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Leschetizky on Piano Playing

From an Interview by E. Hughes
II.
 
 
Knowing that Leschetizky had studied all the Beethoven concertos and most of the sonatas during the time when he was a pupil of Czerny, and that Czerny had gotten the traditions from the master himself, I asked for a few words on the interpretation of Beethoven.
 
“One must play Beethoven with feeling, with warmth. Beethoven himself hated this so-called ‘classical’ piano-playing which so many pianists affect. That he was no pedant is shown by the fact that he wrote more expression signs in his compositions than any one else has ever done—and changed them more often!
 
“These things I had from his own pupil, Czerny. There was once a critic in Berlin who heard what was to him a new cadenza to one of the Beethoven concertos. In his critique of the concert he took especial pains to load the cadenza with all sorts of abuse, declaring it absolutely unsuited to the style of the concerto. The next day he discovered that the cadenza was by Beethoven himself!”
 
In conclusion, I asked Leschetizky to say something about the interpretation of his own compositions. He regrets that some which he considers among the most interesting are little known, or at least rarely played, such as the “Menuetto Capriccioso,” with its charming contrapuntal workmanship, and the “Fantaisie Nocturne,” a mood picture full of fine feeling.
 
“The group of pieces entitled ‘A la Campagne’ should be played together. It is, in fact, a suite, of which the first number, ‘Wellen und Wogen,’ forms the prelude; the ‘Consolation,’ the andante; ‘Primula Veric,’ the intermezzo; the ‘Mélodie à la Mazourka,’ the scherzo, and the ‘Danse à la Russe,’ the rondo-finale.
 
“The six numbers in opus 39 are souvenirs of an Italian journey. The ‘Barcarolle’ (Venice) is in reality a ballade. With the arabesques of the introduction one must create the atmosphere of the lagoons. The first theme (Moderato) paints the forsaken lover as he sits alone in his gondola under the shelter of a vine-grown bank of the canal, awaiting the passing of the bridal procession of his former beloved.
 
“An especial tenderness is produced in this part by breaking the voices in the right hand often. The train of gaily decorated gondolas is now heard faintly in the distance. The thirds picture the light splash of the oars and must not be played ‘bravoura.’ With the aid of a supple wrist they may be brought out with the required gracefulness. The procession passes on its way to the church, and then comes a short recitative.
 
“The lover meditates on his fate, but immediately the bells in the ‘campanella’ break in upon his meditation, and, overpowered by thoughts of the happiness which has been torn from him and given to another, he casts himself with a wild plunge into the somber waters, which gurgle and bubble over his disappearing body. Quiet has come again. The bells have ceased and the procession wends its way stately back from the church. The new bridegroom sings a love song to a soft accompaniment and slowly the cortège disappears in the distance.”
 
In connection with the “Tarantella” from opus 39 Leschetizky told me the following story:
 
“When I was in Naples I wanted, of course, to see a tarantella danced. You know there are troupes of dancers who will perform before you if they are properly paid; but these paid dancers left me unsatisfied; it seemed as though the real spirit were not there. Shortly afterward I went over to the island of Capri and happened quite by chance on a band of peasants who were dancing a genuine tarantella for all they were worth! I could watch them from a little distance without disturbing them in their amusement.
 
Suddenly there appeared on the scene a funeral cortege from the village church near by—you remember there comes a lull in the movement of the piece. Headed by the priest with his little bell, the sad procession made its way slowly through the midst of the dancers, who, of course, ceased their motions, knelt on the ground and piously crossed themselves. But scarcely had the last mourner passed than they were on their feet again, whirling around more furiously than ever! I had seen a real tarantella at last!
 
“The ‘Arabesque’ in A flat, opus 45, has been played often in America by Madame Zeisler. The melody notes in the upper voice are to be brought out distinctly, and the whole played with an easy fluency. Safety in striking the right notes in the skips is insured by ‘preparing’ them, i.e., placing the fingers quickly and silently on the notes before they are played.
 
“The ‘Serenade,’ opus 43, is in imitation of the lute. Imagine a gay young troubadour swaggering into a court full of brilliantly gowned ladies. He whangs his many-stringed instrument and sings his almost impudent lay with an air of utter indifference to the beauty around him, while the ladies gaze on his attractive person with whispered expressions of surprise at such behavior.
 
” ‘La Piccola’ is an excellent study for the first and second fingers, but one must not play it as an etude, for it is very grateful when the melody is carefully shaded and properly brought out.”
 
Leschetizky’s publishers make him most flattering overtures for new compositions, but his time is so occupied with teaching that little remains for creative work. A new concerto is now in the course of evolution, and several smaller pieces were completed last season.
 
“I have already one concerto entirely finished; but when the work was done it did not satisfy me— it was not real ‘Leschetizky.’ So I sealed it up very carefully and had it carried up to the garret—with especial directions that it be destroyed after my decease!”
 
This is a good example of the sort of criticism which the master employs over his own work. And it is the same at the lessons as with his composition—always the same painstaking care that has brought forth such brilliant results in the world of pianoforte-playing.
 
 
 
 
 

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