Historical interpretations of Friderick Chopin works

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Wilhelm Backhaus - biography


Wilhelm Backhaus, a German pianist, was born on 26 March 1884 in Leipzig, and died on 5 July 1969 in Villach. He began systematic piano lessons at the age of seven. From 1891 to 1899 he attended the piano class of Alois Reckendorf at the Leipzig Conservatory. Upon his graduation he was admired for his superb sight-reading, as well as for his wide repertoire consisting of over 300 pieces. His musical education continued under Eugen d’Albert in Frankfurt-am-Main. In 1899 he debuted in Hamburg, and next year in London as an accompanist. In 1905 he won the Rubinstein Competition in Paris leaving renowned musicians such as Béla Bartók, Leonid Kreutzer, Leo Sirota and Michael von Zadora far behind. Following this success, Backhaus went on to build an international career as a virtuoso. His debut in Warsaw took place on 17 February 1911, and received enthusiastic acclaim of Warsaw’s critics who praised "his dazzling and balanced technique: pearly execution of the scales, graceful passages, extraordinarily equal and swift trills, efficient octaves, his hand does not miss any distant intervals, and still his playing is calm and does not show any tendency to show off with the technique, his tone is singing, and his touch velvet." In 1916 he reappeared in Warsaw with two concerts: on 28 March he played the Chopin Piano Concerto in F minor and a few virtuoso masterpieces, inter alia Liszt's Campanella, and on 5 April the Brahms Concerto in B flat major, the Schumann Fantasy in C flat major and over a dozen of Chopin's studies. "A vast programme," a critic wrote, "was performed throughout with an exceptionally uninhibited manner [...]. All the Chopin's studies were truly Chopin's without a single thread of this fine fabric missed. What's more, it was the Chopin full of volcanic element, terribly intense, billowing in the music fury [...]. His jagged dalliance with the piano and and the incredible ability to control his playing enhance Backhaus's artistry with a special charm.” On 19 and 24 January 1917 he gave two other performances in Warsaw, and one of the reviews read: "the heavenly beauty of the Beethoven Concerto in G major could not be interpreted better than Backhaus has done it. Neither do I imagine an interpretation which could be more gracious or subtle, and at the same time clear". On 16 March that year he debuted in Krakow. In the period between the wars he paid frequent visits to Warsaw: in 1919 (three times), 1924, 1930, 1931, 1932 (four times), 1934, and finally in 1937 sitting on the jury of the International Chopin Competition in February and March, and performing in November. Only on few occasions was he involved into teaching: between 1925 and 1926 Józef Hofmann gave him a position at the Curtis Institute of Music, and after the Second World War he gave master classes. He was the first pianist to record all the Chopin studies from opuses No 10 and 25. His pupils included Ellen Ballon, William Busch and others.

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