As an Englishman, I want to include some English pianists in this short favourites series. However, I would be on very dodgy ground if I chose some but not others, especially if they are still alive! So, I have decided to limit my selection to those no longer with us, and (just for interest) to students of Tobias Matthay, (19 February 1858 – 15 December 1945).
Last year I read a book I can highly recommend to all pianophiles, England’s Piano Sage: The Life and Teachings of Tobias Matthay by Stephen Siek. The book excellently researched and written, and there is plenty of information about the musical life in London during Matthay’s time, and minor characters we’ve all heard of are fleshed out and become real. There is no denying that Matthay was a seminal influence on piano playing in this country, and while his writings tend to be pedantic and frankly impossible to read, he was not at all like that in lessons. Matthay is not remembered as a performer, but here is a clip of him playing one of his own compositions.
The list of students who came to study with him is very impressive indeed. Here are a few of the most celebrated.
Clifford Curzon (18 May 1907 – 1 September 1982)
I first heard Clifford Curzon in my student days, in a Schubert recital that made a deep impression. His recording of Brahms’ F minor Sonata, op. 5, is still among my favourites. Curzon was a perfectionist who laboured over every note he played – here is a photo from his score of Schubert’s F minor piece from Moments Musicaux, showing the pianist’s copious (and seemingly tortured) annotations:
Here is Curzon’s performance of the piece, together with the A flat Impromptu.
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Myra Hess (25 February 1890 – 25 November 1965)
Myra Hess, remembered for her playing of the German classics, gave her last concert in London in 1961. Popular with concert goers all over the world, she was especially loved by Londoners for her contribution to the war effort. She organised a series of lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery during the Blitz, playing 150 of them herself. Here she is in the first movement of the Appassionata, from her National Gallery series.
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Irene Scharrer (2 February 1888 – 11 January 1971)
Irene Scharrer, a child prodigy, gave duo piano performances with Myra Hess, and continued to perform on two pianos throughout both their careers. Her playing was refined rather than powerful or showy. Her surviving recordings show her at her best in the smaller pieces of the romantic repertoire, where her impeccable control, fine tone and lack of showiness serve the music well. Here she is in the Intermezzo from Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aux Wien.
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Harriet Cohen (2 December 1895 – 13 November 1967)
Harriet Cohen is remembered for her playing of contemporary British composers, and many works were written especially for her. However, she also played Bach recitals, and (unusually for the time) performances of the Elizabethan virginalists as well as contemporary Spanish and Russian composers.
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Moura Lympany (18 August 1916 – 28 March 2005)
I first heard Moura Lympany when I was a child, in a performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto. This literally blew my socks off, the first time I had heard the piece and probably the first time I witnessed a piano concerto played live. I came across her Desert Island Discs on Youtube, and it makes fascinating listening. Here she talks about her childhood and her career, the conversation interspersed with clips of her own recordings.
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I will leave you with her beautiful recording of Brahms’ Paganini Variations Book 2.
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In Part 3 of my ebook series, I explore scale and arpeggio playing in depth. Included are many ideas for practising, as well as rhythm charts, practice charts, other interactive features and video demonstrations.
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