Pianists of the Leschetizkians

Leschetizky died in 1915. Some of his famous students had careers extending past the middle of the twentieth century. Two of his earliest and most prominent male pupils were Mark Hambourg and Ossip Gabrilowitsch.

Ossip Gabrilowitsch
Mark Hambourg

Hambourg was a Russian child prodigy who made his debut in Moscow at the age of nine in 1888. He played in London two years later and Paderewski upon hearing the boy play, financed him to study with Leschetizky.

Although Hambourg made many incredible recordings, he played a profuse number of wrong notes. Gabrilowitsch, on the other hand was a more refined pianist. He studied with Rubinstein in St. Petersburg and won the Rubinstein Prize in 1894 and finished his studies with Leschetizky after Rubinstein’s death. He made his debut in Berlin in 1896.

Gabrilowitsch was a much-admired man and musician. He was slim, aristocratic- looking and often sat quietly at the piano and coaxed it rather than pound the instrument when he played. He commanded an unusual variety of nuance and played with the utmost musical elegance. Critics often raved about his tone and his singing touch.

He specialised in Romantic music like most of Leschetizky’s students, as well as with a great deal of Russian repertoire and a few Mozart concertos. One of his specialties was to give concerto series, nineteen concertos at four concerts. He started doing it in 1914 and continued to do so intermittently until his death. He was also one of the first great pianists who recorded chamber music. 

Two of Leschetizky’s pupils who attracted attention at the turn of the century were Josef Slivinski and Martinus Sieveking. Slivinski was Paderewski’s rival in England. His steel fingers were always elastic. He retired in 1918 and settled in Warsaw to teach. In his concert days, he was admired for his playing of Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt.

Ignaz Friedman

Ignaz Friedman and Benno Moiseiwitsch were the most brilliant of Leschetizky pupils. They both came out at the same time, but Friedman was one of the most unusual pianists of the century who displayed remarkable gift from the beginning. At eight he went to Leschetizky and worked with him for four years. He later said the student had ceased to be a student and had become an artist. When Friedman officially launched his career with his debut in Vienna in 1904, his program consisted of three concertos – the Brahms’s D minor.

He became a very busy pianist giving over three thousand concerts all over the world. He went to Australia during the outbreak of World War II and never returned to Europe. He concertized in Indonesia, New Zealand, and Australia. A few years before his death, he lost control of his left hand and so he spent his time composing.

In his youth, his playing was prone to uncontrolled banging but as he matured, he was able to control his fingers, and whatever he did was because he specifically wanted to do so. He played Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude with magnificent conception where he would run his left-hand arpeggios with tremendous speed –running the notes together so that they slurred. His accent, rhythms and volcanic approach unsettled the conservative listeners. He was powerful, unusual, and an original pianist, sometime erratic but always fascinating and always full of imagination and audacity. He was never a headliner as Paderewski, Hoffman and Rachmaninoff were.

Moiseiwitsch, won the Rubinstein Prize at the age of nine before going to Leschetizky. His recitals immediately established him as an elegant pianist and one with ‘natural’ sense with strain or effort. The piano being an extension of his arms and hands. He played with subtlety and fluency. His technique dropped in his later years, but the musical impulse was always present. His freedom of playing always tempered by his impeccable musicality.

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