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ClassicsOnline Home » Great Pianists (1926-1945)
Virtuosity and music sensitivity spell greatness. Thus is the Lisztian ghost which exists in this almost trancelike CD collection of 15 outstanding concert pianists of the recent past. Franz Liszt, widely considered a great piano virtuoso both historically and in contemporary times, would have marvelled at these pianists' almost perfect renditions of well-known repertoire, executed with brilliant and articulate passages, intelligent voicings, and persuasive musicality. The collection is essentially a culmination of 19th century piano pedagogy: advanced etudes created by eminent composers like Chopin, Liszt, Moszkowski, and Rachmaninov, to name a few, are possible in the hands of these fifteen pianists. more....
The industrial and economic developments of the nineteenth
are reflected also in music, and, above all, in the
technical changes in the manufacture of the piano, the proliferation of
instruments as an essential part of domestic furniture, and the rise of schools
of virtuosity in performance, led by players such as Liszt and his
contemporaries in Paris in the 1830s. The present anthology offers a conspectus
of that tradition, as it continued into the twentieth century.
Edwin Fischer (1886-1960), from a German-Bohemian musical
family, was born in Basel, where he studied, before moving to Berlin as a pupil
of Martin Krause at the Stern Conservatory, establishing himself as one of the
leading pianists of the city. Represented here by a Prelude and Fugue from his
1930s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, he won a contemporary
reputation, both as a pianist and as a conductor, as an interpreter of Bach. At
the same time he had an extensive repertoire, including the Romantics as well
as music by contemporaries. Illness compelled his retirement from concert
performance in 1954. His pupils include Alfred Brendel and Paul Badura-Skoda.
Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948), born Solomon Isaac Freudman in
the Polish town of Podgórze, was the son of the violinist and pianist Wolfgang
Freudman. He studied in Cracow, before moving to Vienna, where he became a
pupil and assistant of Leschetizky, one of the great teachers of his
generation. He made
his Vienna début in 1904 and lived successively in Berlin,
Copenhagen, America, Italy and, finally, Australia. He had a particular understanding
of Romantic repertoire and left an important edition of Chopin. His recording
of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, from which a movement is included, was made in
Born in Kiev, Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989) studied there
with his mother,
and with Sergey Tarnowsky and Felix Blumenfeld, intending at
first to become a composer, but supporting himself by a series of increasingly
successful concerts in Russia, then abroad. In 1933 he married Toscanini’s
and settled in the United States, gradually extending his
periods of temporary retirement. His recording of Tchaikovsky’ s Piano Concerto
No.1, the work with which he had made his New York début in 1928, was made in
1941, under the direction of his redoubtable father-in-law, of whom he remained
The Russian pianist Josef Lhévinne (1874-1944) was born at
Orel, near Moscow, the son of a trumpet-player in the Imperial Orchestra. He
studied with Safonov at the Moscow Conservatory, where his fellow-pupils
included Skryabin and Rachmaninov. He taught in Tiflis and in Moscow, before
moving to Berlin, and, after war-time internment, to New York, where he taught
at the Juilliard School, with his wife, whose pupils included Van Cliburn and
the pianist and conductor James Levine. Lhevinne is represented here by his
most popular encore piece, Adolf Schulz-Evler’s transcription of the Blue
Danube Waltz, recorded in 1928.
Born in London, Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965), a pupil of
Tobias Matthay, won deep affection for the war-time lunch hour concerts that
she arranged at the National Gallery, when concert halls in London were closed.
Her name lives on in the popular transcriptions she made, particularly of
Bach’s chorale prelude Jesu, joy of man’s desiring. Among her pupils are Yonty
Solomon and Stephen Kovacevich. She recorded Schumann’s Piano Concerto in 1937.
A pupil of Olga Samaroff in Philadelphia and then a student
at the Juilliard School in New York, the American pianist William Kapell
was killed in a plane crash while returning from Australia.
His career promised
much and is now remembered in the relatively few recordings
he left. He played Rachmaninov’s famous Prelude in C sharp minor for recordings
by RCA in 1944, but it was a further take in March 1945 that was released and
is here included as a sample of his achievement.
The Russian-born pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) was
born in Odessa. He studied there with Dmitry Klimov, moving, when he was
fourteen, to Vienna, where he was accepted as a pupil of Leschetizky.
Thereafter he settled with his family in England, where he made his concert
début in 1908, the beginning of a busy career, his activity markedly increasing
during the war,
when he gave concert after concert in support of Mrs
Churchill’s Aid to Russia campaign. He was a noted interpreter of the music of
his friends Rachmaninov and Medtner. He recorded Grieg’s Piano Concerto in 1941
in Manchester, which was at the time considered marginally safer than London.
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was among those Russian
composers who chose exile rather than remain in Russia after the revolution of
1917. By then he had established himself as a conductor, composer and pianist,
a former pupil of Ziloti, who had himself studied with Tchaikovsky, Nikolay
Rubinstein and Liszt. The exigencies of life in exile obliged Rachmaninov to
devote greater attention to performance, above all in the United States, which
provided an income, although he had at first settled in France and then in
Switzerland. His Piano Concerto No.2 is among the most popular of all Romantic
concertos. He gave the first performance in Moscow in 1901. The present
recording, from which a movement is taken, was made in April 1929.
Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982) was born in Poland and as a boy
benefited from the advice of the violinist Joseph Joachim, a friend of Brahms,
before studying with Heinrich Barth in Berlin, where he made his début in 1900,
the start of a career that lasted some three quarters of a
century and took him throughout the world. At first he settled in Paris, but in
the 1930s took a break
in order to revise and perfect his technique. He spent the
war years in the United States, where he had had significant success, and in
1946 became an American citizen. He retired in 1976. His interpretations of
Chopin won him particular praise, and he is represented here by his 1937
recording of the Nocturne in E minor.
Like many other pianists included here, Wilhelm Backhaus
(1884-1969) made his first concert appearances as a child. He studied in his
native Leipzig, before taking lessons with Eugen d’Albert in Frankfurt am Main.
In a long career
he is said to have given more than four thousand concerts
and made his first recordings in 1907. He recorded Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.1
in England in 1932.
Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) was born in the then Austrian
town of Lipnik and studied in Vienna with Leschetizky, who encouraged him in
the exploration of less conventional repertoire. In 1900 he settled in Berlin,
where he married the contralto Lieder singer Therese Behr, a significant
influence on his early career. He moved to the United States in 1939. It was in
the 1930s that he agreed to record all the Beethoven sonatas, which he had
played in Berlin in 1927 to mark the centenary of the composer’s death, and the
concertos. He recorded Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 with Malcolm Sargent and
the London Philharmonic Orchestra in London in 1934.
The Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), taught the
piano by his mother, gave his first concert in 1908. A scholarship allowed
study in Berlin with Martin Krause, who described him as the most talented
pianist since Liszt. In Berlin in the 1930s he gave a series of concerts that
included all the keyboard works of Bach and in later years performed all
Beethoven’s numbered sonatas. He settled in the United States in 1940, resuming
his international career after the war. After experiencing some difficulties in
his Mozart interpretations,
he finally recorded all the piano sonatas, and the Sonata in
G major, K.283 belongs to the recordings made in New York in 1941.
Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) might claim pianistic descent from
Chopin, through his teacher Emil Descombes, one of the that composer’s last
pupils. He also studied with Louis Diémer at the Paris Conservatoire, where he
taught for some years, and in his earlier career appeared as a conductor and a
champion of Wagner. His trio, with Thibaud and Casals, became one of the most
important of the time, widely known through recordings. His solo recordings, of
which there were many, were a significant part of his career, which suffered
for a time after his war-time work under the Vichy government. His recording of
Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 under Barbirolli, was made in London in 1935.
The son of the Dutch-born violinist Henri Petri, a pupil of
Joachim, Egon Petri (1881-1962) was born in Hanover, moving with his father to
Leipzig and then
to Dresden, where he completed his education and joined the
of which is father was leader, as a violinist. It was
through the encouragement
of Busoni that he moved to Berlin, studying the piano with
him subsequently also in Weimar and Dresden. The connection with Busoni was of
some importance in his early career. He taught in Manchester, Basel and Berlin
and settled in Poland, before moving to America in 1938. He recorded Brahms’s
Rhapsody in B minor in New York in 1940.
Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953) had already made a
controversial reputation for himself in Russia, when the new Communist
authorities allowed him to travel abroad in 1918. He moved first to the United
States and then to France, eventually returning to Russia in 1936 in time for
the Great Purge and, in 1948, the official condemnation of his music. While
primarily a composer, he had studied the piano as a somewhat recalcitrant pupil
of Anna Esipova, former wife and pupil of Leschetizky, and was well equipped for
a career as a pianist, although he used his abilities primarily as a means of
promoting his own music. His Piano Concerto No.3 was completed in 1921 and
first performed, with the composer as soloist, in Chicago in that year, winning
acclaim there, in New York and in performances that followed in Europe. He
recorded the work in 1932 at the Abbey Road studios in London.
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Great Pianists (1926-1945)