It can be awe-inspiring to talk to someone who studied with a legendary musician about their personal memories, anecdotes and experiences of their lessons. I have a particular fascination with two great figures from the past who contributed so much to the legacy of piano playing – Tobias Matthay and Artur Schnabel.

It was a great privilege to have participated in Leon Fleisher‘s weekly piano classes for piano majors at Peabody during my year there in 1982, and to have received so much of Schnabel‘s wisdom (Fleisher is connected via Schnabel to a tradition that descended directly from Beethoven himself, handed down through Carl Czerny and Theodor Leschetizky).

A student of both Schnabel and Matthay was American pianist Eunice Norton (1908 – 2005). She studied as a child at the University of Minnesota with William Lindsay, who later introduced her to Dame Myra Hess. Hess was so impressed with the 15-year-old Norton’s playing that she arranged for her to study in London in 1923 with Hess’s own mentor, Tobias Matthay, with whom Norton would remain in association for 8 years. A glittering career then followed. A decade later she heard Schnabel’s performances of Beethoven’s sonatas and spent three successive seasons under his tutelage in Berlin and Italy, and later enjoyed many rewarding years of friendship and association with him.

Fortunately, Eunice Norton has documented her experiences with both Matthay and Schnabel in a series of extended video lecture-demonstrations, and there is a substantial archive of her work available on this YouTube channel.

Schnabel (Part 1 of 18)

 

Matthay (Part 1 of 10)

 

There is a little book I can highly recommend to anyone playing music from the mainstream classical period, and that is Schnabel’s Interpretation of Piano Music by Konrad Wolff. This shortish book offers a detailed treatment of Schnabel’s so-called system, and describes the pianist’s interpretative decision making. There are lots of examples from the repertoire, and I find that I refer to it again and again.

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