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BY ROBERT HAVEN SCHAUFFLER
HIS is a story of what the blind the piano stool and guided his fingers
may accomplish in music. Not through a melody. A year later, at his
only is Edwin Grasse the first first orchestral concert, he heard Beethoblind man to become a violin virtuoso, ven's Ninth Symphony. And the next but Eugene Ysaye places him among the day he played the most important parts greatest violinists of his time. César of it, to the great astonishment of ReinThompson calls him the best of all piano hold Herrman, the conductor of the accompanists, and Grieg considered him Germania Liederkranz; and improvised one of the most promising of American such Beethoven-like connections between composers.
these passages that the German musician The two most important events in swore they seemed to be part of the Edwin Grasse's life occurred within a symphony itself. Herrman tested his month of his birth in New York, August memory that afternoon, playing either 13, 1884.
For his violin teacher was the first note or a random bar of dozens engaged two weeks before he saw this of compositions which the little boy had world, and four weeks later the child heard, and Edwin always told him the ceased to see it.
name and key correctly. At six months he showed discrimina His sense of humor developed with tion in his fondness for music, and at two his musicianship. An enormous woman and a half years he began to sing. It took him up one day, but he slipped was found then that he possessed “ab- from her knees. “Mrs. X, what's the solute pitch,” that strange gift of recog- matter ?” he said ; " haven't you any nizing the exact pitch of every musical lap?” That same afternoon his piano note, and being able to sing in perfect teacher was explaining to him that a tune. At three he learned a song of berceuse was a piece with which you Rubinstein, and because he could not put little people to sleep.
put little people to sleep. Edwin played reach the highest note he cried softly to it through with a broadening smile. himself. But in fifteen minntes he began “Mr. X,” he said, suddenly, " please go to sing again, and when he reached the into the parlor and see whether your high part he transposed it an octave wife is already asleep.” lower.
In his sixth year he felt a violin for A few months later he formed the the first time when his teacher, Carl curious temporary habit of singing “Thine Hauser, put one into his lap, telling him Eyes So Blue and Tender" by Lassen, it was a musical toy. When he found and Wagner's “Dreams," as accompani- what it was, however, he jumped up in ments to his own dreams. His parents terror and let it fall. But his awe was would go to his room, turn up the overcome little by little, and he began to gas, and see the boy sound asleep in his take regular lessons. It was a heroic crib, smiling and singing like a young task for the blind boy to learn correct cherub.
positions, but his courage and patience At three years his father first played were equal to the devotion of his teacher. a piano arrangement of the Beethoven At seven Edwin began to compose violin concerto. Mamma, isn't that little pieces for piano and organ, and lovely !” exclaimed the child. “ 'That's Mr. Hauser started to teach him harby Beethoven." He had never heard
mony. It was quite needless. For it before, but recognized its similarity to Edwin no sooner heard a rule than he some of the Beethoven sonatas and songs. went to the piano and played exceptions
He stood in great awe of musical to it taken from the whole range of the instruments, and was afraid to touch classics. The child of seven had been them ; but at four his father set him on analyzing all that he had heard and
developing his own systems of harmony never had a blind pupil, and was skepand counterpoint.
tical at first, giving him all sorts of diffiIn spite of his precocity, Edwin had a cult problems in technic, in order to happy, normal childhood. The boys prove whether the eye were essential. of the neighborhood always visited him But Edwin solved every one, and soon after school, and he joined their games became the master's favorite.
After a on condition that they play " orchestra year he took part in the first public with him afterward. When they were competition for honors. Besides a flawgone, he would still play his favorite less violin performance, he played all the game, doing all the piano part with his piano accompaniments for his competileft hand, the cymbals with one foot, the tors, cueing in their parts when they drum with the other, conducting with his forgot them, improvising accompaniright hand, and imitating the oboe or ments when they, in their nervousness, French horn very realistically with his jumped from one étude to another, voice. 'Wrong notes would occur, as skipping with them when they omitted they do in the best-regulated orchestras. whole passages, and sticking to them in Then he would rap furiously with his every extremity. The jury were followbaton and bring the offending musician ing the score, and they were so astonup with a round turn, hurling at him ished that they stood up and craned such genuine German invective their necks to see who the little fellow "swine-hound !” or “thunder-weather !" was, sitting there heneath the lid of the Sometimes, fluttering his right fingers great piano. One of them, Edgar Tinell, on his upper lip, he would imitate the the first musician in Belgium, declared vibrato of a bad soprano, and then lead it the most magnificent exhibition of her from the stage amidst the plaudits of musicianship that he had ever known. the throng.
The boy won the first prize with disHis knack of imitating wind instru- tinction." ments has lasted and is sometimes He intended to study the classical useful. I remember that when he was répertoire with some German violinist preparing the Brahms horn trio last after graduation, and requested Joachim winter for one of his recitals, Dutschke, to hear him play. The old master rethe hornist, missed a rehearsal. But fused, saying that no blind person could Grasse, while playing the violin, sup ever master the violin. But he relented, plied the horn part so perfectly with his and Grasse, in a vacation, went over to voice as to deceive people in the next Berlin. Joachim sat in a corner reading room.
the paper and looking very bored as At thirteen, when he made his New Grasse tuned his wonderful Stradivarius. York début before going abroad, his But after a few measures of a Bruch chief thought was for his dog Sultan, one concerto the paper was lowered, at the of his dearest friends. For Dr. Grasse end of the phrase it fell to the floor, and had promised the boy that if he played when the movement was over the old well he might take the dog abroad with man congratulated the blind boy with him. An orchestra gave the first per all the warmth of his German heart, formance of his “Symphonic Sketches," advising him not to study with any masand he played, among other things, two ter after Thompson, as his technic was movements from the Mendelssohn con- quite sufficient, and in further study he certo, But while the enthusiastic audi would only lose his own vivid individence was still applauding, Edwin raised uality. himself on tiptoe toward his father's My dear young man," exclaimed the chin and asked eagerly, “Well, papa, master, “ you are by nature gifted far can he go?" Sultan went, only to meet more than most musicians, and need no his fate beneath a Belgian trolley-car. further school but the school of public
The boy went to study with César performance !" Thompson, the great Belgian violinist, Then Grasse played Joachim's own and a year later was admitted to the Variations. The master applauded, and Brussels Conservatory. Thompson had said: “It is the first time I hear that
played with any other conception than citals, an orchestral suite, a violin conmy own. This is quite new.
certo, a suite for piano and violin, and on, I beg, and always play it in your smaller pieces. But his latest work, a own way. That is very beautiful, also.” trio in C for piano and strings, shows an
For his final examination at Brussels, amazing growth; and I know nothing in Grasse prepared a répertoire of sixty- the literature of American chamber music four larger violin works as well as the that can compare with this trio in organic first violin parts of a number of string unity, in melodic and harmonic beauty, quartets. The jury chose four of these in instrumentation, in originality, and in for performance, and awarded him the the sheer joy of life. The lad of twentyDiplôme de Capacité, an honor won by three has already ripened into a mature no one besides Grasse during the last ten creative musician. years.
Just as he invented his own system of On the advice of Joachim he made harmony, he has created his own method his debut in Berlin at the age of eighteen, of composition. At first his ideas came and scored a charming success in that to him while improvising at the piano, cynical city. Such musical centers as and he made notes of the principal Leipsic, Munich, Vienna, and London themes of a composition on his point gave the young virtuoso a hearty wel print slate in a notation of his own. come, and he returned to Berlin to dupli Then, with an occasional reference to cate his former success in another field, these, he would dictate the work to his appearing as a chamber musician with old teacher, Carl Hauser, or to Mrs. the pianist Otto Hegner.
Hauser, while sitting at the piano and At nineteen he returned to New York playing what he was dictating. If it and made a brilliant début with the were a trio, he would do the left hand Wetzler Orchestra. It was the first time of the piano for a page or two, then the that three large violin works with orches right hand, then the 'cello and the violin tra had ever been successfully given on parts. the same programme in America, and the But of late he has cast aside all aids critics were as enthusiastic as the audi to his marvelous memory.
poses now away from the piano, and last Since that evening, however, Grasse winter he dictated his trio without havhas been heard strangely little except in ing made a single note on his slate. He chamber music. This, I think, is due to is now composing simultaneously, and in the same American indifference to Amer the same independent way, two trios, a ican musicians that resulted so sadly in concerto, a suite for violin solo, and a the case of Edward Macdowell; to the symphony. suspicious fact that no blind person has His method of learning music is almost ever before become a violin virtuoso ; as remarkable. After hearing an ordito Grasse's lack of any considerable nary orchestral work once he remembers financial backing; and to his unworldly the melody, harmony, and instrumentaignorance of the jungle of deceit, brib tion all his life, and never has to hear ery, and blackmail in the musical under
any piece more than three times. In world.
learning a trio he has his father play the But though his lack of an American violin part through first on the piano, hearing as a virtuoso was a disappoint- then the 'cello and piano parts together. ment to Grasse, it never shook his buoy And at a single sitting he can master ant optimism nor marred his happiness. every note and every shade of expression And his friends feel that it was provi in a work that requires half an hour for dential. For while increasing his tech performance-master it so that he can nic by tremendous practice, he has gained play the piano part with all its nuances time for composition, and his four years and advise with the 'cellist on questions at home have been productive ones. of fingering and bowing.
His works include a quintet for Grasse's great ambition is to be such piano and strings which has twice been a musician that people will lose sight of warmly received at his New York re his blindness. He will not allow him
self to be advertised as “ The Blind fectly normal and indifferent to the Violinist;" for he desires no handicap ordinary irritants of genius. in the race, and it is his greatest joy and “ How is it that you take such a zest pride that the critics have almost ceased in life?" I once asked him. to mention his eyes.
Why, the mere pleasure of breathing “ First of all," he said to me,
would be enough,” he returned. “But my violin, and I would never sacrifice then, too, I revel in music, the German my technic for composition like d’Albert; language, mountain air, and good meals, because it's a greater pleasure to play the (I enjoy every mouthful!). I love swinbeautiful things of others than to make ming and rowing too, and horsebackmusic of my own.
I compose because I riding, the smell of the forest and the have to. The ideas are in here [tapping voices of birds. I think that one of the his forehead], and must come out." very best things of all is for a fellow to
I asked him about the order in which wake up in the morning and just feel his ideas came.
that he's here. I want to live to be a “No, I don't get my melody first, for hundred !" as soon as I am aware of the melody, the I know no better specific for a blue harmony and the development are there Monday than a visit to Grasse. It seems all at once.”
as though there were enough uproarious Edwin Grasse is the happiest person spirits and humor and healthy optimism I know. I firmly believe him when he in that blind boy to brighten up a whole says that he has never in his life known city-full of jaundiced eyes. And I am what it is to be annoyed. And although thankful that he has overcome so many he is so highly strung that he can dis- difficulties and has written his music. tinguish ten varieties of vibrato to my For he has put into it the joy, the beauty, two, and a hundred subtleties of tone- and the sparkling sanity of his own life. color to my ten, his nerves seem per
It is music that will live.
Vagabond Glimpses of
Cwo Old Provinces
By Harold and Madeline Howland
en Touraine?" in- Touraine.
who does not like to be balked by the June) toward weather, found a way.
Our bird's-eye Chambord.“ Ah, oui, M'dame," was the view of the street revealed it peopled by frank reply of Jean, the garçon who "con “brigands large and brigands small," ducted" the sturdy little horse, with that comfortably enrobed in ample black indescribable inflection that is so en capes of a striking uniformity of style couraging and so complimentary to your and a no less evident efficiency. A flying intelligence when the reply is in the raid on a neighboring shop produced affirmative, so depressing when“ Ah, two capes, recommended by the shopnon ” seems to convict you of stupidity or keeper, with an eye on the falling rain presumption. “It rains all the days in without, as very, very solid,” and of a Touraine. We have perhaps thirty clear dashing cut, which M'sieur and M’dame days in the year, we others."
each hailed as exceedingly becoming So our first impression received con to the other. firmation from a source of high author More or less promptly at the sugity. The impression had been born, as gested hour, we proceeded through the a suspicion, when we awoke in Orléans main street of the town toward the Loire, to a morning gray and tearful. Our affording, I am sure, a refreshingly novel little canoe, after a journey of three experience for the Orléanaises. On a thousand miles from his native State of broad, low truck drawn by a horse of Maine, lay in his traveling suit of burlap giant proportions and amiable mien rode lined with hay, and wooden crate, at the the canoe, revealing even through his office of la Grande Vitesse. His orders wrappings something of his fineness of were to report himself at ten o'clock, line. Amidships perched M'sieur and ready to be launched upon the river, M’dame, not even the capes “of the and to bear us on our little journey down country" availing to conceal their char
acter of strangers to, the land. But From our first hour in the provinces the universal their very strangeness seemed to save salutation, “ Bon jour, M'sieur et M'dame," greeted us at inns, shops, on the road, or as we passed in our them from too pressing curiosity. The canoe close to a fisherman, a peasant loading gravel mad Anglo-Saxon is expected to do queer the river's edge. The salutation was so common that things in the Latin world. At their feet we almost forgot our own names and became for the moment plain M'sieur and M’dame.
clustered the baggage-paddles, camera,