Josef Hofmann’s 1907 treatise “Piano Playing: With Piano Questions Answered” is chock-full of useful factoids on the proper study of the pianoforte. One hundred years after its first printing, this classic book continues to garner praise, including numerous five-star ratings on Amazon; clearly it has endured the test of time.

I saw it on the shelves at a local classical music store today. Curious, I flipped open the Dover softback and landed on an innocent question about ragtime piano. Hofmann titled the query “Why Ragtime is Injurious”. Behold his stunningly racist response. And note, this book is still in print.

Q: Do you believe the playing of a modern rag-time [sic.] piece to be actually hurtful to the student?

I do, indeed, unless it is done merely as a frolic; though even such a mood might vent itself in better taste. The touch with vulgarity can never be but hurtful, whatever form vulgarity may assume — whether it be literature, a person, or a piece of music. Why share the musical food of those who are, be it by breeding or circumstance, debarred from anything better? The vulgar impulse which generated rag-time [sic.] cannot arouse a nobel impulse in response any more than ‘dime novels’ can awaken the instincts of gentlemanliness or ladyship. If we watch the street-sweeper we are liable to get dusty. But remember that the dust on the mind and soul is not so easily removed as the dust on our clothes.

So there you have it. The mentality of the elite circa 1907, one that sadly lingered well into the late 20th century. Fortunately Jazz, that once vulgar impulse in Hofmann vernacular, has finally been recognized by the same establishment who so viscously demeaned it. Today it is treated as a close equal, offered as a four-year degree at conservatories around the world including Juilliard, Eastman, Peabody, The New England Conservatory, and many others.

But still…

You may read the book for free here:

http://www.archive.org/details/pianoplayingwith00hofmuoft

Advertisements