PART ONE, THE CELLO
Approaching the Music
As in a written sentence the only guidelines are the single words, commas, periods, question marks, etc., so in music notation we have only the bar lines, the bowings, the pitch and length of the single notes, and expression marks (accents, crescendi, etc., play quite a special role). What meaning can there be in a story recited in a monotone? Very little. The words may be recognizable, but there will be little real sense.
Cultured people grasp meaning by silently pronouncing what they are reading. This is an automatic process. Only children and people not used to reading read with great effort and are content if they can get an approximately correct literal meaning, without troubling themselves with the real meaning.
When you played for me, I showed you how little attention you have given to this way of looking at music, to this kind of approach, the most important one for a performer that I know of. Of course, partly by chance, partly because we have more to lean on in musical notation than in language, and partly because you have a musical education outside of cello playing, and lastly because one cannot practice and play for years without achieving something, you quite often understood the meaning of the music.
To my satisfaction you soon realized that if your playing was to improve, you could no longer depend upon chance. But you also noticed that the mental approach alone did not suffice. There must be as much pleasure in listening to a musical performance as there is in reading beautiful prose or poetry. For the performer who has expected this mental approach to bring him to a higher stage in playing, the difficulties and disappointments now begin. Now he knows and feels what he must play, but as soon as he sits down to play, he finds out he is not able to. Why?
Up to now I have been speaking of an approach to music (mental or abstract approach) which is applicable to all instruments. As a performer one must know one's instrument, its beauties and weaknesses; one must know how to help oneself. In order to avoid playing uncritically, one must not shy away from employing any trick to achieve purity and rhythmical exactitude. In doing so he will be able to reproduce the spirit of the music insofar as it is possible. A combination of a responsible approach towards music and complete mastery of the instrument to make possible the realization of the music is the ideal toward which I am constantly striving and which I would like to pass on to my fellow musicians. Talent for music is another thing; here we are discussing intelligence.