Oscar Comettant (1819-1898)
Oscar Comettant (1819-1898)

To further denigrate this system by attacking the Système nouveau, Comettant invents a fictional dialogue between Hanon and a church official in which Hanon roams across France searching for the weakest pupils through whom he can prove the merits of his method. Comettant exploits the pun on Hanon’s last name and the French word anon, meaning—in its polite translation—“little donkey.” The student presented to Hanon looks and acts the part:

 
Mr. Hanon, who is himself an organist at Boulogne-sur-Mer, and an organist of talent, told me recently of his manner of proceeding on one of these journeys.
When arriving in a city, he learns about the religious establishments found there and presents himself, his method under his arm, with the noble assurance of a dedicated author.
“Sir,” says Mr. Hanon to the Head of the congregation, “would you have, by chance, a student in your community endowed with limited intelligence?”
“But yes, Sir,” replies the Head of the house, smiling.
“It’s just,” replies Mr. Hanon, “that I’m a little confused about the term ‘limited intelligence.’ Is he really stupid, or just that they call him stupid, your student?”
“Entirely stupid, sir. And I, myself, have several witnesses to this case.”
“Ah! So much the better,” adds Mr. Hanon with a satisfied air. “I was told that your establishment was one of the most substantial in the whole district and that I would not have much trouble finding what I wanted.”
...The Head of the community… searches among his dunces for the most stupid and delivers him body and soul to Mr. Hanon.
The dunce presents himself. He has long ears and scratches them slowly to put on a bold front.
“Well! my friend,” says the author of the Universal Organist, “it was said to me that you have a thick disposition…that you lack memory…that you have not been able to learn writing…in short that you are no scholar… In eight days or less you can accompany plainchant, though you don’t know even the first sign, and accompany on the organ, although you perhaps don’t even know what an organ is. Do you love music, my friend?”
The pupil laughs jerkily and moves to scratch his right ear and then the left.
“Very good,” adds Mr. Hanon, “your response is enough for me. In eight days you will give your first performance as organ accompanist in front of the Head of the community and all of your comrades will witness your triumphs.”


Despite the invective of this narrative, Comettant ultimately writes favorably, if reservedly, of the method:

 
Though a work like this seems made more to encourage and support ignorance than to serve the true interests of art, I must agree, however, after an attentive examination of the author’s process, my fears in this respect were in great part dissipated. Indeed, one finds nothing in the book by the organist from Boulogne-Sur-Mer which deviates from the principles that form the basic study of harmony. One can thus consider [it] as a clever means of disseminating music, a way to open the true science of harmony.

 

 

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This article is reproduced with permission from the authors.


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