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Appendix

 

Leschetizky

 

Some of the most famous pianists who were active from c.1890 and till after WW II were pupils of Leschetizky and they came to him from many countries, which made him form his own opinion about the different nationalities and their caracteristiques. This opinion could be seen as some kind of artistic Credo and it is cited in Annette Hullah's book about him from 1906, and just as a curiosity it is worth repeating here:

 

The English are good musicians, good workers and bad executants, doing by work what the Slavs do by instinct; their heads serving them better than their hearts.
Russians have passion, dramatic power, elemental force and extraordinary vitality. Turbulent natures, difficult to keep within bounds, but making wonderful players when they have the patience to endure to the end.
Poles, less strong and rugged than the Russians, lean more to the poetical side of music; originality is to be found in all they do; refinement an exquisite tenderness and instinctive rhythm.
The French he compared to birds of passage, flying lightly up in the clouds , unconscious of what lies below. They are dainty, crisp, clear-cut in their playing and they phrase well.
Germans possess earnestness, patient devotion to the detail, orderliness and intense and humble love of their art, but their outlook is a little gray.
The Americans he finds more spontaneous. Accustomed to keep all their faculties in readiness for the unexpected, their perceptions are quick and they possess considerable technical facility. They study perhaps more for the sake of being up-to-date than for the love of music.
He loved the Italians because they are Italians, though they could not, as a rule, play the pianoforte in the very least.

All of this may seem terribly bombastic today when equality is a major subject and individuality is - more or less - becoming a naughty word. Well of course Leschetizky is bombastic but I am sure that we all will recognize some points of truth. Anyway we all have an opinion about  a soul - or a national character with people from different countries, so he just might at least have some kind of point.
But fortunately we are different and not one big gray mass. In this connection you could f.ex. listen to those two recordings of Saint-Saëns' 6 etudes for the left hand that I personally think are the best: Michel Béroff's (on EMI) and Leon Fleisher's (on SONY). Both are marvellous
performances - and one is not more right than the other. Still - when listening to them without knowing which is which - I think you would easily be able to tell the French from the American; there is a little difference of character but certainly not as bombastic as Leschetizky describes. Béroff is just as right as Fleisher - and that is the beauty and the true value in piano playing - and indeed of all music making.
The interesting thing is that none of the nationalities - according to Leschetizky - has it all - unless he was hoping for a mixture of them all. He did though have some things that he was always looking for in new pupils if they were going to get to the very top - and he would ask them three questions: Were you a child prodigy? Are you of Slavic descent? Are you Jewish?. If the pupil could answer Yes to all three Leschetizky would rub his hands with glee - but then - he could answer Yes to all three himself.



Theodor Leschetizky in his old age with 
his pupil Marguerite Melville-Liszniewska

When you read about Beethoven's teaching of the young Czerny - almost starting all over with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's book about The True Art of Piano Playing - it is worth mentioning that Leschetizky worked in quite another way. Before he would accept pupils they would have to be trained for some time by some of his Vorbereiters (preparers) who would teach the pupil according to Leschetitzky's standards and ideals before he would take over himself.

It is interesting that so many words have been said and written about The Leschetizky Method - and for two important reasons: 1. Leschetizky himself said that he had no specific method and 2. Hardly two of his many pupils could come up with the same answer to the question. Then - what was it that made him one of the greatest piano teachers ever?

In some respects the problems here are very much like the problems with Antonio Stradivarius and his fabulous violins. Experts on wood have given their opinions, experts on varnish have given theirs and experts on glue have given theirs. And all these things can be analyzed and measured today - then why is it impossible to make a Stradivarius violin today? Well - simply because the experts are starring themselves blind on things that can be measured and analyzed - and forgetting the most obvious one: - talent.
 
I believe that the experts will some day come to the conclusion, that talent was the true Stradivarius Secret; when he saw a piece of wood he knew exactly where it would fit on a violin and nowhere else to give the best result and exactly how it should be handled. This ability can not be measured and it was the same with Leschetizky. When he saw a hand - he knew exactly how it should be developed and applied
on a keyboard with the best result. That is not a method - it's talent! With some musicians (and that goes for singers as well) you can hear who their teacher has been. Not with Leschetizky - he spotted what kind of special talent each pupil had and it was this talent, he brought out - never imposing his own ways on the pupil. Of course there were certain details which he insisted upon but what he produced was more than a generation of great pianists and all of them with great individuality.

(NB. Especially to Danish readers: In Politiken's set of books Musikkens Hvem Hvad Hvor, from 1961 you can read the most extraordinary information that the great musical humorist and pianist Victor Borge (1909 - 2000) was a Leschetizky pupil. It is true that Borge studied in Vienna - but this was after WW I and Leschetizky died in 1915. But - on the other hand - maybe this information is most appropriate about a humorist who would tell his audiences that Mozart was born at a very early age. He also once said: Mozart was happily married - but his wife wasn't



One can almost hear Victor Borge 
say: "Leschetizky couldn't teach 
 me much - in fact he was dead".

The picture of Borge is taken from his book of reminiscences which bears the title that was Borge's motto: 
A smile is the shortest distance between two human beings.  

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