of humanity, to bring a closer understanding of beauty, and that he, through his genius, is one of the mediums to transmit this understanding of beauty, and, therefore, his object in life and in his work is not only to make the most money and glorify his own importance, but to serve humanity and art and not make art serve him! Should the young singer accept such an ideal, then his mind would develop his art on different fundamentals than it would in a materialistic belief; he would search to express the spiritual side of life, and he would put in his work not only his body but also his soul. Here I want especially to draw attention to the word "soul." I have often heard people, and even critics, say, and write about an artist who has put all his soul in his performance -- "He has a fine temperament." It is grotesque. It is time that people should begin to differentiate between soul and temperament in an artist's work.
The acceptance of those fundamentals does not mean the artist should not be human with human weaknesses and human faults. We all have weaknesses and faults. None of us in any branch of life live up to our ideals and beliefs, but even if we try to realize a part of our beliefs and ideals, we already help and accomplish a great deal, and we prepare the way for others more worthy than we, who will go a step further, and soon until the great temple of art will be built in all its glory for the benefit of mankind.
Do not let us shrink when we think of its immensity and of our own insignificance. No building can be built without bricks or stones, and no bricks or stones can be made without grains of sand, and if we are only just a little grain of sand in this great building, let us be satisfied. We may be only laying the foundation and many thousands of years will go by before the temple will be finished.
So my fundamentals, I repeat, are: Art is Spiritual -- Art is Idealistic -- Art represents Beauty -- Art portrays Life -- Art helps the evolution of human beings. Therefore, the first demand I make from a finished artist, and one of the most important things in the making of a young artist, is mind, for mind is all; it understands, it feels, it creates, and it controls by its understanding your brain and your entire body. Mind is our spiritual soul. Mind governs and colors our thoughts, our actions, our character, our life, and our work. Without mind, we are just clever animals that can talk, eat, sleep, but when one has a beautiful mind, then with it comes love, kindness, honor, tenderness, unselfishness and all other beautiful feelings that make us different from the animal. Therefore as art portrays all those beautiful things, it is imperative that the artist should possess a mind besides a brain.
Art And Artists
Art in all its branches must be divided into two categories -- creative and re-creative, or interpretive. By creative art, I do not mean only creators of a definite, tangible, materialistic, artistic form, as, for instance, composers, poets, writers, painters, sculptors, but also some of the executive artists who, through their genius in re-creation, create new ways, new forms, new movements, and with the new foundations for progress and development of re-creative art. One such artist is Chaliapin, who was the first to break the tradition of the old stupid operatic marionettes, and has laid the foundations to the future generation of singers of a new school of operatic acting and singing. Kreisler, who stands as an example that the violin is not only an instrument for the display of finger acrobatics, but can give expression of your soul and mind as much as a human voice. Paderewski did the same for the pianists, and here I must mention another great young rising pianist, Walter Rummel, who has perhaps gone further than anyone in the creation of a new idiom of interpretive art for the piano, and Isadora Duncan, who created a new art of dancing, giving it meaning, a sense of beauty, of movement, and not only these senseless acrobatics of standing on the tips of the toes.
And there are many others. Those artists will leave nothing behind of material creation, but they will leave the quintessence of their re-creative art, which will be taken up by the younger artists, carried forward, developed further towards perfection.
What is perfection in art we, with our finite minds, cannot yet grasp. What seems wonderful and perfect to us now, probably will seem childish in a few hundred years. What seems impossible now will be possible then. Take, for instance, science as an example! If four hundred years ago, someone would have advocated the possibilities of flying, talking through the air, etc., I am sure such a person would have been proclaimed a witch and burned at the stake. Or, can you imagine one of the present symphony orchestras giving a concert of modern music, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and the like, at the Court of Henry VIII! I would not have envied the fate of the conductor and the members of the orchestra, to say nothing of the composer, for outraging and insulting the tender and refined ears of His Majesty and His Court.
One cannot call every artist who paints, composes, or writes, a creator. A creative artist is only the one who has a vision of true life, of true emotions, who has a real understanding of spiritual being, who has a mind that is able to understand all the beauty and greatness of nature, of human souls with all their best and worst qualities, and who is able to materialize in perfect harmonious vibrations of color, form, or sound the vision which he wishes to portray. In this way, the creator immortalizes a phase of life and gives us, the re-creative artists, an opportunity to give it back to life, to bring it nearer to the mind and souls of the public life in all its forms.
When beauty, love, kindness, tenderness are portrayed it uplifts the people; it makes them better, it leaves a germ of good in their souls, and brings to them a better realization of beautiful things. On the other hand, when the grotesque, crude, evil side of life is portrayed, then it brings directly home to the people the sordid side of our existence and can help, and I am sure does help, in many cases, as a preventative of people doing wrong. Do not let anyone smile or mock this statement, for I know of several cases where people have seen, through art, what they are, or what they can become, and it helped their minds to take a different course of thoughts, and gave them strength to fight evil instincts.
So, a complete creative work is a vision in the mind of a human being, which he is able to materialize and give to the world in vibration of color, form and sound, or word, and which is made alive and portrayed to the people by the interpretive or re-creative artist. A perfect materialization of the vision, and its perfect re-creation, is the perfect art. The more beautiful the vision is in its depth of idealism and beauty of feeling, the more precious the artistic work becomes. Works that are not based on fundamentals and a real understanding of the spirit of the soul, but represent only the superficiality of a certain phase of a period of our life, do not survive. While they are of a certain help and interest, they sooner or later disappear into oblivion after having played their small part in the evolutionary process. We are continuously progressing and are passing from one transitory stage to another. On the other hand, works of art that are based on fundamentals will always live throughout generations, as is proved by the immortality of classics.
The unfortunate thing about the present generation of creative artists is that they seek chiefly in their art new forms, originality of sound and color; their minds seem to be possessed with one desire -- to be original, intellectual. They practically ignore beauty as their predecessors ignored the grotesque, yet never in the history of the world has there been such an opportunity to portray, to re-create life with all its idealism and horror as in the last few years. Take the present-day composers! What have they created in their music? The names will speak for themselves -- Renard, Beuf sur le toit, Canard, Serenade de'un Chat, etc. Or, on the other hand, of some sickly sentimentalism and death in such a discord of sound that no true lover could possibly feel that in real life. Take some of the paintings, sculpture, and the last new poetry of my own country -- after hearing and reading some of these creations some of us may ask ourselves, are they not mad?
Then we think of Bach, Michelangelo, Dante, who still live with us, who are still fresh and beautiful, who will always live, and we are convinced that we, who desire beauty, who desire idealism in art, at least we are sane. I do not mean that I disapprove of discord, and the grotesque in art; on the contrary, I am its strong advocate, for art must portray all sides of life, and unfortunately the evil and grotesque form a very important part of the world's existence, but let the discord portray the discords of life, and not be used for portraying emotions that demand roundness and harmony. And also, why ignore all the beauty of life, of love, of the spiritual side of our existence? For it is that, and only that, that is immortal. And why not use the genius and the talent of the present-day composers to portray and immortalize for the benefit of the future generations, for them to have, as an example before their eyes and their ears all of the horrors, the grotesqueness, the cruelty that the world has gone through in the last eight years? Stravinsky, who has written such great masterpieces as the Sacre du Printemps, Petroushka, and others -- what a wonderful symphony he could write to portray the horror of the Russian revolution. Darius Milhaud, the young genius of France, couldn't immortalize the suffering of France during the war. Schoenberg, the Austrian genius should portray the German invasion of Belgium and France honestly, with full colors so that one should be able to hear and realize the agony of millions of perishing bodies of tortured souls!
Present day composers! Give us singers, songs, so that we may help you to expose to mankind the wickedness of a few political rulers who have brought the world to the state in which it now is! But you are behind time. Wake up! Do your duty towards humanity and us, the re-creative artists! Do not waste your genius on what may be original, interesting, unusual, but empty and meaningless. The writers, sculptors, painters have dedicated a great deal of their creative work the last few years to those subjects, and it is only the composers who have ignored it. Probably I will be criticized for some of my last few lines. They will say it has nothing to do with my subject. They will be wrong. All the arts are closely connected. They are all for one purpose, only they have different mediums to express themselves. Music and singers are part of each other, and our work and our development depend a great deal, if not all, on the composer. Therefore, writing on the fundamental principles and ideals in the art of singing, I must touch and pass my opinion on the work of the composers, and on their moral obligation toward us, singers, and if they have the influence over us and we depend so much on their creative work, as we are their interpreters, it is our duty to try to influence the composers in our turn.
I do hope the time will soon arrive when the masses will awaken themselves to the realization of the great mission of art in life, and will cease to consider it as an amusement, hobby, recreation, snobbism; when governments will cease to be blind and will take art under their special care, will help to develop it as one of the great national treasures and assets, as the great factor for education of the mind, and will give broadly this spiritual food of mankind to the masses. It is time they should understand that it is one of their principal factors (if they are honest) to further the evolution of civilization.
No adjustment of matter will do that, but only adjustment of soul, of mind, and that cannot be done without bringing to the future the realization of beauty and love, and that cannot be done without art. Therefore, art is a necessity in our lives, and it is up to us, artists and art lovers, to fight for its proper place in the world.
From all that, my reader will understand why I place such primary importance in the creation of a singer on his mind. Fifty years ago a great singer of that time was asked: what is necessary for a singer? He answered: three things -- first, a voice; second, again voice; and thirdly, voice again. Well, that might have been in the good old days of Bellini and Rossini, in the days of runs, trills, staccatos, and other vocal acrobatics, meaningless, sweetly sentimental, and, no doubt quite thrilling to our grandfathers and grandmothers. But those times are passing; they have not yet passed, and there is still a multitude that adores those acrobatics and long high notes. I, myself, admire immensely the vocal equipment and technique of all those tricks, but then I also admire a man who can balance two billiard balls at the end of a billiard cue on his nose. That is also an art, but while it appeals to my sense of balance, it does not satisfy my mind. This applies in the same way to what I call mind-less singing. It might satisfy my sense of hearing, with perhaps the additional satisfaction of my musical sense, but my mind receives nothing.
For many, the singer must have three things -- first, mind; second, musical sense; and, thirdly, voice. All those three things balance and blend together in one perfect harmonious unity. Naturally, the more beautiful the voice is, the more wonderful will be the art of a singer who possesses the other two qualities, but the voice is not the essential. Some who had the most uninteresting voices were the most satisfying and interesting singers -- remember only Dr. Wullner. On the other hand, we have artists with most wonderful voices, who bore us to tears. Fortunately, the times are progressing and we are progressing. The time for such singing is passing, and the number of music lovers demanding "mind singers" is growing. Those intellectuals are the progressive elements in the musical world, and it is to them belongs the future in musical art.
Originally published in «Musical Courier» May 10, 1923