The great composer, Ernest Bloch, who after 36 years in America referred to Julius Hartt (1869-1942) as a brother, stated that this letter is "by far the best writing I have read on the subject." Mr. Bloch was said to have carried the article in his pocket for years and introduced the set of articles to his students.
Find a quiet space and some time and let the beauty of the writing wash over you and the content sink deep.
Julius S. Hartt
Dear confrere: I have no other warrant for thus addressing you than the interest in your artistic and material welfare which and right-minded musician of mature years might be assumed to feel for a younger comrade. The impulse to write you in this intimate and unconventional way came to me the other day under circumstances of which I should like to tell you in some detail. The occasion was a late afternoon musical; the place a spacious and beautiful gothic chamber rich with the evidence of generous mean and perfect taste. The composer whose spirit and voice settled down on this twilight hour was Johannes Brahms; the music brought forward was this master’s two rarely heard and lovely sextets for strings, Opus 18 and Opus 36. The performers were Mary Mukle, artist through and through and most accomplished of women cellists; Pablo Casals, artists., musicians, virtuoso of virtuosi; David Mannes, one of the most distinguished of contemporary violinists; and three players less well known, but artists every one – Reber Johnson played the second violin, and Rebecca Clarke and Giulio O. Harnisch the violas. The audience that quietly stole into the shadows of that great room included artists known world over, as well as humbler folk. All alike were drawn thither by the call of art for art’s sake. For the beautiful thing about all this, my friend, was the spirit of the occasion. And the spirit of the audience no less than of the performers, really was the spirit of art for art’s sake. These great souled artist performers gave themselves over to the joy of noble music for sheer love of it; and their happiness they shared with their friends. That was all. But it was no impromptu undertaking. There had been much painstaking and careful preparation. It was my privilege to be present at the final rehearsal. And please believe me, if the rank and file of lesser performers, whether as individuals, or groups of larger or smaller dimensions, were to bring to the preparation of their public musical undertakings half the loving care and scrupulous thoroughness with which these great artists made ready for a purely private appearance before their friends, the world over would be spared a vast amount of slovenly and impossible music. I wish you could have heard Casals’ frequent though gentle insistence upon repetition after repetition of delicate and exacting passages. I wish you could have witnesses Mannes’ affection defer to “Pablo,” and Casals’ generous rejoinders to “David.” The spirit of it all was so beautiful. So unlike the deadening and deadly professionalism that cuts the soul out of art; it was all so like the music – as truly the essence of the music as the perfume is the essence of the flower. And when the next day I sat listening in that twilight hour to music as truly gothic in spirit as was that shadowy room or any venerable cathedral (music pointing finger-like towers of aspiration toward heaven) I gave myself up not only to dreamy realization of exquisite music but to half conscious musings upon the things that men live for and that we musicians strive for.
In the presence of the slow movements of those celestial born sextets, how tawdry, how coarse, how cheap, seemed the possession of mere things, how trifling fame, money, power, position. In the scherzos how vibrantly pulsated the joy that is the normal birthright of every human being whose deathless inner life is free under God’s jewelled [sic] heaven. In the allegros what horizonless expanses of imagination; what serene and all-reconciling outlook over the great world of humanity throbbing, surging with passion and pain, love and hate, hope and despair, joy and sorrow, plenty and want, ugliness and beauty, sickness and health, childhood and old age, death and decay, time and eternity! And yet what unity; what symmetry; what masterly adjustment of means to ends; what perfection of form; what balance of heart and brain! (Albeit Brahms’ scales incline toward the intellectual.) And, because it is great and true art, how surely this music pertains to the real life of Brahms; not less surely than that all true art is an expression of the inner life of its creator – God’s life. For every creative life is a spark of the great Creator’s life. Brahms’ personal history was simple and uneventful. He traveled comparatively little and gravely avoided the public gaze. His life was one of contemplation. He lived in an atmosphere of reality – God’s reality; reality of spirit, the reality of nature. And the incidentals which most men with gross and perverted vision mistake for essentials, and worship as ancient Israel worshipped [sic] the golden calf, Brahms looked upon as incidentals; and with austere disdain refused to be beguiled by the lure of mammon. He was devoted to the ideals of beauty. But he knew that beauty is a relative term. He knew that beauty implies ugliness; and he instinctively felt that as art must mirror life and nature it therefore must disclose beauty not as a universal element but as the sublime antithesis and conqueror of ugliness. And thus it is that the music of Brahms rings true to life. And thus it was that the noble Brahms Sextets came as a message of truth and beauty to the listeners in that darkening room on the occasion of which I am speaking.
You are wondering why I am writing you all this. Young musicians often seem to think of music as a professional garment, a sort of uniform that identifies the wearer as a member of a distinctive aesthetic cult. They do not very generally seem to realize that music is a life to be lived. True artistry is a creed; it is a religion. It is not primarily as most young musicians imagine, and many older musicians seem to believe, a means of livelihood. Artistry does not consist in the ability to perform creditably a larger or smaller amount of fine music. It does not consist in reputation. Large fees bear no necessary relationship to it. Success, as the world views success, is not its symbol. Again I say, my friend, art is a life; it is a kind of living. And it is a kind of life and a kind of living far from the popular or fashionable among music’s nominal devotees. Again I say art is a creed; it is a religion. It is a creed and a religion that like all creeds and all religions that ennoble men and uplift humanity rests deep in the inexorable and eternal principle of the cross. Whatever the complexion of your religious thoughts or mine, please do not assume that I am using the word cross in any theological sense. I mean simply that the true artist’s life must conform to the principle of the cross. I mean that the true artist’s creed begins with self denial. I mean that the artist’s salvation hinges upon self forgetfulness. I would wish that every young musician like yourself would come early to realize that control and subjugation of self, in a hundred thousand ways, is the real technic to be acquired – the technic of right living. Now at the threshold of your career I wish that you could clearly see that no artist’s art is greater than his life. I wish that this great truth might sink deep into your inner consciousness – that art is life. Believe me what you play at your instrument is not only the music of your composer, but it is yourself. Your art is not a professional garment – it is you. If your soul is little soul, if your life is a little life, then your art is a little art, and you are a little artist. If your ideals rise no higher than your own personal concerns, your own advancement, your own success, your own glory, then you are a heretic to the only real creed of artistry; and whatever devices of concealment you may cultivate, your heresy will be branded large upon the thing you call art. And all real artists and all clear visioned lovers of art will see your shame.
I have known musicians, young and old, whose everlasting inquiry centered in money. I have heard of musicians, or would-be musicians who could never be sufficiently interested in the very thing they professed to love, to live in close communion with it an hour or two a week without promise of financial reward. Think of that, will you! And then tell me if a lunatic could imagine anything more fantastic than such cheap musical jockeys posing musicians or as artists. So you think that a spirit like that pertains to real artistry? I say no. And it is at this point that I would like to make application of the little story of the twilight musical. It is the moral to be deduced from that musical that I would like this letter to suggest. Several of the artists who played those Brahms Sextets on that February afternoon have world-wide reputations. They command the largest fees. They stand unchallenged as consummate artists. Their activities are many and important. And yet here they were with their friends quietly communing with Brahms. There were no money considerations. There was but one motive, and that motive “art for art’s sake.” That was like the music they were playing too. That was like Brahms. And that was like, and is like, world without end, all true art, and all true artists.
The moral is plain.
Julius Hartt - Dated 2 March 1918 for the Hartford Times