Historical interpretations of Friderick Chopin works

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Wilhelm Kempff - biography


Wilhelm Kempff, a German pianist and composer, born on 25 November 1895 in Jüterborg, Brandenburg, and died on 23 May 1991 in Positano, Italy. He came from a distinguished family of Lutheran church musicians. He started piano lessons at the age of four with his father, a cantor and an organist, and continued learning under Ida Schmidt-Schlesicke. The great improvisations and talent of the nine-year-old Kempff, who played by ear and transposed the fugues from the Bach Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, enchanted Georg Schumann, the director of the Berlin Singakademie. It was thanks to him that Kempff got into Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he started learning piano under Heinrich Barth, Karol Tausig and Hans von Bülow's pupil, and took composition classes under Robert Kahn, Johannes Brahms' pupil. In 1907 he made his first public appearance at the Palast Barberini in Potsdam, delivering excellent improvisations on two themes given to him by the audience. From 1914 he continued his studies under Barth and Kahn at a higher music school in Berlin, at the same time taking university lectures in philosophy and the history of music. Between 1916 to 1917 Kempff accompanied the Berliner Hof- und Domchor as a pianist and organist during concerts in Germany and Scandinavia. In 1918 he debuted with an orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker. As a chamber musician he performed with Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Pierre Fournier and Mstislav Rostropowich. He gave concerts in Europe, South America and Japan. His first London performance took place in 1951, and his New York debut was in 1964. He gave his last public performance in Paris in 1981. Kempff boasted an incredible musical memory and improvising skills. He was called "prince of piano", and was considered to be one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. An excellent Beethovenist, he recorded all of his sonatas and concerts. He was also an excellent interpreter of pieces by Bach, Mozart, Schubert (he was the first to record a full set of his piano sonatas), Schumann, Brahms, Chopin and Liszt. His performances were fulfilled with spiritual maturity, his playing was noted for sonorous tone, flexible clarity of the melodic line, adherence to the music text, reflective mood and lack of unnecessary virtuosity. His compositional output includes four operas, an oratory, two symphonies, a violin and piano concerto, chamber pieces, songs, and transcriptions of pieces by Bach and Mozart. In 1952 he published 7 volumes of Schumann’s piano pieces. He is the author of Unter dem Zimbelstern: das Werden eines Musikers (1951) and the authobiography Was ich hörte, was ich sah : Reisebilder eines Pianisten (1981). He was also involved in teaching: between 1924 and 1929 he taught master classes at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart, from 1931 to 1941 he gave lectures at summer school in Potsdam , and from 1957 he organized and taught annual Beethovenian courses in his villa in Positano. His pupils included Marie-Françoise Bucquet, Eric Heidsieck, John Lill, Mitsuko Uchida, and Annette Servadei.

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