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Miss Amy Fay: Germany, 1873

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Amy Fay wrote letters home after she left America to study the piano in Germany in the late 1800’s. These were later published as “Music Study in Germany” (Dover, ISBN 0-486-26562-5). It is a lively account of lessons and performances given by the many great pianists she met and studied with.

When she began to take lessons at Tausig’s Conservatory in Berlin (in 1873) she wrote:

“You have no idea how hard they make Cramer’s Studies here. Ehlert makes me play them tremendously forte, and as fast as I can go. My hand gets so tired that it is ready to break and then I say that I cannot go on. “But you must go on,” he will say.”

Later on she writes:

“The grand thing is to make each of your fingers go “dum dum” an equal number of times.”

Her account of Tausig’s teaching is enlightening!

“Tausig was standing by the piano. “Begin!” said he, to Timanoff, more shortly even than usual; “I trust you have brought me a study this time.” He always insists upon a study in addition to the piece. Timanoff replied in the affirmative, and proceeded to open Chopin’s Etudes. She played the great A Minor “Winter Wind” study, and most magnificently, too, starting off with the greatest brilliancy and “go.” I was perfectly amazed at such a feat from such a child, and expected that Tausig would exclaim with admiration. Not so that Rhadamanthus. He heard it through without comment or correction, and when Timanoff had finished, simply remarked very composedly, “So! Have you taken the next Etude also?” as if the great A Minor were not enough for one meal! ... Afterward, however, he told the young men that he “could not have done it better” himself.”

“Tausig is so hasty and impatient that to be in his classes must be a fearful ordeal...Fräulein H. began, and she has remarkable talent, and is far beyond me. She would not play piano enough to suit him, and finally he stamped his foot at her, snatched her hand from the piano, and said: “Will you play piano or not, for if not we will go no farther?” The second girl sat down and played a few lines. He made her begin over again several times, and finally came up and took her music away and slapped it down on the piano, — “You have been studying this for weeks and you can't play a note of it; practice it for a month and then you can bring it to me again,” he said.”

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