Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer and piano virtuoso of the Romantic period who lived most of his life in Paris, France. When he was a young man, he left his native Poland to go to Paris. There he met many of the important artists, writers, and musicians of his day including Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Liszt. Chopin was one of the inventors of a new style of composition for the piano with singing melodies and ornamental flourishes. His melodies are beautiful and often contain a touch of melancholy. Chopin’s compositions are mostly for the solo piano, although he also wrote a cello sonata, two piano concertos, and a piano trio.
One of the first pianists to live long enough to be recorded was Vladimir de Pachmann. Vladimir de Pachmann (1848 – 1933) was a Russian/German pianist especially known for his performances of Chopin’s music. He also had an eccentric on-stage style. He was known for making gestures, muttering, and addressing the audience during his performances (even talking during some of his recordings). Vladimir de Pachmann was one of the top pianists of the 19th century. He died in 1933 at the age of 84.
Here is a recording of de Pachmann playing Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32, No. 1. The recording was made when Vladimir was 78 years old. Notice how expressive and elastic the playing is. This is a complete contrast to today’s pianists who are taught to play a piece in strict tempo without slowing down or speeding up too much during a piece. Enjoy!
Witold Małcużyński (1914-1977)
Witold Małcużyński was a famous Polish pianist who specialized in playing the music of Chopin. He studied piano with Margarite Long and Isidor Philipp. He received some coaching from the famous pianist Paderewski and competed in the Third International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland in 1937. He won third prize in that competition. Małcużyński’s piano playing had great passion and poetry.
Here are two recordings of him playing the Chopin Waltz in D Flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3, and the Chopin Waltz in c sharp minor Op. 64, No. 2. Enjoy!
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Johannes Brahms was a 19th century German composer, pianist, and conductor. Today he is best known for his German Requiem, his 4 symphonies, piano concerto, violin concerto, and many pieces for solo piano.
On December 2, 1889, Johannes Brahms was recorded playing two pieces on the piano at the home of Dr. Fellinger and his wife in Vienna, Austria by Theo Wangemann (a associate of Thomas Edison who was the world’s first recording engineer). Brahms played a segment of his Hungarian Dance No. 1 in g minor, and a paraphrase of a Josef Strauss Polka called die Libelle. The wax cylinder was made of soft wax and the earliest cylinders were damaged after each play rendering them unplayable after they had been used only a few times. The Fellinger family no doubt cherished this historic recording and played it many times. It became cracked and badly worn. The recording was played many years later on a radio station and somebody recorded the broadcast. The recording was later transferred onto a disc and many people tried to get rid of the surface noise to better expose the music hidden underneath. Musicologists and mathematicians are still working on it to try and de-noise the recording but it is proving to be very difficult. What they most likely will end up doing is using a clean modern recording of the music and figuring out approximately what is being played where and adjust the tempo and the note lengths. This recording is important because it is a time capsule into the past and can tell musicologists and performing musicians how people in the 19th century may have played the piano. They didn’t play the way pianists play now with a strict unbending tempo. There was a lot of tempo variation and the right and left hands didn’t always play strictly together. Enjoy this rare recording.
Lili Kraus (1905-1986)
Lili Kraus was born in Budapest Hungary in 1903. She studied at the Franz Liszt Academy. At 17 years of age she studied at the Budapest Conservatory under Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. She later studied piano with the famous pianist Artur Schnabel.
During the 1930s, Lili toured Europe, Japan, Australia, and South Africa. Lili and her family were captured by the Japanese and interned in separate concentration camps from June 1943 until August 1945. After the war Lili moved to New Zealand where she played, performed, and taught piano. She became a citizen of New Zealand and toured a lot and taught many students. From 1967-1983 Lili taught piano at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She then moved to Asheville, North Carolina and died in 1986.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer, pianist, and violinist. He is known today for his famous ‘Trout’ Quintet, Unfinished Symphony, piano sonatas, and his more than 600 lieder, or German Art Songs. Schubert was an extremely prolific composer during his short life (he lived to be 31 years old and died from Syphilis). Schubert was one of the pallbearers at Beethoven’s funeral in 1827. He died the following year.
Here are selections from Franz Schubert’s Valses Sentimentales op. 50 played by Lili Kraus. I hope that you enjoy this beautiful music.
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Jean Sibelius was a Finnish composer and violinist. He is said to be the greatest Finnish composer. Sibelius is credited with helping Finland develop its own national identity. He is best known for his seven symphonies. Other well known works include: Finlandia, Valse triste, his Violin Concerto, and Swan of Tuonela.
Sibelius loved the violin but didn’t like the piano. He composed several collections of piano pieces for money. The pieces vary in quality. His piano music is beginning to get some recognition from amateur pianists as well as professional pianists.
Sibelius was known to drink excessively, eat excessively, smoke cigars, and party hard. Despite living a wild lifestyle, Sibelius lived to the ripe old age of 92.
Havard Gimse – pianist (1966 – )
Havard Gimse is a Norwegian classical pianist who has an affinity for the Scandinavian piano repertoire, in particular Norwegian music. He has performed on many of the world’s great concert stages including: Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Here are a couple of piano pieces by Sibelius played by Havard Gimse: his Romance op.24, no.9 in D Flat Major, and his Impromptu op.5, no.5 in b minor. Enjoy!
Elaine Rodrigues – pianist
Pianist Eliane Rodrigues was born in Rio de Janeiro. She was a child prodigy who began composing music when she was 3 years old, played her first recital when she was 5 years old, and performed concertos with an orchestra when she was 6 and 7 years old. She won prizes at many regional and national piano competitions and won the special prize at the Van Cliburn Competition when she was 18. She has performed in many major cities including Antwerp, Brussels, The Hague, Moscow, New York, and St. Petersburg. For over 20 years Eliane has been invited to De Doelen in Rotterdam to perform a Chopin recital on Boxing Day.
Here is a video of an unusual recital she gave at De Doelen in Rotterdam. It is unusual because the pedal on the piano wasn’t working. She handled the situation very well and what happened was quite humorous. I hope that you enjoy watching this.
Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989)
Vladimir Horowitz was a Russian piano virtuoso. He was known for his incredible piano technique, the special tone he produced when he played the piano, and the excitement his playing caused among his audiences during concerts. He was one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Horowitz was known for his interpretations of Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Schumann, and Scarlatti.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1759)
Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian harpsichordist and composer. He is well known today for the 555 keyboard sonatas that he wrote. Scarlatti’s first publication of keyboard pieces was 30 exercises for keyboard. These became so popular after they were published that he kept writing more keyboard pieces.
Here is a video taken from a televised performance in 1968 of Vladimir Horowitz playing two Scarlatti sonatas. The Sonata in E Major and the Sonata in G Major. I don’t know the catalogue numbers for these sonatas. I hope that you enjoy this music as much as I do.
Fini Henriques (1867-1940)
Fini Henriques was a Danish composer and violinist. He was a colleague of Victor Borge’s father and both he and Victor Borge’s father played in the Royal Danish Orchestra. Fini Henriques was an excellent composer. He wrote music for piano, violin, and chamber ensembles. Fini Henriques also wrote operas.
Here is a rare clip of the Danish comedian and pianist Victor Borge playing a Lullaby by Fini Henriques. This piece was sentimental for Victor Borge because his mother used to play it for him when he was a little boy. I hope that you enjoy this music.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Claude Debussy was a French impressionist composer and pianist. His style of composition was greatly influenced by Javanese music he heard in Paris in 1889. To Debussy each piece of music was its own sound world.
Here is an interesting arrangement of a piece called “Reverie” (Dreaming) by Debussy which was originally composed for the piano. Jonathan Scott (harmonium) and his brother Tom Scott (piano) perform Jonathan’s arrangement of “Reverie” for harmonium and piano. I hope that you enjoy this arrangement.
Stéphane Grappelli (1908-1997)
Stéphane Grappelli was a French-Italian jazz violinist and jazz pianist. Today he is most well known for his work with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France which he founded together with gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Throughout his long career Grappelli collaborated with several violinists (Ray Nance, Stuff Smith, Svende Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty, Svend Asmussen, Yehudi Menuhin, Joe Venuti) and other musicians including Marc Fosset, Joe Pass, and Oscar Peterson. He is best known for his jazz violin playing. Grappelli also played jazz piano at a very high level. Here is a clip of Stéphane Grappelli playing the piano. I hope that you enjoy it.