* BACKHAUS, Wilhelm(16th Mar. 1884 ~ 5th Jul. 1969)
[ Lion of the keyboard ]
[ Left Photo ] Backhaus at 22-year-old
The most of titans of piano we have known well played the Austro-German works(otherwise we had better say they were not ^^), but there are not many 'pure German' in them. Russian(Moiseivitch, Horowitz, S.Richter, Oborin), Jewish(Rudolf Serkin, Artur Rubinstein), English(Myra Hess, Curzon)... Edwin Fischer, Kempff, and Backhaus were rare German, moreover Backhaus was said he was born as an artist of German classic, and incarnation of German style.
was born in Leipzig. His mother, amateur pianist, began
his musical tutorage. He was taught by Aloys Leckendorf
at Leipzig Conservatory from 1891 to 1899. In 1898, he
went to Frankfurt am Main, becoming Eugene d'Albert's
pupil. D'Albert was pupil of Liszt and well-known for his
Beethoven interpretation. There are contradictory
opinions on this lesson to Backhaus' musical growing.
When he travelled in USA,
a critic reported "His technique was like god".
Of course his technical perfectness at young age is
surpassed by none, but I cannot say all of the Decca
recordings are technically perfect. 78s and monaurals are
flawless, but there are some technical problems in the
stereo recordings, especially after middle of 60s -
Beethoven's sonata No.3, last concert, etc. None
the less, I think many Beethoven and Brahms recordings of
his are deserved to become a creteria. His playing style
is often characterized as perfect technique, somewhat
fast tempi, straightness, and power. But most of all, his charming point
is soft and mature sonority and deep lyricism. The beauty of his tone is
undoubtedly first class in his contemporaries. I have
never heard more beautiful and heart-touching melody line
in Beethoven's sonata No.31(Klagender Gesang)
than his 1966 Decca recording. At the second movement of
Beethoven's sonata No.32, the contrast of the
breathtaking strain and relaxing is uncomparable to any
recording. Knowing not these aspects of his but only his
image as powerful pianist, you will be disappointed by
his late Decca records. I think it does not justice to
Backhaus that we criticize Backhaus if Gilels(called
Iron-pianist) is not criticized though his late
recordings are very lyrical and soft. It results from
misunderstanding Backhaus' artistic essences.
recording company was EMI and Decca, to which he belonged
after 1950. At HMV era, he recorded Brahms' piano works
under Gaisberg's control, and more works than Decca era.
Interestingly, there are very small amount of German
works in the acoustic era(1900~20), and they(Beethoven,
Brahms, Schumann, Schubert..) became more frequent only
after the advent of the electrical recording technique.
After it, his recording repertoire was almost restrained
in Austro-German works. All recordings of 78s era can be
bought only as Japanese issues, but Pearl, Biddulph, and
EMI fragmentarily did.
In his records, I
recommend Mozart No.27 and Brahms No.2 with B÷hm(in Legends
series) as the first.
He sculptured the natural beauty of No.27 as if we saw
the sunset, and played matchlessly in the mature
expression in No.2 though it's inferior to his former
recording with Schuricht at the technique. Note to the
manga fans ; in 'Kareshi Kanojo no Jijyo' by TSUDA
Masami, it is this recording(with B÷hm)
that Arima take to Yukino's home(the famous scene that
Yukino kicked Arima). The author's hobby is classical
music as the readers can see in the tankoubon notes, and
she must have known this record is very famous to the
It is not easy for us to find the key to the real reason he was able to stand at the top of artists' world for so long time, but there are some episodes. In his last years, he played with VPO in Vienna at a concert, where the audiences and even the orchestra members gave him thunder-like applause. After the concert, he said with a perplexed face. "Now I returned to the start-line of my life. When I stood at stage at 12, all told me that you were great considering age. Now, all say the same to me" And Backhaus had never depended on only his born-talent. They say there was a painting of very sad miner in his house. Whenever he was asked why he had so sad picture, he replied "Whenever I see the picture, I realize my labor is not harder than his". And when he was asked what was a key to his perfect technique, he said, "Only scale. Scale + alpha".
[ Right Photo ] Backhaus(by Decca)
(c) 1999~ , Youngrok LEE ; Link free, but please get my approval before you reuse, copy, or quote this materials.
Created ; 15th Dec. 1999