Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Throwback Thursday Quote – Robert Schumann Gives Advice

Robert Schumann 1850

What is it to be musical?  You will not be so, if your eyes are fixed on the notes with anxiety and you play your piece laboriously through…. But you will be so…if you have not only music in your fingers, but also in your head and heart.

The composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856) wrote Advice to Young Musicians (Musikalische Haus- und Lebensregeln) to provide useful tips and guidelines for beginning music students.  It was published in 1850 in Schumann’s journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (find the original German publication here).  An English translation (by Henry Hugo Pierson) followed by the original German has been made available via Project Gutenberg.  It is also available at imslp.org.

It’s a quick read with many thought-provoking considerations whether you’re a newcomer or an old hand, and also contains some advice that I find humorous.  For example,

Play strictly in time!  The playing of many a virtuoso resembles the walk of an intoxicated person.  Do not take such as your model  (in other words, lay off the rubato and ruby port)

From vocalists you may learn much, but do not believe all that they say.

Never help to circulate bad compositions; on the contrary, help to suppress them with earnestness.  You should neither play bad compositions, nor, unless compelled, listen to them.

Don’t pull any punches there, Schumann!

Here is Wilhelm Kempff playing Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet.  [Note: the video is no longer available.]  Here is Schumann’s Vogel als Prophet played by Maria Joao Pires.

Those who speak French can practice in the presentation on Schumann which follows the piece.  An interview with Wilhelm Kempff (in French) on Schumann can be seen here.  [Video no longer available.]  The Melo Classics Les Grandes Interpretes channel on YouTube has great historical musical videos of pianists, violinists, and singers (wow, Sviatoslav Richter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau rehearsing Hugo Wolf’s Der Feuerreiter ‘Sehet ihr am Fensterlein’.)

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Alfred Brendel. Photo by Barbara Klemm.


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Throwback Thursday Quote – Alfred Brendel

After reading this quote, I feel that there is some hope for us all.  The indented italicized material below is from NPR, who holds the copyright.  Click here to read the full interview.

Fred Child: I just have more question for you, Mr. Brendel, about yourself as a child. Your own biography states rather succinctly, “He was not a child prodigy, his parents were not musicians, there was no music in the house. He himself admits he is neither a good sight reader nor is he blessed with a phenomenal memory.” That sounds like not a particularly winning combination for a young artist today. Given your own career background, what advice would you give to young up-and-coming pianists?

Alfred Brendel: Well as for myself, I have often been asked, “How did I make it at all?” I do not quite understand and cannot explain it. On the other hand, in hindsight I am very happy that by this constellation I had to find out things for myself, to start my own chain of experiences. And maybe, for that matter, my development has been a long one, and perhaps is still going on.

 You might also enjoy these:

 An A-Z of the piano: Alfred Brendel’s notes from the concert hall

 Alfred Brendel’s official website, which includes an audio player of selected excerpts of his recordings.

And this whimsical moment from the “semi-retired” Mr. Brendel.


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Thursday-ish Quote of the Week

I couldn’t resist posting this.

The Guardian publishes a series called “Facing the Music,” in which “Classical performers tell us about the music in their lives.”  The performers answer a set of questions, and it is very interesting to read their responses, and to compare the answers of different performers.  In a recent “Facing the Music” article, conductor Jan Latham-Koenig provided his answers, including the anecdote below.

The following quote is reproduced with the kind permission of The Guardian.  Guardian News & Media Ltd. hold the copyright to this material.

How many recordings of the Goldberg Variations do you own? Do you have a favourite?
“I have one and a half recordings of the Goldberg variations. The Glenn Gould, which is still marvellous in its own way, but the other one is essentially excerpts from a piano roll made by Rudolf Serkin in 1928. I was alerted to this performance by an extraordinary story I heard about a recital of Serkin in Berlin around that time. As an encore, he decided to play the entire Goldberg Variations, with repeats. After each variation, members of the audience left the hall, until by the end there were only two people left. When Serkin finally finished, he bowed to the two and recognised them. One was Artur Schnabel and the other Albert Einstein. It is as if the desire to hear this work live even at the end of a long recital was only totally present in geniuses on the same level as Serkin himself!”

I think you’ll find the full article devoted to Mr. Latham-Koenig, as well as the entire series, fascinating.  Do check them out!

Click here to read the entire article “Facing the Music:  Jan Latham-Koenig”

Click here to see the entire “Facing the Music” series.


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Throwback Thursday Quote – Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music … I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin.”

— Albert Einstein, The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929

There is a wonderful story about Einstein introducing the world of classical music to a beginner. The story appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1955, and can be found here.


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Throwback Thursday Quote — Artur Schnabel

“Mozart is a garden; Schubert is a forest — in sunlight and shadow; Beethoven is a mountain range.”

Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) was one of the great pianists of the early 20th century.  He is particularly known for his performances of Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven.  He was also a composer and teacher.

Here is Schnabel playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 1 in F Minor, Op. 2 No 1.