The Passionate Intellect

By 1806, recital programs began to take place in a chronological program order with Bach, Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, and many other romantic composers with Liszt’s Rhapsody as the finale. In 1830, several major schools began to emerge – German, Russian, elegant French, and the eclectic English one. Piano was being developed into the substantial instrument that we know today.  Every household bought a piano. The virtuous kept demanding brilliantly a voiced instrument with higher and higher pitch.

Hans Von Büllow was born in Dresden in 1830 and had a very sharp mind and a keen determination. The boy of fifteen wrote to his mother from Leipzig Conservatory on the tasks he set for himself while studying with Louis Plaidy:

‘Every morning, I play trill exercises, simple and chromatic scales of all kinds, exercises for throwing the hands (for this I use a study of Moscheles , two-part fugue of Bach’s which I play with octaves with both hands; Toccata of Czerny and Chopin’s studies.’

Hans Von Bülow 1830 – 1894

It was von Bülow who led the force of personality, skill, perseverance and established the supremacy of German school for several decades. He was demanding, dictatorial, chauvinistic and convinced of his superiority. He was possessed of a fine musical culture plus executive ability and leadership. An important conductor, he was a pianist to the point that he brought the Meiningan Orchestra to a level where the orchestra musicians played from memory. He conducted the Premiere of Tristan und Isolde in 1865.

The turning of the boy’s life came in 1849 when he met Liszt (link to the Hysterical Liszt) in Weimar. Büllow was swept off his feet, ‘…..quite a perfect man…admirable and astounding!’. He went to the University of Berlin to study law instead of studying with Liszt. He also wrote musical criticism, producing articles in ‘The Music of the Future’ and did not neglect his own piano studies especially after frequently hearing Liszt, he continuously ‘cured’ his defective piano playing.

At the age of twenty-one, his fingers were so accurate and that what was the chief defect in his playing. He was so disciplined that not allowing his emotion to take over made his playing become ‘cold’ and unspontaneous. In 1850, he heard Liszt conducted Longherin and asked for taking lesson with Liszt.  Hans was evidently gifted with musical organization of the rarest kind. His executive talent will easily place him in the front rank of the greatest pianists. He devoted the greater part of his time, four or five hours daily to exclusively cultivating technique. He also found time to work on his doctorate, wrote music and reviews, composed, and made enemies.

By 1853, Hans was ready for concerts and taught at Stern Conservatory in Berlin. He married Cosima, Liszt’s daughter who stayed with him for twelve years and left him for Wagner. Hans became a successful conductor of the Royal Opera in Munich, Director of Munich Conservatory, a travelling virtuoso, and director of multiple conservatories. He visited America three times and finished 139 out of 172 scheduled concerts. The second and the third tour were more successful. On stage, he had two pianos switching from one to another as he pleased. He too the audience as cats and dogs. He would lecture the audience, walked out of concerts, and took offence to criticism and in general had an attitude as though he had the first mortgage in the entire universe.

Hans terrified people with is intellect, his temper, and his sarcasm. He was renowned for his ‘passionate intellectuality’. He played and conducted, without the music before him. His repertoire was embracing, and his specialty was Beethoven and was the first pianist to introduce the last five sonatas all over Europe and often perform all five in one programme. His playing was pedantry and Clara Schumann objected it as it had no touch, vigour, enthusiasm and everything was calculated. His tone rang like steel. He had always been a little eccentric, but his eccentricities began to overstep the limits of mental balance. In 1893, he had been admitted to a private institution suffering from an acute form of mental disorder. No doubt his playing was clear, analytical, and precise and may have deprived of some spontaneity but he was unquestionably scholarly. He was followed by many pianists of the day.

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