“He payed Bach like he was composing it.”
First publication of recital recordings made in Italy, 1958-1986.
1-6 English Suite no. 2 in A minor
7-8 Well Tempered Clavier Book II: Prelude and Fugue in D minor
9-15 Partita no. 5 in G
16-17 (arr. Liszt) Organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor
18-23 Partita no. 2 in C minor
- English Suite no. 2 in A minor: Prelude
- English Suite no. 2 in A minor: Allemande
- English Suite no. 2 in A minor: Courante
- English Suite no. 2 in A minor: Sarabande
- English Suite no. 2 in A minor: Bourées 1 and 2
- English Suite no. 2 in A minor: Gigue
- WTC Book II: Prelude and Fugue in D minor: prelude
- WTC Book II: Prelude and Fugue in D minor: fugue
- Partita no. 5 in G: Preambulum
- Partita no. 5 in G: Allemande
- Partita no. 5 in G: Courante
- Partita no. 5 in G: Sarabande
- Partita no. 5 in G: Tempo di minuetto
- Partita no. 5 in G: Passapied
- Partita no. 5 in G: Gigue
- (arr. Liszt) Organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor: prelude
- (arr. Liszt) Organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor: fugue
- Partita no. 2 in C minor: Sinfonia
- Partita no. 2 in C minor: Allemande
- Partita no. 2 in C minor: Courante
- Partita no. 2 in C minor: Sarabande
- Partita no. 2 in C minor: Rondeau
- Partita no. 2 in C minor: Capriccio
Bach’s music became everpresent in the life of Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993), beginning with his first piano lessons at age three and a half. He was initially taught by his mother, who had been a pupil of Karol Mikuli, Chopin’s assistant. The earliest reference to Horszowski’s playing comes from Cyrill Kistler, the composer, pedagogue, and friend of Richard Wagner’s who was one of Horszowski’s earliest teachers. In the Leipziger Tageblatt of August 17, 1899, Kistler wrote: “A child of seven years who can play all the compositions of Bach by memory and without defects! I asked this boy to transpose for me a work in minor and in other keys. How did he play this? To marvel at!” During that same month, the young pianist had taken part in a group recital held in Bad Kissingen, Germany, playing a Two-Part Invention by Bach and the Chant de l’alouette from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons.
When auditioning in 1899 for the eminent pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915, a pupil of Czerny), Horszowski chose to play Bach’s B-minor French Suite and was accepted. Leschetizky entreated his pupils to practice no more than three hours daily (“four if you are lazy,” he once conceded). This advice was well-suited to the young boy, who was also studying violin at the time. Horszowski settled in Vienna with his mother and sister, and remained with Leschetizky until 1905.
While touring in Italy in 1908, the sixteen-year-old Horszowski played for the composer and librettist Arrigo Boito, who was struck with this major talent and soon became a friend. At the Milan Conservatory, Horszowski performed Eugen D’Albert’s transcription of Bach’s organ Passacaglia, to much acclaim.
When he moved to Paris in 1910, Horszowski frequently visited Pablo Casals, whom he had met in 1906. In their first musical encounter, the two had sat together at the piano and, with one hand each, read through Bach’s French Suites; then Casals played an unaccompanied Bach Suite on the cello for Horszowski, who was profoundly impressed. Casals soon introduced Horszowski to some of the era’s foremost musical thinkers, among them Donald Francis Tovey, Emanuel Moor, and Jean HurÈ. When in May of 1913 Horszowski performed a group of Preludes and Fugues from Book II of theWell-Tempered Clavier during a solo recital in Paris at the Salle des Agriculteurs, HurÈ subsequently wrote Horszowski his impressions of the concert, praising a Beethoven sonata while confiding: “I understand Bach’s works in a completely different way, but offer homage to your exquisite sensibility, your musicality and your admirable technique. It is an incontestable mastery.”
Tovey advised Horszowski to study all of Bach’s keyboard works in the Bischoff edition, as well as the Scarlatti sonatas edited by Longo, Mozart’s piano concertos, Haydn’s string quartets, and the chamber music of Brahms. During a visit to England, Tovey brought Horszowski to Windsor Castle one evening to hear the organ of St. George’s Chapel played by Walter Parratt, who performed Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor for his two guests. Years later, Horszowski would be present in 1938 when Tovey, then Dean of the University of Edinburgh, conferred honorary doctorates to Casals and Albert Schweitzer, both of whom performed at the ceremonies.
At Tovey’s urging, Horszowski began learning the Bach Partitas. After he played the Fourth (in D major) for the violinist Christian Larapidie, his listener enthused that Horszowski was born for such music, and that he ought to drop all other repertory and play Bach exclusively. Contact with pathbreaking musicians continued as Horszowski met Wanda Landowska and Adolf Busch at the home of Casals. An important collaboration with Busch developed through the following decades as Horszowski performed with Busch’s ensemble, once appearing as harpsichordist on their recording of a group of Handel’s Concerti Grossi.
Horszowski’s repertoire eventually included most of Bach’s important works, yet for some reason he never played the Goldberg Variations publicly. And regrettably, he made far too few recordings of Bach’s works. The English Suite No. 5 in E minor was recorded in 1950 at the first Prades Festival. After having presented Casals with a complete set of Bach’s works, Horszowski had helped influence him to organize the Festival and return to public performance from his self-imposed moratorium in protest of the Franco dictatorship in Spain. The Suite was recorded again when the artist was in his nineties, along with the French Suite in E major and the Bach-Liszt organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor.
By 1978, the eighty-six-year-old Horszowski had completed a recording of the entire Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier and intended to finish Book II, when the record company abruptly canceled the project without explanation – a great disappointment to Horszowski. Although the first eight Preludes and Fugues had been taped to his satisfaction, at this writing they remain lost. The D-minor Prelude and Fugue heard here, from a recital in 1985, is one of the rare surviving examples of Horszowski playing from Book II. * Mieczyslaw Horszowski wrote but one essay during his life (on Mozart, published on Arbiter CD 104). Another glimpse of his ideas and teaching methods exists in a (recorded) lesson he gave to his student Li Jian in 1989 at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia, on the G-major Partita.
Before Jian plays, Horszowski comments: “I am curious. You said you have discovered new things.” Jian replies that he had listened to a recording of a Bach Partita, played on the harpsichord by Wanda Landowska, and that he wishes to try a slower tempo in the Preludio. When he begins, Horszowski interjects: “The pedal for me changes the sonority. Wanda Landowska doesn’t use the pedal, she doesn’t have it on the harpsichord.” At the end of the Preludio, Horszowski analyzes Jian’s approach to the movement: “This gives me the impression that you are playing something written a century later than Bach, in the time of Clementi.” As Jian continues, Horszowski offers suggestions by singing aloud phrasings, accents and syncopations, indicating where one might briefly pause, and how to subtly manipulate touch and dynamics, especially when approaching sectional cadences, advice which Jian promptly incorporates in his playing.
When the Allemande commences with a slow, elegant pace, Horszowski points out that eight beats would result rather than four, making it necessary to adopt a faster tempo. He indicates that Bach’s treatment of these dances often required a specific touch, such as legato or portamento in the Allemande; the Courante played in staccato; very little staccato in the Sarabande – mostly legato and portamento; the Passapied a mix of legato and staccato; Gavottes and BourÈes mainly staccato, and the Gigues a combination of various legatos and staccatos.
After working on the Allemande, Horszowski remarks, “The next movement is the Corrente [Horszowski uses the Italian name] and I wish you will give me the same pleasure as you did with the Allemande.” Here he suggests that a less rapid tempo, with heavier accentuation, would result in the dance becoming “more manly. I think this is a strong Corrente.” As Jian playes, Horszowski emphasizes the outer structure by indicating the highly accented beats.
The Sarbande’s elusive opening becomes vividly clear when Horszowski sings out the phrasing as one would bow a string instrument. (He once mentioned to this writer how greatly influenced he was from having heard Casals play the Sarabandes of the cello suites.)
In the Passapied, Horszowski transforms its intricate and ornamented opening into a simplified legato phrase, clarifying the tangle of melodic notes and embellishments. In contrast, he demonstrates how several consecutive left-hand figures in the Gigue which support a right-hand theme might be accented on the first note of each group, giving the part a double role: These flowing groups of even notes no longer remain an accompaniment, as the accents help expose an otherwise unsuspected layer of polyphony.
Horszowski’s comments are an illuminating guide in listening to his own interpretation of the dances. When he once mentioned the G-major Partita to his wife Bice Costa, she noted his words in her diary on November 6, 1988: “In me, il fraseggio canta con violenza.” (In me the phrasing sings with violence). * Apart from the Rome performance of the Fifth Partita, all of the works heard here were preserved from concerts given from 1983-1986 in the church of San Martino, in Castagno d’Andrea, a remote mountain town in Tuscany’s Alto Mugello region. A seasoned mountaineer, Horszowski enjoyed the village, the church’s acoustics and its piano, and he was fond of the parish priest, Don Bruno Brezzi, who often invited him to take part in their music series. These circumstances provided a setting which inspired Horszowski to play at his very best, even to revive the A-minor English Suite, a work he had not programmed in decades: It was the final occasion in his life when Horszowski performed a major work that he had first played in Turin in 1919. Father Brezzi privately recorded all of Horszowski’s recitals, single-handedly preserving them for posterity. We are grateful to him and to Bice Horszowski Costa for their kind permission to publish these unique documents.
Note: Bice Horszowski Costa has almost completed editing Horszowski’s diaries and his family’s correspondence, which will be published in Italian and English editions.
Allan Evans C1998