Classical Piano Performance Preparation—
Leschetizky to Raab
The Juilliard School
Being linked via Alexander Raab—her Professor, Wanda Krasoff—my Professor—to a tradition that descended directly from Ludwig van Beethoven himself, handed down through Carl Czerny, and Theodor Leschetizky, including Franz Liszt; Alexander Raab studied with Leschetizky at the Vienna Conservatory and was acquainted with Brahms. I am very thankful and grateful to Wanda Krasoff; reviewed by Harold C. Schonberg, Miles Kastendieck, The New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, Ignace Paderewski (Rancho San Ignacio), Josef Hofmann (Curtis Institute), Arthur Rubinstein (Los Angeles). She was my primary classical piano performance Professor.
Classical Piano Performance
Professor Wanda Krasoff
Musical Family Tree for
→BIOGRAPHY: PIANISTAlexander Peskanov: On the musical family tree, Yesipova was a pupil of Leschetizky, and she was also a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1893, until her death in 1914. She was a firm believer in the artistic and technical aspects of the Leschetizky School.
She believed that freedom of movement along with “active fingers, target-prepared chords, slicing octaves and the development of good taste” would lead to graceful, even, and light playing. In addition, both Leschetizky and Yesipova were not only some of the finest virtuosos in the world, but also were composers who wrote some of the most magnificent pages in the history of piano playing—of course, Rachmaninoff and Profkofiev.
Professor Alexander Peskanov, a concert pianist and composer, appeared as soloist with the London Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, National Symphony and orchestras of Baltimore, St. Louis, Houston, Utah and others. Concertized in 48 states and 20 countries on four continents.
Recipient of the ASCAP awards for music theater compositions. He graduated from the Stolyarsky School of Music, Odessa, Ukraine, and received his graduate-level degree from The Juilliard School in New York.
“ A powerful player with a temperment and a virtuoso flair. ”
Reviewed by and press acclaim, The New York Times
“ It’s not an elegant phrase, but I will use it anyway: we were blown away! Peskanov’s playing sweeps the listener along. His Rachmaninoff Third [piano] Concerto has us breathing with every phrase, climbing the heights of every climax. If you ever get a chance to hear Peskanov perform Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude”, we have one word of advice. ‘Go!’ ”
Reviewed by and press acclaim, Clavier
Doing Classical Piano Performance—
How I Got Started
Before I tell you about me, I am very grateful and thankful to every person that has assisted me in doing research, training, and writing my biography. Without their help and assistance, I could not have done it.
About how I got started doing classical piano performance, this is my story and biography. My mom was attending a Juilliard graduate-level program and decided to take some time away from her musical studies. Previously, she was a classical piano performance major, during her undergraduate program. Since I was almost born at Juilliard—The Juilliard School—in Manhattan, New York, at the end of May, I started studying classical piano performance music before I was born. Music and classical piano performance has always been a part of my life, including Juilliard.
A quick photo taken of my hands on
Steinway B piano; October 19, 2017.
My mom encouraged me to do another major, including sports and other extracurricular activities. Also, she demanded to me that I learn English, hits keys to the rock bottom of the keyboard no matter what, to have strong fingers, Juilliard, Bach, Czerny 299 and 740, typing skills, writing skills, and (the paradox) not be a pianist. Now I am really laughing, because she realized she was unable to stop me from being a pianist. There was nothing she could do to stop me (even I could not stop myself), since I was born with an already established talent, however. I agree with her that education builds solid pianistic skills in the long run, so I have no regrets! There is some natural force of nature in me—maybe it is Godlike or Mindlike—not human, but what turns me on about being a pianist is the sound that comes out of the piano when I play it. I really love music and playing piano. I love how music makes me feel. I also love how complicated all the components to doing music are the required details to remembering everything. I learned at any early age to memorize details. Then you never have to look it up. You just know it, to understand it, and to give all that performance energy to great audiences around the world.
She felt it was important to be a well-rounded person. She encouraged me to play other instruments, which I did. In the end, she finally told me I should just follow my heart. I used to go to her for advice on fingerings. She seemed to be able to give that information to me quickly. I realized I was best suited for the piano. At age 4, when a babysitter stated: Your hands are so huge little fellow—what are you going to do when you grow up? I replied back: I will be a pianist without any doubt.
While I studied other instruments, like clarinet (many years of private lessons) and bass clarinet, (it was actually too big for me to carry around, though I did carry it to school), guitar and singing, played in orchestra in grade school and junior high school, and singing. In junior high school, we did a very successful performance of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. Previously, when I played bass clarinet, in second grade, I had a solo piece where I had to count 40 measures and come in on time (I came in on time; of course, the conductor helped—I was diligent and kept looking at the conductor to make sure I was really coming in on time). I also took music theory in high school. The other instrument that I was attracted to was playing the oboe.
In addition, I used to do a lot of acting when I was 4 years old (I used to dig up the appropriate wardrobe that fit the role I would play from taking parts off of the television; then I worked seriously on reproducing and articulating the character), however. I think acting is really good to do. It made me reach deep down into my soul to bring the character to life.
The truth is that I am a pianist. If I was not a pianist, I would definitely be an actor. The truth is that I realized the piano is the only instrument that I would be happy and enjoy playing. It is all I think about; the tonal qualities one may achieve on the piano are infinite. I love everything about the piano and playing it.
I told my mom it did not work for me to play other instruments. She finally agreed it was to be. I did have more than a few lessons with my mom. It just naturally happened. In high school for a few years, I studied with Ruth Brant in San Jose (her husband LeRoy Brant was a well-known personality in
California’s cultural scene, a correspondent with Albert Schwietzer and Jean
Sibelius, founder of the Institute of Music in San Jose in 1917). She also had a lovely Steinway A-III piano that I really loved to perform on at lessons and recitals; her Steinway was professionally prepared and maintained for performers, however.
I did not feel I was getting enough advanced training to better pursue a career as a pianist; though she suggested and candidly recommended, she thought I was naturally talented enough to prepare and audition and successfully attend Juilliard. She really stressed the importance of being very familiar with scales and arpeggios. In a word, I take practising and learning new pieces very seriously. It is fair to say that I did major and do have a very strong emphasis in classical piano performance, through private piano lessons. I am very dedicated on moving forward for a great career in the performing arts.
I personally sought out and aspired to study with way more advanced Juilliard-trained professors of classical piano performance; I appreciate, though, all the basic skills I learned from her. I worked on preparing auditions specific to my objectives and goals as a pianist. When I was in high school, I bought an excellent recording of Chopin Polonaises, performed by Garrick Ohlsson, pianist. Yes, I was impressed by his awesome playing and expert command of the piano and rich with tonal qualities. I was very deeply inspired and moved by his playing. In a good way, he motivated me immensely and professionally (as much as Arthur Rubinstein did for so many years!). My mom heard the recording playing and knew (as she told me) he studied with Lhévinne at Juilliard.
During this period of time, I also attended more than a few master classes with Karl Ulrich Schnabel (his father was Artur Schnabel). I got a lot out of attending and was deeply inspired. My first real mentor in music was a violin teacher, friend, and of great assistance to me for expanding my awareness about a career in music. She told me never worry about doing music—just jump in and do it—never be discouraged.
I met my Professor, Wanda Krasoff, because the Juilliard fellow (he studied with Alton Jones at Juilliard)—I was studying with—insisted and recommended me. She asked me to come listen to her play Mozart at her public performance, to see if I liked her playing. Of course, I did enjoy her concert.
Rappoldi—Pupil of Liszt and Taught Ryss—
Professor Krasoff’s First Professor in San Francisco
Her playing was, in a good and fair word, compared to Liszt (I think that is because, as she told me, when she was young, studied with a Professor that had studied with Liszt; she studied with him in San Francisco for five years—Rappoldi, a Liszt pupil and her teacher in San Francisco was Ryss.
I was recommended and told to study with her, since she had studied with Alexander Raab for 25 years. Truthfully, her technical ability instantly and precisely commanded the keyboard without much effort! She related to me that she considered the Steinway piano the best piano for a serious pianist. She had a very well maintained Steinway grand piano that was always in perfect tune. She preferred her action regulated on the lighter side. How she played in performance is what she sincerely taught her students.
She encouraged us all to be original in our thought process and demonstration of classical piano performance. I do believe she maintained the same professional standard as Professor Raab. When I first started with her, she insisted I play the same piece over and over again, until it was perfect. She stressed great importance on scales, arpeggios, chords, cadences, keyboard harmony, weight transference method, correct hand positions, legato tone, proper stage demeanor, and Czerny; she also insisted that things be done right and no excuses.
Highly Selective Audition Process
When I met her, I took the audition. In our phone interview, she warned me that it was a highly selective audition process. She expected me to know already every major/minor scales and arpeggios (required). I basically played current pieces I was working on at the time. We talked about what I had done with other teachers, like Czerny, Hanon, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, 20th century genre pieces, and different types of scales and arpeggios. She just wanted to know if I was dedicated enough to practice the many hours required every day. She informed me she had limited space left in her schedule and others auditioning. Her teaching program had a high impaction rate.
After I passed the rigorous audition, she accepted me as her pupil. I think I am what you might call the unplanned pianist. Additionally, I worked with the professional Juilliard graduates and Professors. We agreed on all the original concepts I learned from the all the Juilliard-trained piano performance teachers, including my mom. Every Professor I ever auditioned for gave a highly selective audition process for me.
I was thrilled at my piano lessons, when she pulled out all her old photos of her Professor Raab with Brahms, and Arthur Rubinstein. Some lessons honestly lasted 6-8 hours, with lunch and coffee. Pretty quickly on, we all realized I needed at least 2 lessons a week, if not more.
While she did not tell me what to do, she always talked about Juilliard and preparation for lessons, and she instructed me to always take a very serious professional standard and opinion about it—a certain responsibility for every scale, arpeggios, notes, and every piece of music performed—never to arrive at a lesson unprepared. We discussed other possibilities for scales and arpeggios, in parallel and contrary motion (3rds, 6ths, and 10ths), including keyboard harmony and how it relates. And then how we could apply this all to complex performance pieces.
She also introduced me to Justin Blasdale, a former student. He studied with Rosina Lhévinne, and he made his successful Carnegie Hall debut; many of her students also studied at Juilliard with Rosina Lhévinne; Professor Raab was a professional colleague of her husband. Other Professors I took piano lessons from studied with Adele Marcus (she studied with Josef Lhévinne) at Juilliard.
Look at the score and hear how it speaks to you. If it is not your piece, then drop it. Play what you love to perform. Communicate with your audiences, and they will love you. With regard to practicing, take care to rest when it is required. I tend to become so absorbed that I find longer hours do not concern me. I always take breaks and hydrate with water and eat food. It should turn out to be a very natural process, to practice with care and lots of love.
Others in my family that I am related to, like Meryl Streep, and many others have had very successful careers in the performing arts; Yale School of Drama.
Other family members graduated from and attended:
Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Columbia University, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, University of Michigan, U.C. Berkeley, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale University, San José State University, University of the Pacific, The Juilliard School, Stanford University, and many other fine colleges and universities.
I also studied with another Professor that studied with these teachers: Ernst von Dhonanyi, Alexander Tcherpnin, Paul Pierre McNeely, John Crogan Manning, Wager Swayne, and Rosalyn Tureck (Leventritt mansion on the left side of photo in San Francisco, California). Additionally, I studied with other Juilliard teachers. One Professor sat in class at Juilliard with Van Cliburn, John Browning, and he often remarked how everyone knew he was a great pianist; each time he did his piano performance class at Juilliard, which showed his progress as a performer.
Van Cliburn playing Rachmaninoff:
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Van Cliburn playing Liszt
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12
I am also very thankful and grateful to Peggy Salkind—former Department Chair Piano at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Juilliard graduate—for all her assistance, with regard to my classical piano performance contract. The original plan was developed by me, Wanda Krasoff, and my mother (Mary Heitman). The main contributor was my primary Professor, Wanda Krasoff; I also consulted with other Juilliard teachers and Professors.
Her (Peggy Salkind) very kind support and willingness to assist me was way beyond and above many other Professors. She never discouraged me. In fact, she agreed to encourage me. That was very nice of her. I enjoyed her story about when she met Arthur Rubinstein, after his concert at a hotel. She related to me he had very large hands and a strong grip. She met him by chance through a friend. She told me she really enjoyed chatting with him; it was a pleasant experience. I appreciate her attention to detail at my piano lessons with her. She was very helpful and encouraging to me—something a friend never forgets.
Leventritt mansion on the left side of photograph
in San Francisco, California—
where I lived and practised on the Steinway,
on the second floor, facing Alta Plaza park
Both of my piano performance Professors received training directly from Professors that had studied with Franz Liszt, however. Her primary piano performance Professor was Alexander Raab; samples of his piano performance playing, The Condon Collection (Raab; Figure 1).
Biography for Professor Alexander Raab
Alexander Raab (1882-1940) was a Hungarian-American pianist and distinguished piano Professor. He was born in Győr (also known as Raab), Hungary.
He studied at the Vienna Conservatory under Hans Schmitt (1835–1907), Robert Fuchs and Theodor Leschetizky and became acquainted with Johannes Brahms. He presented recitals with the violinist Jan Kubelík in England, Russia, Germany and France.
He emigrated to the United States of America in 1915, and became Head of the Piano Department at Chicago Musical College, before moving to Berkeley, California, where he became esteemed as one of the best piano Professors on the West Coast.
He performed concertos with the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Vienna, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, and London Symphony Orchestra. Leopold Godowsky dedicated his 1931 transcription of Adolf von Henselt’s Etude in F-sharp major (Si oiseau j'etais), Op. 2, No. 6, to Raab.
He made a small number of early Duo-Art and Welte Mignon piano roll recordings, with music of Chopin (Sonata No. 1 in B-flat minor Funeral March), Liszt (Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 in E minor), Mozart, Brahms, and some salon pieces by minor composers. These recordings appear on CD alongside such distinguished names as Alfred Cortot, Guiomar Novaes, Ignaz Friedman, Arthur Friedheim, Vladimir de Pachmann, Ferruccio Busoni, Josef Hofmann and Harold Bauer.
Students of Professor Raab
He also taught Ernest Hutcheson. He would become Dean and then President of The Juilliard School, and he taught eminent pianists that included: Bruce Hungerford and Abram Chasins.
About The Juilliard School Classical Piano Performance Program
Introduction to The Juilliard School
Other students of Professor Raab included:
Ernst Bacon, Vera Bradford, George J. Buelow, Muriel Kerr, Mortimer Markoff, Sumner Marshall, Robert Owens, and Allan Willman. His pupils also studied under teachers such as Alfred Cortot, Nadia Boulanger, Rudolph Ganz, Percy Grainger, and Paul Wells.
Documentary: Imagine Being a Concert Pianist
Introduction to Documentary: Imagine Being a Concert Pianist
Arthur Rubinstein (20:55) says that there is really no method, and I have personally come to the inner realization there is really no method, except a systematic approach works better. One has to dig deep down to their inner soul, which is quite subjective.
Good to remember that his pianistic pedigree dates back to the great masters. As a student of Professor Karl Heinrich Barth, Rubinstein inherited a renowned pedagogical lineage: Barth was himself a pupil of Liszt, who had been taught by Czerny, and who had in turn been a pupil of Beethoven.
He tries to help a student discover his/her own unfoldment; I agree, however. I do feel a solid foundation from the many basics is essential, not to skip. I personally feel and think that having a creative imagination is an asset to any pianist.
To imagine something in consciousness, this gives one the ability to visualize about it. I mean to think about how it feels to do whatever one wants to do. How does it make you feel? Well, it makes me feel good. I started to realize that when I imagine things in life that they just seem to fall into place. Imagine how it feels to get up on stage and perform. I feel really pretty good about it.
Leschetizky to Raab—Classical Piano Performance Preparation
My Professor, Wanda Krasoff, also taught me the method of weight transference (original method handed down from Leschetizky to Raab at the Vienna Conservatory), which is useful with regard to creating a singing tone and tonal qualities on the Steinway that sing (photographs and/or paintings of Beethoven, Czerny, Leschetizky, Paderewski, Liszt, Brahms, and Raab).
Ludwig van Beethoven
Theodor Leschetizky with his students;
Alexander Raab’s Professor at the Vienna Conservatory.
Ignace Jan Paderewski
He studied with Leschetizky.
Taught Rappoldi and Ryss was his pupil;
Ryss was Wanda Krasoff’s Professor in San Francisco.
Alexander Raab and Brahms were friends at
the Vienna Conservatory, when he
studied classical piano with Leschetizky.
Update—Masters of the Roll—Piano Played by Alexander Raab
I obtained and listened to a rare, original, recording, by Alexander Raab, from the reproducing piano by The Great Masters of Classical Piano, 1904-1935, Disc 26. After I heard Alexander Raab play on this new CD, I could not believe what I was listening to in his recording on the CD. His playing by far exceeded my expectations. His technical command of the piano is sincere and filled with clear, clean playing. I am very thankful for the legacy passed down to me.
The phrasing is spot-on right, and very expressive with big bold tonal qualities. From listening to his piece of Brahms, it is obvious that he knew Brahms from the way he plays the piece. Additionally, the way he slides in and out of chords and complicated runs, commanding the keyboard with his swift and quick technique is well thought out before he performs. Using the weight transference method obviously eases him into a more comfortable command of his playing. It is quite amazing to me. From the CD Masters of the Roll, Disc 26, piano performance by Alexander Raab:
Mozart: Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397
Schutt: Harlequin’s Serenade, Op. 48, No. 5
Schutt: Pierrot’s Dream, Op. 48, No. 5
Schutt: Reverie, Op. 34, No 5
Schutt: Tender Aveu (Promise), Op. 59, No. 2
Brahms: Waltz in A Flat Major, Op. 39, No. 15
Liszt: Soirres De Vienne, No. 6 in A Major
Chopin: Sonata in B Flat Minor, Op. 35, 1st Movement, Grave Doppio Movimento
Chopin: Sonata in B Flat Minor, Op. 35, 2nd Movement, Scherzo
Chopin: Sonata in B Flat Minor, Op. 35, 3rd Movement, Lento March Funebre and Presto
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 5 in E Minor “Heroic Elegy”
Indeed, my Professor gave all the distinct details through her private tutelage, which I found to be accurate.
While I often had two lessons a week, I stayed after for 5-6 hours. We would have lunch and talk for a few hours about music, composers, Professor Raab, piano performance standards, music theory, music history, and different approaches.
Also, her next door neighbor was a piano teacher. She would come over and play a piece or two for review for both of us. Wanda, stated: It was a good start, but you know dear you can play it better. Please play it again for us! That was good. Again, I think you can do better, so please play the piece over for us. Then she proceeded to give her review for improvements. When she left to go run errands, she trusted me to practice on her Steinway piano.
Piano Performance Professor Endorsed by Arthur Rubinstein
Professor Krasoff prepared performers for Professor Rosina Lhévinne at Juilliard. She had very high standards for her learners—especially with regard to achieving bell-like tonal qualities as well as accurate performances. She was acquainted with Josef Hofmann and Arthur Rubinstein in Los Angeles (Figures 3.1 and 3.2). While she received a full scholarship to attend the Curtis Institute of Music and study with Josef Hofmann, because her father was ill, she decided to stay in Berkeley and study with her Professor, Alexander Raab.
When she was a young child, she performed for Ignacy Jan Paderewski. His review of her playing was excellent. Many years later she performed for Arthur Rubinstein; he reviewed her performance. Again, his review of her performance was excellent.
To Wanda Krasoff, with all my best wishes for a fine career. Arthur Rubinstein
Review of My Piano Performance Professor—New York Debut
Wanda Krasoff, Pianist and Professor:
“ Her interpretations commanded respect for their general musicianship and efficiency. Miss Krasoff left no doubt she is an accomplished artist and a fine musician. ”
Reviewed by Harold C. Schonberg, The New York Times
Other Positive Reviews from Well-known Pianists and Critics
◼ Ignace Paderewski (Rancho San Ignacio) ◼ Josef Hofmann (Curtis Institute) ◼ Arthur Rubinstein (Los Angeles)
Two New York Town Hall Recitals
◼ Miles Kastendieck ◼ The New York Times ◼ New York Herald Tribune
“ Miss Krasoff is a remarkably honest musician and remarkably equipped in technique. ”
Of course, Professor Krasoff has numerous positive reviews from so many well-known critics that they cannot all be included.
Soloist with Orchestras
◼ Felix Borowski, Chicago Sun-Times ◼ Felix Borowski, Chicago Sun-Times ◼ Hilmar Grondahl, Portland Oregonian ◼ Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle ◼ William C. Glackin, Sacramento Bee
◼ Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle ◼ Amarillo Daily News ◼ Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle ◼ Alexander Fried, San Francisco Examiner ◼ Vancouver, (B.C.) Daily Province ◼ Vancouver (B.C.) News-Herald ◼ Garth Fanning, Sacramento Bee
Soloist Three Times on the Standard Hour
◼ San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Pierre Monteux) ◼ Portland Symphony Orchestra (Werner Janssen) ◼ San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Carmen Dragon)
Performed under the Following Conductors
◼ Artur Rodzinski ◼ Pierre Monteux ◼ Werner Janssen ◼ Thor Johnson ◼ Julius Rudel ◼ Carmen Dragon ◼ Antonia Brico ◼ George Schick ◼ Fritz Berens ◼ Orley See ◼ William Jackson
→BIOGRAPHY: MY PIANO PERFORMANCE PROFESSOR Wanda Krasoff was born in San Francisco—the third generation of her family to disclose extraordinary musical ability. Her father, of Czarist Russian nobility, was an operatic tenor who sang leading roles with Luisa Tetrazzini at the New Tivoli in San Francisco. Her uncle, a pupil of the great Anton Rubinstein and Moritz Moszkowski, was a celebrated pianist, composer, and conductor.
When very young, Wanda played for Paderewski and, in later years, for Arthur Rubinstein. Their reviews and endorsements for her talent as well as the advice and sharing of their musical knowledge, has made a lasting impression on her and her pupils. I was already a devoted fan of Arthur Rubinstein, and he was my favorite pianist of all and hero, since his piano playing made sense to me as a pianist.
The eminent Josef Hofmann offered her a scholarship to study with him at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, however. Upon the advice of Hofmann, she sought the guidance of the distinguished Hungarian pianist and pedagogue, Alexander Raab (studied with Leschetizky at the Vienna Conservatory and acquainted with Brahms), under whose careful tutelage she matured into an outstanding pianist. Through his teaching, she can trace her musical lineage back to Beethoven. Prior to studying with Raab, Wanda studied with a professor in San Francisco for 5 years; he studied with Liszt. During that period of time with that professor, many years were spent learning a formative and fluid and very solid technique.
Miss Krasoff has made numerous appearances as soloist, with symphony orchestras. The Grant Park concert was played to an audience of 15,000 and was broadcast nationally from coast-to-coast.
Solo appearances include two New York Town Hall recitals, also Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver, B.C., the University of California (both in Berkeley and Riverside) and the Carmel Bach Festival. She has toured the Southwest and has been heard frequently in recitals and as soloist with orchestras throughout California.
In addition, during her later years as a performer, she extended her tours to Japan. She also taught students, as a professor, at Holy Names University (of California and in Oakland), including private lessons at her piano studio located in Berkeley, California (2954 Claremont Avenue).
Many of her more advanced pupils attended/graduated from: the Eastman School of Music, The Juilliard School (studied with Rosina Lhévinne, made successful Carnegie Hall debuts and had successful careers in the performing arts), San Francisco State University, and also studied at other prestigious Ivy League universities, including Harvard University (for other majors). Signed and dated from the original poster/brochure from Wanda Krasoff, and I added in other pieces of information given in oral communication at piano lessons throughout the years.
Review of My Piano Performance Professor—New York Debut
Sari Biro, Pianist and Professor:
“ Sari Biro must be reckoned among the foremost women exponents of the keyboard of the time. ”
Reviewed by The New York Times
“ Among the encores was Liszt’s 15th Hungarian Rhapsody, the Rakoczy March. It has the probably not been played with so corrosive a flame since the days of Liszt himself. ”
Reviewed by The San Francisco Chronicle
→BIOGRAPHY: HUNGARIAN PIANISTSari Biro’s talent for the piano was evident by the age of four. Her first professional engagements were performances for the neighbors, and she was amply paid in candy. She soon began lessons at Budapest’s Fodor Music School with Gyorgy Kalman, who had studied with a pupil of Franz Liszt.
At thirteen, she performed the Chopin E-minor Concerto with the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Istvan Kerner conducting. Biro was awarded a scholarship to the Franz Liszt Royal Academy of Music, and received an Artist Diploma in 1930, at the age of twenty.
Of her graduation recital, Budapest’s Pesti Naplo wrote:
“She is a fully independent talent, whose artistic taste, lofty imagination and virtuosity secure her a distinguished place (among) the great pianists.”
Biro was heard throughout Europe in recitals and with orchestras in Berlin, London, Warsaw, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, The Hague, Zurich, Stockholm, Salzburg, Prague, Paris, and Vienna. She was also frequently featured on Hungarian Radio’s broadcasts, but her recordings of these performances were destroyed during World War II.
Biro immigrated to the United States of America in 1939 and gave her debut recital in New York at Carnegie Hall on May 6, 1940. The critics were unanimous in their praise, and these reviews launched her American career
The New York Times wrote:
“Sari Biro…must be reckoned among the foremost women exponents of the keyboard….” Soon after, she was a soloist in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.
In the ensuing years, Biro played hundreds of recitals in the United States, Europe, South America, Mexico, and Cuba; and was soloist with numerous orchestras. New York’s WABF, the first commercial radio station to broadcast live classical music on FM, inaugurated these broadcasts with thirteen weekly live recitals by Biro.
In 1949, she performed nine piano concerti in three consecutive programs at Carnegie Hall, the only woman to do so. She gave the New York premiere of the Milhaud Concerto No. 2 and Leo Weiner’s Concertino. Previously that year, the U.S. State Department named her the “most distinguished new citizen of the year.”
Subsequently, she appeared on television in New York, and presented a series of thirteen live programs on San Francisco’s Public Television station KQED. In the scripts she wrote for these telecasts, she discussed the works she played and explained her teaching philosophy.
In the mid-1950s, the U.S. State Department sponsored her on a tour of German cities. For the next two decades, Biro performed in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., and was invited by Indiana University’s School of Music to give master classes. She played her last New York recital at Tully Hall in 1972, and her last public recitals in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1980.
Sari Biro continued to teach privately in San Francisco, until August 1990, passionate about transmitting to future generations of pianists the knowledge acquired from a life-long study of music, and the wisdom derived from her years of performing.
Review of My Piano Performance from My Mother
Mary Heitman, Pianist and Professor:
“ Today your piano playing sounds like Horowitz. ”
Reviewed by Mary Heitman, Pianist and Professor
The Juilliard School
From age 4 to 18, she studied classical piano with her Sunday school teacher; her Professor had studied with a pupil of a pupil that studied with Robert Schumann. I guess that is why she learned the Schumann piano concerto. My mother graduated from San José State University with her degree in classical piano performance. Then to The Juilliard School graduate-level performance program (Figures 4.1, 4.2, and Figure 5. Getting ready for lessons, at age 4; Figure 7. She always spoke highly of her Professors at Juilliard, including her Professors at Columbia University.
Her finger points to the fugue in the music.
She studied with Professor Vernon de Tar at Juilliard and Professor Thomas Richner at Columbia University. The last piece she learned at Juilliard was the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach (Figure 6). She specialized in Bach—Baroque period of music. She learned the entire book of Bach for Toccatas and Fugues. I also remember that she used to play Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel.
Other pieces I remember that she played on the organ: Canon in D major by Johann Packelbel; Jesu bleibet meine freude (Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring) by Bach; Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29 by Bach; Trumpet Voluntary by J. Clarke; Alla Hornpipe by Handel; Concerto No. 6 by Handel; Concerto No. 10 by Handel; The Wedding March by Mendelsohn; Rondeau (Theme of Masterpiece Theatre) by Mouret. Of course, her vast repertoire is too long to list.
She played from a huge repertoire. I had to always turn pages for her; she made me learn to read music and turn pages on time. At Juilliard, my mother was a classical performance organ major. In New York, she also played at Radio City Music Hall.
She completed her graduate degree at University of the Pacific (she also attended Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley; she won the competition for a full scholarship at U.C. Berkeley, after graduating from college). She had the equivalency of two graduate-level degrees in music and performance. However, she also attended law school and had the LSAT requirement waived.
Classical Piano Repertoire My Mother Played for Me
During and prior to high school years, she performed Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, including the Schumann piano concerto in A minor and other concertos. Another piece my mother played for me often was the “Revolutionary” Étude by Chopin, and the “Cello” Étude by Chopin (she played the entire set; I remember these two she played for me), including the Italian Concerto by Bach. She also played Chopin Waltzes for me, including specifically the Chopin Waltz, Op. 69, No. 2. The other Chopin pieces she played often for me: Chopin Heroic Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53, and the Chopin Military Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1.
Other pieces included many Beethoven Sonatas (this made a very deep impression on me), Bach (Well-Tempered Klavier, French Suites, English Suites, etc.), Hadyn, and lots of Schumann. She was a child prodigy, playing difficult piano pieces at performance level, when age 4. I should also add that she could sight read any piece pretty much at performance level without too much practicing.
Required Technical Components for a Sure Piano Technique
However, she did not believe in practicing scales, arpeggios, or Czerny—a point we always disagreed on—since I believe scales and Czerny are required for learning and advancing pianistically. Oftentimes, I find myself practicing not only 2-4 hours a day, but I usually practice 8 to 10 hours a day. Though, at least, one should practice 2 to 4 hours a day.
These are important components to learn in parallel and contrary motion: scales and arpeggios, double thirds, double sixths, octaves, chromatic scales, broken chords, diminished chords, dominant seventh chords, runs, trills, embellishments, and glissandos.
Think about the application for: long passages, short passages, slow passages, allegro passages, fast—very fast—presto playing—faster than the speed of light, excellent staccatos—must be successfully accomplished prior to high-quality performances. I tend to spend time mentally to think about it, practicing everything first mentally, and thinking about how it makes me feel. If you evaluate yourself every time you play, then your piano playing gets better all the time. Evaluation is always an important component for superior piano playing, including a creative imagination.
I also recommend that a pianist practices on a Steinway B every day, including nothing less than a Steinway K (52-inch) upright.
While a Steinway piano cost much more to procure, it is the best piano for a serious and fiercely dedicated musician to practice on.
About the music room Steinway (Model B) grand piano: This magnificent 6’ 11” (211 cm) grand piano is often referred to as “the perfect piano.” It is a wonderfully balanced and versatile piano that does extremely well in intimate settings, teaching studios, and mid-sized venues.
Recommended Czerny Studies & Hanon
A few Czerny Studies recommended by my Professor Krasoff and me. There are no shortcuts to take in learning how to play piano. We do not believe in skipping Czerny, and many other technical exercises, for the mere sake of convenience or because it takes too much work at the piano. All of my Professors stressed the importance of learning foundational technical skills from the serious study of Czerny.
At least, count on really learning successfully a few well-known books, like: Easy Studies, Opus 139—Hundert Übungsstücke; Selected Studies, edited by Emil Liebling, Opus 299—Die Schule der Geläufigkeit—and Opus 740—Kunst der Fingerfertigkeit. A few suggested selections for learning more technique:
Opus 261, 821, 599, and 139 (Selections)
Opus 829, 849, 335, and 636
Opus 299 and 834
Opus 553 and 821 (Octaves)
Opus 92 (Toccata)
We also prefer the Hanon: Revisited—Contemporary Piano Exercises The Virtuoso Pianist (edited by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale); dedicated to Madame Rosina Lhévinne (Juilliard). We also recommend the Franz Liszt, Technische Studien.
Constantly, think about how well you will play all these pieces. Think about how to be a successful pianist, and you will demonstrate being a successful pianist. There are no obstacles to a determined person and his or her outcome in life.
Started Playing Piano at Young Age
At a young age, I studied classical piano performance with my mother. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area; Figures 8.1 and 8.2 (house where I grew up) and Figures 8.3 and 8.4 (house built by my family in 1704).
At age four, my first listening experiences were from records of my mother playing Beethoven Sonatas (from high school record recordings prior to Juilliard)—Arthur Rubinstein playing Chopin—and then Bach Brandenburg Concertos.
Classical Piano Repertoire I Enjoy
My specialized training includes the German School of Music; the Russian School of Music.
Composers and pieces I enjoy:
Bach, Hadyn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Czerny, Liszt, Chopin, Grieg, Franck, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Ravel, Szymanowski, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Villa-Lobos, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Albeniz, Ginastera, Granados, Falla, Mompou, as well as many other romantic composers (piano performance pieces are always a work in progress, even if I have not learned every piece of music—because I grew up in music, I am already very familiar with the score).
◼ Rachmaninoff piano concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30; ◼ Rachmaninoff piano concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18; ◼ Tchaikovsky piano concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23; ◼ Schumann piano concerto in A minor, Op. 54; ◼ Liszt piano concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, S. 124; ◼ Liszt piano concerto No. 2 in A major, S. 125; ◼ Beethoven piano concertos; and ◼ Bach piano concertos, including other concertos.
A contour drawing of my hands is shown below (Figures 17 and 18). Of course, Bach is very natural for me to play—I guess because the DNA from my mother impacted my piano performance ability. I love every composer and enjoy them all!
Dr. John Pobanz with Wife—My Grandparents
I am very thankful to grandparents for all their support in life and excellent advice (especially to my grandmother the fashion designer—my grandfather the Professor and mathematician.
Dissertation Title: A study of Cubic Surfaces by Means of Involutory Cubic Space Transformations; Dr. John Pobanz, Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley; University of Michigan); Figure 10.
When I was 10 years old, my grandmother gave me a copy of his thesis report to read. The other assignment from my grandmother was to assist her, helping her with odd tasks in her design studio, including helping clients, drafting up new design patterns, or checking out new color schemes.
I am very thankful to Arthur Rubinstein. He has always been a part of my life. I adore his piano performances. I listen to The Rubinstein Collection, when I have time. In a word, I have always felt that his performances speak directly to my heart—very exciting, daring, and excellent tonal qualities. Samples of his playing from The Condon Collection (Figure 11).
Since I learned the Leschetizky method of piano performance from my Professor (an excellent resource: The Leschetizky Method: A Guide to Fine and Correct Piano Playing), I believe that producing high-quality tonal replications on a Steinway is truly important to a legato and professional tone. I mean that and feel strongly—one should sing the tone out, playing with curved fingers—creating the most legato and smooth tone possible on the Steinway.
This is even important in the practice of scales, technical exercises, and arpeggios, including complicated passages. The phrasing must be done right; in a word, the pacing of the music being played must be accomplished correctly. The playing must be colorful and in proper context to the composer—always from the heart.
I was very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to obtain The Rubinstein Collection, which also comes with an excellent book (entitled: The Rubinstein Collection)—many great articles as well as stories about him. I respect his ability to perform in a way that really touches my soul, which has always delighted me and taught me many things.
A Tribute to Arthur Rubinstein
Introduction to the Spanish Dancing-Flamenco
Recommended Arthur Rubinstein Books
I recommend both of his books: My Young Years and My Many Years. I studied them during my high school years, and I found them to be a source of inspiration for me. All of my ideas about education, metaphysics, piano performance, and learning languages were directly formed from reading his books. The ideas presented to me from piano performance Professors (Juilliard teachers) developed my ability to perform—the perfection always demanded in doing piano performances was intense, incredible, perfectibility at its best—to say in the least (thank you, Juilliard).
Different Schools of Thought
There are many schools of differing thoughts, with great achievements, which should be recognized. A very metaphysical approach and more holistic attitude would be: “let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.”
Steinway Piano Preference
My preference is for a Hamburg Steinway piano. As an artist and concert pianist, I prefer the action and tone in the bass—in perfect tune—superb. If the Steinway is not in perfect tune, I cannot perform on it.
I do prefer a Steinway piano to practice on. This is an example of a fine Steinway grand piano: Steinway, Model O, 1917, entirely rebuilt by Steinway in New York; Figures 12.1 and 12.2, including the action on a Steinway piano, with new strings, and new chrome tuning pins; Figure 12.3 and Figure 12.4—very nice!
This 5’ 10 ¾” (180cm) Steinway grand piano has been a source of joy and inspiration since the very early 1900’s. Its sound is particularly warm and rich—far beyond what one would expect from a grand piano that is under 6 feet in length. The Steinway shown in the photographs was made in 1917 and rebuilt. In fact, a Steinway grand piano has 12,116 parts; Figures 12.5 and 12.6.
In 2002, mutual friends introduced me to Alan Ford. I am very thankful for Alan being my mentor and friend. During the completion of my MAEd Thesis Report, Alan assisted me. Without his help, I would not have graduated. Talking to him in England sometimes for 5-6 hours, listening to his jokes made me laugh all the time. I always enjoyed hearing his stories about acting and how he prepared for roles (Figure 13).
Yes, MacDuff—I am here to help you! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (back off!) and bark, bark, bark—let me protect you!
If I see another person on a skateboard, you know I will bark. If you leave and pick up your car keys, I will make you take me for a ride. MacDuff has a tendency to just bounce around all over the place. He has a green eye and a blue eye, which is unique for a Scottish terrier, black and brindle. As MacDuff told me that in Scots Gaelic: May you always be in the palm of God’s hand.
I am not as dumb you all of you humans tend to think. I speak pretty well. It was kind of funny the other day I dreamed that MacDuff was talking to me in a dream. He met me at the door. Then he started to to tell me what to do.
Then I thought to myself—wait a minute—MacDuff is talking to me in plain English, ugh! This must be a dream. For a dog, he speaks quite well; no college education from Harvard University, except at dog school (MacDuff University).
I thought it was kind of funny. MacDuff also told me he really prefers a Whopper hamburger from BK with mayo on both sides, including a coke and onion rings (with zesty sauce); Figure 14.
Scottish terriers (Scotties for short) originate in the northern part of Great Britain. Scotland was an independent country originally with it’s own King and Queen, until a royal marriage united Scotland with England. Much of the Scottish countryside—though beautiful—is mountainous and wild. The hardy Scottish dogs were capable of digging rabbits, rats and foxes out of burrows amongst the rocks and under thorn bushes where bigger dogs would be unable to go; Figures 15.1, 15.2, 15.3.
MacDuff told me in plain English, after a walk on Baker’s beach in San Francisco, California—I must have a hamburger. You know I am in charge. You must obey your dog. What could I say? If I do not cooperate, surely, I would get in trouble with MacDuff; Figure 15.1. MacDuff is in charge—I obey him!
San Francisco is one of the most beautiful places to live in the world—and I am super-duper (MacDuff told me to insert the word duper with super—super-duper MacDuff) grateful that I live in San Francisco. Also, I enjoy Palo Alto—very clean and beautiful city (MacDuff also enjoys Palo Alto and the Stanford Shopping Center, a Mall). MacDuff also likes walking around City Hall and downtown San Francisco; Figures 16.2, 16.3, 16.4.
This is where my Professor, Wanda Krasoff, gave her classical piano performance and was endorsed by Arthur Rubinstein, at his home in Los Angeles. She related to me, as she showed me the photograph, what a splendid day she had with Arthur Rubinstein and gourmet lunch. Previously, she had given her Town Hall debut in New York, reviewed by Harold C. Schonberg, The New York Times. She also met his wife and his family; they had cocktails together and enjoyed a lovely dinner in the evening.
Sari Biro Plays Bach: Partita No. 2 in C Minor,
One of my excellent classical piano performance Professors, Sari Biro. I also studied with her classical piano performance assistant Professor—her encouragement was very excellent and prompted that I should continue on. She gave me a piece to learn, and I memorized it in one day (in a few hours) after practicing. It was already done prior to the next lesson.
I became very involved with learning and enjoying what I was doing, so I did not feel it was a burden to do my homework. I think it was her way of testing me, to see how I approached learning. Sari Biro graduated from the Franz Liszt Academy, in 1930 with the Artist Diploma, and she made her debut in Carnegie Hall.
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli—Bach-Busoni—
Toccata & Fugue in D Minor
I have coached piano performance learners and concert pianists. It has been an excellent contribution to others that need advanced coaching in piano performance. A photograph of my hands, practicing for a concert and doing piano performance (Bach, Hadyn, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Liszt), is shown below (age 19), including contour drawing of my hands (Figures 17 and 18). The painting done by CK around that time, after a piano performance concert (Figure 19).
A photograph of Steven Heitman
practising for a concert, taken by
my mentor the violin professor.
An original ink contour drawing of hands,
drawn by Steven Heitman.
An original painting done by CK for
pianist Steven Heitman, after a concert.