Artur Schnabel “My Life and Music” 8/8/12

August 8, 2012

This is a book review on Artur Schnabel’s auto-biographical book. Schnabel  (1882-1951) is a legendary figure and he has been one of pianists I always respect and admire. I have studied his famous edition on Beethoven sonatas, and heard his recordings mainly on Beethoven and Schubert sonatas. Whenever I play Beethoven or teach Beethoven to my students I think of Schnabel.

One day at Los Angeles Public Central Library I wanted to check out the music of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas brasileiras No.4 which is not easily found. After the excitement of having Villa-Lobos in my hands I went on to browse books in different isles. I always have a great time looking through different books in the library. To me the library is a treasure island! My eyes caught this book, Artur Schnabel “My Life and Music”.

I deeply enjoyed reading this book consisting part 1: the 12 sessions of  his autobiographical speech he gave in 1945 to the music students at the University of Chicago, part 2: the questions-answers after each speech, and “Reflections on Music” address delivered by Schnabel at the University of Manchester (translated to English).  Schnabel is a fantastic story teller (he quotes himself that his stories are all true!). He makes his experiences (mostly unfortunate ones) fun to tell. Of course he had to go through very difficult time in Europe as a musician and a human being, and we could learn many aspects from his book. He has amazing humor!!! I wish I could quote everything—.

From this book I went on to search how he taught, and found the very interesting videos on YouTube by Eunice Norton on “teaching of Artur Schnabel”. The series of sessions were organized at the University of Pittsburgh in 1987. Eunice Norton was one of most celebrated American pianists in her generation, and studied with Schnabel. She describes his teaching and principles so well with great demonstrations on important works she chose. She is a very colorful musician too! The video was made when she was around 80 years old. Evidently she had lost some of her ability on piano, but her phrasings and musicianship is greatly worth watching in this video (For instance her crescendo-piano in measure 82-83 in Waldstein’s first movement is so natural, organic and effective! Of course the repetitions of this phrase as well.)

It has been my big summer discovery to read this book, to learn Schnabel’s experience and philosophy around music, and to enjoy his HUMOR. During reading this book Gregor Piatigorsky’s autobiographical book came to my mind. Both of them are legendary musicians and have playful humor! And they played together in piano trio settings. I hope they don’t mind my comparison!

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