The piano was such a national craze that by 1910 people were taking twenty lessons and then setting themselves up as master teachers, all for the glory of Music.
Such was the desire to impart their passion for the piano that many didn’t bother to learn how to play, but rather relied on the same text they had learned to feed the next student in line.
Imagine millions of American kids in 1910 practicing Rustles of Spring on their upright grands!
It wasn’t a very lucrative profession, anyway, even in 1910, although back then everyone wanted to learn, so a teacher had lots of students available.
Came the automobile and everyone wanted to be out in the roadster instead of at home listening to Schubert. Americans, always a mobile crew, started moving around as never before.
But mobility was good in other ways, for if it drew people away from their homes, it also drew them closer to each other in cities where great piano artists like Paderewski, also traveling a long way, could be easily viewed and appreciated.
The great artists that played for Americans made them hungrier for more culture, and before World War I the piano was the popular vehicle for that madness.
But what did real teachers have that the dilettantes with twenty lessons under their belts didn’t?
The one distinction was that they could really play. The great piano teachers of 1910 were almost all pupils of the great Franz Liszt, although the musician’s joke is that anyone who saw Liszt play would claim to have studied with him, just for the reflected glory, such was the power of the Maestro’s name.
Alexander Siloti, a pupil of Liszt, and the Austrian Theodor Leschetitsky spawned thousands of competent teachers whose students are still at the top of the game at Julliard and other grand institutions of musical learning.
But just as this craze was reaching its zenith, World War I came and destroyed that “old world.” The modern age had clenched humanity in its machine driven jaws and would never lose hold.
With the advent of the cheap, mass-produced radio in 1926, the end was not far away for the piano craze. By 1960 it had all but faded away.
Even to this day, many pianos produced for this craze still stand, dusty and unused in people’s living rooms, a distant reminder of a day when people provided themselves with their own culture instead of trusting huge corporations to do it for them.
Today, unless you are very enterprising and can seek out this culture on your own, you are dependent on the machine made dreck of MTV and the wonders of the digital age.
There are no more classical record companies because they were destroyed by corporate greed.
There are no more great virtuosi in popular culture because there is no popular venue for them: they are now no longer seen on even public TV. Gone.
STING is classical music, now, the folks at PBS, ever vigilant in preserving whatever culture they can make enough like Disney to be palatable.
Mozart is used to clear shopping malls of teens at midnight, and it works quite well. Kids hear Mozart now and they run.
There are no great modern composers because of the greed of the financiers who just want the next Disney-like hit, so you get the current ultra-inane Broadway fare.
There are no great operas, because those mad enough to write them do not get the chance to do them anywhere significant, and those who do succeed present us with braying sopranos and murky, humorless libretti. No one would come to it anyway.
Yes, America, let’s dam that ancient river so we can all have more power for our clock radios.
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