Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianistby Allan Evans
Allan Evans's groundbreaking biography of Ignaz Friedman gives the reader the behind and the between of the life and career of this extraordinary pianist. Friedman's repertory emphasized the major works of Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms, but he was perhaps best known for his interpretation of the Chopin mazurkas, which by all accounts he played with the
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Allan Evans's groundbreaking biography of Ignaz Friedman gives the reader the behind and the between of the life and career of this extraordinary pianist. Friedman's repertory emphasized the major works of Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms, but he was perhaps best known for his interpretation of the Chopin mazurkas, which by all accounts he played with the same rhythmic nuance as their composer. Evans examines Friedman's life as a cultured Jewish musician from Poland; his studies in Leipzig and Vienna; his marriage to Manya Schidlowskya Russian countess and relative of Tolstoy; and his performing career, teaching, and retirement in Australia.
"Nothing is harder to bring back to life than a dead pianist, no matter how effervescent or influential. The art dies with the fingers. What Allan Evans has done—not once but three times—is to make the late artist seem absolutely relevant to our times." —Norman Lebrecht
"There was an early archaeologist in the first decades of the 15th century by the name of Ciriaco d'Ancona. When asked what he was doing, he replied: 'I wake the dead.' Allan Evans could claim the same. It is wonderful, how many hidden testimonies he rescues from oblivion!" —Ernst Gombrich
"A remarkable and historic book that delivers an intimate and thorough portrait of the artist. The depth of research is staggering.... It is now possible to put a face, a life, a reality, a personality to the man who only existed in our ears, hearts, and musical minds." —Kenneth Cooper, Manhattan School of Music
"Of great interest to pianists and their audiences... the accounts of lessons with Friedman are particularly riveting." —Kenneth Hamilton, Birmingham University
"This book is a must read, above all, for those interested in Ignaz Friedman, and for those interested in the musical world of his time." —www.classicalmusicguide.com, September 8, 2009
"Evans packs so much into these pages that it is not just an interesting biography but more an immersion into the entire piano world of the first half of the 20th century. The book includes a number of interesting photos; the appendixes are a rich source, meticulously documented, of Friedman's concert repertoire, recordings, compositions, and editorial work on the compositions of Frederic Chopin. This volume is a true labor of love.... Highly recommended." —Choice, January 2010
"This distinguished study brings back to the forefront a great artist who was in danger of being forgotten." —Gramophone, November 2009
"Ignaz Friedman is thoroughly researched and offers readers new insight into the life and activities of this pianistic giant." —Music Research Forum, Vol. 25, 2010
"Allan Evans's biography of Ignaz Friedman... is a beautifully written and marvelously researched book about one of the greatest piano virtuosos of the twentieth century.... This is a book to savor, to read and reread." —Clavier Companion
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Romantic Master Pianist
By Allan Evans
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2009 Allan Evans
All rights reserved.
MUSICAL TRADITIONS THAT HIDE IN SHELLAC
Serendipity. One day in 1972, a radio program on WBAI in New York, hosted by pianist James Irsay, offered obscure, old, noisy 78-rpm discs. After airing a recording featuring Rachmaninoff himself at the piano, Irsay readied Chopin's Polonaise in A[??], op. 53 performed by Ignaz Friedman, whom he announced as one of the greatest pianists of all time. Friedman's tone emerged from the shellac grooves onto the airwaves as if it had never before existed, as though newly unearthed, for no other station broadcast old recordings.
Under Friedman's hands, Chopin's familiar concert piece became a revelation, abducting the listener with its gripping rhythm, improvisatory spirit, bold details, and irresistible sensuality. The record's age and condition in no way lessened Friedman's astonishing musical conception. What else survived of his playing, I wondered, and were there other artists of Friedman's caliber awaiting discovery? Why didn't radio stations program historic recordings, and why were they neglected for decades?
The one book I could find with any information on Friedman was The Great Pianists by the New York Times music critic Harold C. Schonberg, who voiced praise and opinions of him but who provided scarcely a page of information about him. Entries in foreign musical encyclopedias were terse and inaccurate.
Research had never been attempted on Friedman. His recordings, along with those by most artists of the past, were then available, if at all, only on the original 78s, and were unplayable on the sound equipment owned by the average music lover. This situation began to improve only in the 1990s. Amidst such oblivion, the discovery of Friedman's art was the uncovering of a major representative of an important musical culture. Surely such artistry still had a role to play (for great art is not limited by time), despite the fact that Friedman's cultural contribution lay within obsolete and discarded artifacts, almost lost as a result of general neglect or, to put it politely, the time not being ripe for such interest.
If one ventures to listen, recordings by long-gone musical geniuses offer a palpable history of interpretive practices spanning more than a century. During the infancy of the recording process, the playing of composers and performers born as early as the 1830s and 1840s (Brahms, Joachim, Grieg, Saint-Saëns, Pachmann) was preserved. Other recorded artists provide direct and indirect links to Liszt, Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms. Music scholars tend to seek authenticity by studying so-called unedited scores, but this sonic corpus offers essential evidence of how their music was played.
To reassemble Friedman's lost art and life, one must begin from a void, relying on both research and serendipity. Years after beginning this project, I was reassured to hear W. G. Sebald affirm of serendipity:
It's a form of unsystematic searching, which for an academic is far from orthodoxy, because we're meant to do things systematically. Not even my Ph.D. research was done systematically. It was almost done in a random, haphazard fashion, and the more I got on, the more I felt that really one can only find in that way, i.e., in the same way in which a dog runs through a field. And if you look at a dog following the voice of his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. And he invariably finds what he is looking for.
One day in 1980, a New York record collector told me a tale he had recently heard from a shop clerk: Ignaz Friedman's daughter Lydia had visited, seeking his recordings. She left her name (which was no longer Friedman) and an address, but ... he had discarded the paper, and recalled only that she lived "somewhere in Europe."
Two months later in Rome, Nikita Magaloff played a Chopin recital on the Capitoline hill beneath the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, within Michelangelo's piazza, though challenged throughout by unrelenting traffic noise from below. Afterward I asked to speak with the pianist at the palace entrance, curious about older musicians he had known, only to be forbidden entry by an armed, liveried carabiniere. Seized with an urgency to ask the only question that mattered, I begged the guard to hand Magaloff a hastily scribbled message: "Maestro, do you know the whereabouts of Ignaz Friedman's daughter?" The door slammed shut, the guard disappeared.
Would it ever reach him? An hour went by as night darkened the deserted piazza, dragging it into a De Chirico gloom. Finally a lively entourage burst forth from the palace doors, led by Magaloff, waving a paper, calling out to a crowd of one, "Who wrote this? She lives in Geneva; her husband is Walder, a doctor."
One year later, I stepped off the Innsbruck express in Bolzano, the station platform a teeming sea of suitcases, throngs of vacationers streaming from the train. An elegant redhead stood quietly in the midst of the crowd, and her penetrating gaze met mine as we somehow recognized one another. "Do you know, I had asked Magaloff, who lives nearby, when would someone do something for Papá? And then two weeks later, you handed him the note!"
Dr. Henri Walder, a tall, taciturn, and distinguished Swiss gynecologist who resembled the actor Ronald Coleman, drove us up the mountain into the Siusi Alps, to a former pensione, its gate inscribed "Villa Friedman." All the furnishings were kept as if the great man had just stepped out for a walk. Even the piano, a present from Blüthner himself, had held its tune since Friedman's last days in Siusi and had remained virtually untouched until I opened its lid and sat down to play passages. The instrument sang with an innate, ripe sound and had the most responsive touch imaginable. Its wood was worn out under the fallboard as if his knuckles had vigorously rubbed against it for decades: Lydia insisted the piano be left alone, as its tone was too evocative for her to bear.
Lydia recalled a great deal about her father, but I wondered: Did letters and photos exist? The next day I crept into their attic, spotting several large old trunks. When I alluded to possible buried treasure, Lydia was quick to rebuff me: "There is nothing in them!" Her daughter Nina arrived days later, and I asked her about these tempting sarcophagi: "Let's go and have a look," she said, rushing upstairs at once. Inside them, untouched since 1939, were letters, manuscripts, photos, a published etude inscribed by Rachmaninoff, and scores — some with Friedman's own fingerings penciled in — together with documents relating to his noble Russian wife's past. It would have upset Lydia to confront such objects, as the loss of her father was still, even after thirty-three years, immediate and painful.
These primary sources guided me in research that led me to more than thirty countries over two decades, to Friedman's colleagues and pupils, and on the trail of his two thousand eight hundred concerts.
Nina Walder journeyed throughout Asia and South America, contacting archives and conferring with her mother over many documents. In particular, a mountain of reviews emerged, yet few were of significance; as Friedman said, "Musicians can't learn anything from their reviews. The critics are not anatomists: they don't bother to dissect the artistic performance. Painters and writers have better critics." In time, however, these traces coalesced into a mosaic of his existence and contribution to music. One surprising obstacle was Friedman himself, a charismatic extrovert who tightly guarded his thoughts and emotions even from those closest to him. Fragments of an inner life are visible in his letters and long-ago conversations. We cannot hope to discover more evidence, but must be guided by what we have as we explore the development of his art and strive to understand the man. Familiarity with the literature, history, and musical aesthetics of Friedman's time helps us avoid being limited to a contemporary perspective.
Ignaz Friedman's unique pianism captures the spirit of an age when composers and their followers were creating and championing new music. Time passes, and what were once dynamic and innovative become familiar, comfortable objects of reverence. Many recordings by Friedman and his colleagues are definitive in the way they transcend the immediate to represent the dynamic essence of past worlds, the fire of a composer's creative frenzy, the summoning of art's eternal thread. Calm and attentive listening to these masters helps surmount the status quo and enables a listener to grasp a performer's position within and beyond his cultural base. But as much as we may wish these sonic documents to fully represent their time, nothing can ever be historically absolute. Unknown recordings and lost artists still surface and new restoration methods clarify recordings once obscured by early technology, contributing to history's constant flux of redefinition.
Let us approach Friedman through his own casual definition of music: "There are the notes, there is what is behind the notes, there is what is between the notes." Our age fusses over "the notes" to the exclusion of the other terms. A study of unedited scores prepared from autograph manuscripts and first editions is rightfully upheld as a base, yet such a study often gets mired in limits and quantification and furthers a pernicious tendency: proscribing edited scores brushes aside earlier musical thinkers' commentary, as if their knowledge were irrelevant or corrupting. Samuel Lipman, for instance, believed that all efforts after Schnabel's edition of Beethoven's piano sonatas had lost a historical continuity, because they lacked either ideas or the subliminal levels of fingering and touch that create nuances based on the musical structure.
The strikingly personal musicianship audible in Friedman's legacy of recordings invites the question: Does the score embody the totality of a composer's vision, as many wish to believe, or is it merely an encoded skeletal plan? Bartók's scientifically precise transcriptions of the Hungarian folk music he captured on field recordings contain notational minutiae so complex that even the subliminal stylistic and regional elements affecting agogics are exposed. If simplified into lieder-like notation or played in the homogenized manner of revival groups, folk music loses its essence. Revival groups and classical performers alike often distort a work's authenticity by simplifying it, and worsen matters further by conditioning listeners to accept their reduction of a musical language as its fullest expression. One example is Friedman's treatment of Chopin's mazurkas. These folk dances were the composer's lifelong musical diary, a workshop for experiments in form, counterpoint, and harmony, using speech-like articulation and irregular dance rhythms as a base. Friedman's performances reveal an innate understanding of this rhythmic element, reaching far beyond what can be inferred from the printed page. Chopin's interpretive art did not entirely vanish with his passing, for certain components of it, described by Chopin's contemporaries, can be heard in the playing of Friedman, Rosenthal, Pachmann, and Horszowski. Their playing suggests a direct continuation of Chopin's legacy.
A few decades earlier than Chopin's period of activity, Beethoven had inscribed accents into a copy of Cramer's etudes along the lines of Greco-Roman prosody. To play Beethoven without a hierarchy of accentuation and its underlying relationship to poetic metrics would undermine his music's essence. In an unfinished piano method, Chopin wrote, "We use sounds to make music just as we use words to make a language." According to Kleczynski, "All the theory of the style which Chopin taught to his pupils rested on this analogy between music and language, on the necessity for separating the various phrases, on the necessity for pointing and for modifying the power of the voice and its rapidity of articulation."
Chopin's pupil Wilhelm von Lenz left an example of the attention he gave to declamation in the Nocturne in C Minor op. 48/1:
How exacting and finicky Chopin was over the four opening bars — which appear so simple! ... He was not easy to satisfy with the first bar of the Nocturne: the crochets G, A [??], should emerge as thematic elements, but were always too loud or too soft for his liking [...] In the second bar the final semiquaver G was to glide smoothly into the following C (first beat of the third bar), and Chopin was never satisfied. He told me: "Since it lies within your capabilities, you must be able to do it." I finally succeeded, after long efforts: either the G would be too short and the C arrive too soon, or else the reverse. "It must have an intention," said Chopin. He was no less exacting when it came to the descending C before the quaver rest at the end of the semiquaver group (fourth bar, third beat); the C was either too short or too long. I found a way out by "combing" this with the thumb, that is by sliding the finger along the key and releasing it only upon reaching the outer edge. This way the end of the phrase at last satisfied him; but that was nothing beside Chopin's own playing in these two passages! [...] He wanted a question on the G–C [bars 2–3], a response in the C [bar 4].
Chopin maintained classical proportions within an improvisatory style awash in bold dissonances, modulations, and asymmetry. The architect Borromini's juxtaposition of flowing geometric forms to create an illusion of expansive volume within a small space (San Carlo delle Quattro Fontane, Rome) resembles Chopin's transformation of miniatures into epics. But although he ventured far and dared much, he maintained propriety: "Chopin had a horror of all exaggerated accentuation, which, in his opinion, took away the poetry from playing and gave it a sort of dry pedantry."
The wonder of Chopin's compositions and his performances of them was their wealth of subtleties. Sir Charles Hallé described the mazurkas: "A remarkable feature of his playing was the entire freedom with which he treated the rhythm, but which appeared so natural that for years it never struck me." Hallé once asked Chopin to play a mazurka while Hallé conducted it in two beats; Chopin shrugged the dance rhythm off as a characteristic of its folk origins. Too many performers play mazurkas as a compendium of exotic waltzes; their unawareness of an essential rhythmic dynamism reduces Chopin's mazurkas to abstractions, implications of something lost, of a language once thriving but in which no one is now fluent. The music sounds fettered.
Friedman understood the authenticity and origins of these works better than any documented pianist and had the courage to deploy the official triple meter within a mirage of two beats. A clue to his mastery lies in the fact that Friedman once told of having danced mazurkas in villages as a youth, a rare crossing of class lines à la Bartók, as most Polish classical pianists were city dwellers lacking any contact with the peasantry. This background deeply affected his art and being.
Friedman shapes the mazurkas by shifting accents and extending the second or third beats, at times compacting two measures into five-beat sub-phrases, offering the most convincing approximation of how Chopin might have performed them. Although Chopin devised intricate ornamentation (for the nocturnes) and filigree (for the Eighth Prelude), he relied on conventional notation for the mazurkas. Irregular rhythms in traditional Bulgarian dances such as the horo and ruchenitsa are sometimes denoted by counting them with "long" and "short" beats, so that an eleven-beat dance might be divided as short-short-long-short-short: 2-2-3-2-2. But even this practice has been simplified, as practitioners are unable to obscure the divisions, ending up with a reduced rhythmic complexity and losing the suppleness once so characteristic of earlier playing styles: Chopin's dances have met the same fate.
Excerpted from Ignaz Friedman by Allan Evans. Copyright © 2009 Allan Evans. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Allan Evans is the founder of Arbiter of Cultural Traditions and has published more than 150 recordings by historic interpreters. He is editor (with Mark Mitchell) of Moriz Rosenthal in Word and Music: A Legacy of the Nineteenth Century (IUP, 2005). Evans teaches at the Mannes College of Music, New York. He lives in New York.
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