June 10, 1916
Page 28
Saint-Saëns Tells of Wartime Sufferings of Musicians

Violinist to Establish Institution on Principles That He Laid Down in His Settlement Work—”A Place Where People Will Come to Acquire Musical Knowledge for the Sheer Joy of It”—Clara Mannes Associated with Her Husband and Distinguished Faculty Is Assured

“IT is not that we are begging for help, but that we find it ‘très gentil’ in you to give it,” writes Saint-Saëns from Paris in acknowledgment of the performance at Carnegie Hall, New York, several weeks ago, for the benefit of members of the Paris Conservatoire and their families who are suffering by reason of the war. The veteran French musician, although eighty years of age and hence too old for service at the front, is working night and day for the relief of his younger fellow artists and their families left destitute in Paris.
“No one can appreciate the suffering, both mental and physical, of the artist,” the composer-pianist continues. “In the first place his art is dependent on prosperity—the first to go in times of warfare and of straitened circumstance. Then, too, he is naturally of a sensitive disposition. His art has trained him to dissimulate misfortunes beneath a smile. You know, I have seen whole artist families prefer to starve than to ask for help. Money is not all in relieving want. Tact is a necessary asset. One must give alms with great ‘sagesse.’
“As everyone knows, the great majority of French artists of all ranks have given themselves and their professions to their country’s service and are at the front. Their one desire and creed in these war times is to be of help, and their families are living self-sacrificingly up to their principles. Their one idea is to get along somehow, anyhow, but always without burdening the country. It is to save these from privation that the benefit in New York was organized. It is a remarkable fact that in many instances in which warrior musicians have suffered injury it has been with strange fatality in hand, finger or arm—injuries perhaps comparatively slight in themselves but capable of incapacitating the victim from further musical activity.
“The saddest cases come to our notice,” Saint-Saëns goes on. “Our people serving from the Conservatoire are not just boys. They are our greatest masters and professors who are out there fighting, and fighting more than physical battles.
“Word comes to us often of moral and spiritual comfort brought daily to their comrades by their music. They soothe the wounded in between fights and many an impromptu requiem has been sounded for the dead by those who just a little while ago were hailed as public favorites by enthusiastic white-gloved hands. Strange use their art has come to! It is too bad that only some and not all instruments are adaptable to trench warfare. I think it would greatly mitigate their sufferings if all artists could have access to their instruments.
“Music is a real force in warfare. It actually fights battles just as well as gunpowder. You know how this Conservatoire first came to be dedicated to music in place of being known as ‘L’Ecole Royale de Chant et de Declamation’? War is the answer. In 1793 during our great French Revolution they needed military musicians to fight their battles. To supply the need they changed the school from an elocutionary to a musical institution to provide the necessary soldier musicians to fife and drum their troops to victory.
“So often I am asked if I think the war will break the artistic backbone of my country. We will be impoverished, naturally. But that which will be left must strike a deeper, truer note, for out of great suffering·is made great art.
“We look to America to help us to preserve our artistry. While we are of necessity breaking down and sacrificing our nation’s life from day to day, but always nearer to a finer and more lasting peace, it is America’s privilege to build instead of break. In so doing she is privileged to play the part of safe deposit vault for all the dearest and most precious treasures of the nations of the world.”


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