The Masterclass: Then & Now

The Masterclass: Then & Now

The purpose of a masterclass is to give students an opportunity to perform for and be critiqued by an esteemed artist. Performing for a master teacher is considered an honor and an educational opportunity. Observing a masterclass is a rare opportunity to see a great artist at work.

The idea of a masterclass was first developed by Franz Liszt in the 19th century. Liszt was one of the most revered and sought after teachers of his generation. He is said to have more than 400 students; many of whom were famous such as Carl Tausig, Hans von Bülow and Emil von Sauer. At these early masterclasses, pianists as well as composers, violinists, cellists, singers, and even painters and poets would gather in Liszt’s home in Weimar to experience his teaching. A rather intimidating experience, it is said that students would enter the music room first and place their scores on the piano. Upon Liszt’s entrance, students would stand respectfully while Liszt went to the piano, leafed through the scores and chose the music to be performed. In his teaching, he would make observations about the performance and composition using anecdotes and metaphors. Liszt believed that through this experience, students would benefit from hearing one another play as well as be motivated to excel beyond their peers, establishing a fine training ground for a performing artist. There was also a social aspect to the masterclasses – refreshments were served along with stimulating conversation.

Masterclasses of today are offered in a variety of different arenas. Local and state music associations will often host masterclasses. They are also held in conjunction with competitions, conferences and concerts (a visiting artist may give a masterclass the day before a performance). Large music schools present masterclass opportunities along with summer programs or workshops. Smaller independent studios also offer classes. In order to perform, many masterclasses require an audition, and some are just as intimidating as those back in the Romantic period, but they don’t have to be!

I believe that masterclasses are invaluable for my students, mostly because it is so great for them to get a different perspective or to reinforce skills that we have already been working on. Typically, I offer two to three masterclasses per year within my studio. For one of these masterclasses, I collaborate with another teacher; she teaches my students and I teach hers to prepare for an upcoming competition. In addition, many students participate in masterclasses outside of the studio.

Do you incorporate masterclasses at your studio?

Stay tuned – in my next blog I will offer a how-to on offering a masterclass at your studio!


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