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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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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