Uploaded on Jul 13, 2011
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791):
Fantasie in C minor KV 475 (1785) - Adagio
Edwin Fischer (1886-1960), piano
Recorded in 1941.
"Edwin Fischer: Remembering My Teacher" (1960)
From Musical Thoughts & Afterthoughts
Edwin Fischer was, on the concert platform, a short, leonine, resilient figure, whose every fibre seemed to vibrate with elemental musical power. Wildness and gentleness were never far from each other in his piano-playing, and demonic outbursts would magically give way to inner peace. It was as little trouble to him (as Alfred Polgar once said of an actor) to lose himself as to find himself. His playing of slow movements was full of an unselfconsciousness beside which the music-making of others, famous names included, seemd academic or insincere. With Fischer, one was in more immediate contact with the music: there was no curtain before his soul when he communicated with the audience. One other musician, Furtwängler, conveyed to the same degree this sensation of music not being played, but rather happening by itself. His death was a grievous blow to Fischer.
Fischer should be remembered not only as a solo pianist and conductor, but also as a chamber musician, song accompanist and teacher. Fischer's ensemble with Mainardi and Kulenkampff -- whose place was later taken by Schneiderhan -- reached the heights of trio playing, and as a partner of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf the master achieved the ideal fusion of simplicity and refinement. As an inspiring teacher he led two generations of young pianists 'away from the piano, and to themselves', and provided them with proper standards for their future careers. As an editor he helped to restore the Urtext of Classical masterpieces, and as a writer he formulated such memorable precepts as 'Put life into the music without doing violence to it.' Can there be a simpler formula for the task of the interpreter?
All this calls to mind Alfred Cortot, as many-sided an artist as Fischer. The two masters, who had great admiration for each other, were poles apart in their repertoire; one could say that they complemented one another. Fischer was in his element in the Classic-Romantic realm of 'German' music, with Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Cortot was particularly happy with Chopin, with some of Liszt's works, and with French piano music. In Schumann, their spheres met. At home, as he once told me, Fischer liked to play Chopin, whereas Cortot is reported to have had a sneaking affection for Brahms.
Fischer was anything but a perfect pianist in the academic sense. Nervousness and physical illness sometimes cast a shadow over his playing. But in the avoidance of false sentiment he was unrivalled. Moreover, as the initiated will know, it would be presumptuous to underrate a technique that made possible performances of such fabulous richness of expression. The principal carrier of this expressiveness was his marvellously full, floating tone, which retained its roundness even at climactic, explosive moments, and remained singing and sustained in the most unbelievable pianissimo. (In conversation, Fischer once compared piano tone to the sound of the vowels. He told me that in present-day musical practice the a and o are neglected in favour of the e and i. The glaring and shrill triumphs over the lofty and sonorous, technique over the sense of wonder. Are not ah! and oh! the sounds of wonder?) By bringing the middle parts to life, Fischer gave his chord-playing an inward radiance, and his cantabile fulfilled Beethoven's wish: 'From the heart -- may it go to the heart.'
As a teacher, Fischer was electrifying by his mere presence. The playing of timid youths and placid girls would suddenly spring to life when he grasped them by the shoulder. A few conducting gestures, an encouraging word, could have the effect of lifting the pupil above himself. When Fischer outlined the structure of a whole movement, the gifted ones among the participants felt they were looking into the heart of music. He sometimes helped us more by an anecdote or a comparison than would have been possible by 'factual' instruction. He preferred demonstration to explanation; again and again he would sit down himself at the piano. Those were the greatest, the unforgettable impressions retained by his students. In the days before his prolonged illness, his vitality knew no bounds. He was happy to be surrounded by young people who trusted in him, and his playing for us was at its most beautiful. On such occasions, we experienced what he told us in these words: 'One day, the piano has all the colours of the orchestra; another day, it brings forth sounds that come from other worlds.'