Style or Substance? Famed Piano Personalities

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The exuberant Lang Lang is the latest in a long line of pianists known for their flamboyance. Here are four other examples.

Franz Liszt  (1811-1886): Lang Lang's earliest precursor may be Franz Liszt, a dashing Hungarian prodigy who gave his first recital at 11 in Vienna and in his teens became the darling of Paris salons. Known for his exaggerated poses at the piano, Liszt let his eyes wander as he played, winking and nodding at his friends in the boxes. While women swooned and threw jewels at him traditionalists condemned him as a show-off. After a Berlin concert, he was transported by a carriage drawn by six white horses.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941): The Polish pianist (right) inherited Liszt's matinee-idol mantle in the 1890s and was followed by mobs of adoring young women. His rapturous, hypnotic presence brought him on tours around the world but the classical music establishment expressed its severe disapproval. George Bernard Shaw declared that Paderewski was a harmonious blacksmith who laid a concerto upon the piano as upon an anvil and then hammered it out with pleasure. Eventually, Paderewski's fame catapulted him to Prime Minister of Poland.

Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938): One of the most astonishing piano virtuosos of all time, Godowsky was also the highest-paid solo instrumentalist in the world for a period, giving concerts in Europe, Asia, North and South America. He was known for his fantastically over-the-top transcriptions of Chopin's works, and for even combining two Chopin pieces at once, as he did with the so-called Black Key and Butterfly studies. Purists condemed these as examples of overkill and bad taste.

Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989): Coming from the Russian Romantic school, his performances were frequently criticized for their willfulness and self-indulgent nature, despite the undeniable charisma he achieved. The composer and critic Virgil Thomson dismissed him as a “master of distortion and exaggeration.” And yet, Horowitz was widely beloved even despite his long absences from the concert stage, his popularity largely sustained by his recordings.

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Comments [6]

Franklyn from Mexico

Anyone want to comment on Richter?

Sep. 14 2010 12:16 AM
Sari from the sea from The mountains, the seas

Please bring us David Dubal.

Several times a weekly.

Sep. 10 2010 04:59 PM
Dennis Tullmann from famed piano personalities

Regarding Vladimir Horowitz: I have never heard more beautiful sounds from the piano-- raindrops and thunder! Maestro Horowitz produced the ultimate in musicality and artistic expression. His recordings of Chopin are extraordinary!

Sep. 02 2010 11:33 PM
A Buzzoni from Wayne, NJ

As to Lang doubt blessed with a great technical gift.......but as to artistic?.......he has a long way to go to achieve the artistic level of Hoffman,Rachmaninoff , or Lehvine .............flashy playing does not make you a musician........

Sep. 01 2010 10:21 AM
melody from The Bronx

Regarding the Schonberg recommendation, I tend to agree. My mother was a good friend of this wonderful man and she cherished their friendship. For myself, I have enjoyed his writing, although, I haven't read as much as perhaps I should have...

Aug. 30 2010 03:51 PM
Michael Meltzer

Paderewski inherited the mantle of Anton Rubinstein, another crowd thriller, who inherited the mantle of Franz Liszt.
Anton Rubinstein taught Felix Blumenfeld, who taught Simone Barrere, Vladimir Horowitz and Heinrich Neuhaus, who in turn taught Richter, Gillels and Radu Lupu.
You are scratching the surface of an intensely fascinating subject, for which I have two suggestions:
1. Everyone read Harold Schonberg's "The Great Pianists."
2. Bring back the David Dubal's Wednesday night broadcast.

Aug. 30 2010 02:43 AM

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