PROPHETS are not always old and hoary. Some times they have an aureole of light hair that touches in little wavy lines a white, clear forehead, above blue boyish eyes, and a sensitive mouth. Sometimes these youthful seers bear a message which, though shortened by the touch of death, is no less sure and impassioned. We, who are sometimes dull of understanding, do not hear it until it is gone.
"Whom the gods love die young." Surely Howard Pierce was loved of the gods. They had laid their gifts upon him in the cradle. First, temperament, then physical perfectness. His was a life of ministration to the world's need of beauty, and of pleasure. It began early. As a little boy, taught by an elder sister, he was always at the piano, playing at first by ear,---later by note. When he was ten years old, he came into contact with the compositions of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; thenceforth the world of music was his. He grasped these treasures with the avidity of an older mind, and those who heard his undeveloped, yet unerring interpretation of the masters, felt that in this boy child was the soul of a true musician. He revelled in the classic German school, and played not so much for progress, or for achievement as because it was a necessity of self-expression.
When Howard Pierce was only thirteen, he was suddenly called upon to play the accompaniments in a public choral performance of Handel's "Messiah. "At only two days notice, he executed those difficult passages without a fault, and won the surprised praise of all the older musicians in Dayton.
His first instructor was Professor Huesmann, an oldfashioned teacher, but a faithful musician. From him Howard learned the mysteries of harmony, and was introduced to the great masters. A lover of Palestrina, Bach, and Beethoven. Mr. Huesmann found in his young pupil a willing and a sympathetic disciple. For four years Professor Blumenschein was his instructor, and during this time Howard made a beginning in composition. In 1885 he did his first public playing; a series of pianoforte solo recitals from the works of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, and Chopin. It was an epoch in the musical history of Dayton. Professor Robert wrote:
"The extraordinary quality of the program and the practical beauty of his interpretations made these concerts rare experiences, even to the most cultivated of his audience."
This was when Howard Pierce was a boy of twenty, and had never studied abroad. The next year, study in Europe was begun, first in Munich, where he entered the Conservatory of Music for two years. Following this period of diligent application, he went to Florence, and became the pupil of that greatest of Italian pianists, Buonamici. It was not, however, all music that occupied his time while abroad. Vacations were spent in travel, and sight-seeing in the different centers of art, thus adding to that beautiful cultivation which was one of the charms of his character.
In 1889 he returned to Dayton and established himself as a professional musician. Classes of pupils came under his care; he became organist of Grace Church; accompanist of the Philharmonic Society, and later of the Cincinnati Musical Festival chorus. Besides this, his concert work was enlarging all the time. He played in all parts of the United States, and Canada, and music lovers learned to look for the name of Howard Pierce on a program. For two seasons he traveled with Plunkett Greene, the baritone, and one scarcely knew which of the two young musicians to applaud the most, the dark-haired singer, or the fair-haired player.
Again Professor Robert writes:
“We have heard in Dayton, and Cincinnati, all the great pianists of recent years, but Howard Pierce’s interpretation of the Beethoven masterpieces, The Waldstein, and Appassionata Sonatas, surpassed them all in intellectual and poetic beauty."
Mr. John S. Dwight, Editor of Dwight's Journal of Music and Art, of Boston, the authority in matters musical in the United States, paid Howard this striking tribute; not editorially, but over his own signature.
"Mr. Pierce as a pianist gains ground with every hearing. His rendering of that wonderfully poetic deepfelt Sonata, op. 110 in A flat, one of Beethoven's later period, showed depth of feeling, insight, ideality, as well as a high degree and certainty of technique. It came out tenderly, thoughtfully, and clearly. There was no exaggeration, nothing spasmodical, or overstrained, no weakness, and no halfness; it was a hearty, manly exposition of Beethoven in one of his deeper moods. The Adagio, feeling into the depths of the spirit, and the Fugue, which accompanies the last movement were beautifully rendered."
To Howard Pierce, his art was the loftiest thing in the world his whole soul and body went into keeping that standard pure. Therefore in the musical world a place is vacant that his personality and glorious talent alone could fill. There are some compositions that never again can be heard without stirring a pang of heartache, as the melody refers itself back to his fingers, and to their interpretation of it. The organ will sing for him a requiem to many hearts though other hands may touch the preludes. Beethoven, Grieg, Bach, have one less arm to carry the torch of their messages to duller senses. The interpreters, the teachers, the explainers of God's meanings to our common comprehensions---how can we do without them? The learners are so many; the revealers so few.
To some friends, the dearest vision of Howard Pierce will show him at the piano; his soul shining through those dreamy eyes, and speaking in that tender touch, and the mental ear will help the mental eyesight to keep that picture clear and bright while life lasts.
For other friends his memory will arise anew each spring with the green leaves, the bird songs, and the smell of the new earth. He was a Nature enthusiast. He loved a tent by the river, a canoe, a book. Lying under the stars was a delight to him. He was a camper by instinct and by practice. He knew how to live out doors gracefully. He could pitch a tent, hang a hammock, build a camp fire, and cook his own supper over it. It is a question whether personally, we did not like Howard better by a camp fire at night, in tennis flannels, and pipe, than occupying a piano bench in a dress coat, behind the footlights. A wagon loaded with tent supplies, canoe-paddles, and pots and pans, will remind us of Howard Pierce as surely as a strain from a Chopin prelude. So will the early dogwood, and the apple blossoms, spring moonlight, and a cat-bird in the bushes.
Art and nature! He loved, and lived in both; seriously, and responsively; with quiet appreciation, with earnestness, and sweet gravity. He died at thirty-three.
Living, Howard Pierce belonged by both literal and poetic expression to the "Choir Invisible, whose music is the gladness of the world":---gone from us, he has joined
"The Choir Invisible of those immortal dead who live again, in minds made better by their presence."