Nikolaus Lahusen: From Intuition to Reflection. In

From Intuition to Reflection

PETER FEUCHTWANGER, Vice-Chairman of The Massenet Society, in conversation with NIKOLAUS LAHUSEN in Üben ´ Musizieren, October 5th. I984. Translated from the German by Doris Baum and Suzette Childeroy Compton. THE MASSENET JOURNAL, No: 7. Spring. I988.

NL: Mr Feuchtwanger, you are one of the few teachers who gave up a, pianistic career extremely early in order to teach. How does teaching rank now in your life - and what role do your pupils play in it?
PF: Teaching has become the focal point and the chief object in my life, and that is why I devote the greater part of my life to it. My pupils are my family!
NL: During these many years of intensive teaching you have developed a way which can hardly be described as usual or conventional - in fact, you are considered by some piano teachers to be an ´enfant terrible´. In order to shed more light on this development, I would like to ask you a purely practical question. You teach privately. Why do you not accept a position at a music college, or an academy or conservatory?
PF: There are various reasons for this. In the first place, I achieve far too little with my students in a one-hour lesson, which as a rule, is all that an institute would allow me. Sometimes I need two, or three, or perhaps even four hours for a meaningful lesson. At times I even find it necessary to see certain pupils every day. This is only possible when I teach privately. The second reason is that the pupil must sit for examinations after a certain time. These examinations may interrupt the rhythm of the work, and may put so much pressure on the pupil that he could easily revert to bad habits which were corrected after so much hard work and patience. Metaphorically speaking, when one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way!
My third reason is that I do not want to be tied down to one place. As I make frequent trips abroad in order to hold master classes, it is difficult for me to give regular lessons at an academy. So far the positions I have been offered would not have made these terms possible. However, if one day I were to be offered a position at an institution where there would be colleagues amongst the teaching staff who understand my way of working ? and where I would be given the necessary amount of free time - it could well be that I would accept a teaching post at such an institution.
NL: You yourself have a really extraordinary development behind you. As far as I know, you were self?taught up to the age of thirteen.
PF: To be precise, I did not have my first piano lesson until I was thirteen and a half years old. Before that, I had learned everything from gramophone records. These were either my own, or those of an elderly lady who was a friend of my parents. As a child, I loved playing truant from school so that I could listen undisturbed to the records at the home of this friend, who had recognised my talent and became my confidante. I could play at once from memory anything I had heard on these records. But both my friend´s record player and my own ran too fast - and as I have perfect pitch, I came to play every piece half a tone too high. As a result I played all Chopin´s Etudes, performed on our records by Cortot and Backhaus - and nearly all Beethoven Sonatas played by Schnabel, in the wrong key. Later when listening to these works at concerts with the performer playing them in the correct key, I was very surprised - but from then on played them in a correct key myself. This automatically taught me how to transpose. Most important of all, I continued to follow my own intuitive musical ideas, even though I had examples of Backhaus, Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Schnabel and others, whom I had heard playing on my records. With hindsight, I am conscious of the fact that it was of decisive importance for me to have started as a self?taught pianist. I played without instruction from a teacher and without consciously thinking about the music, quite naturally and spontaneously without any unnecessary physical tension. This uncomplicated and natural way of playing was the key to my later work as a teacher.
NL: What concrete insight did you gain from being self?taught, in relationship to the piano and to music in general?
PF: As I have said, records provided me with a good example of how the great musicians play. By this, I do not mean pianists alone, but also violinists such as Huberman, Kreisler, Vasa Prihoda and Sarasate, and cellists like Casals and Feuermann, and flautists like Moyse. However it was chiefly the great singers of the Italian Bel Canto such as Battistini, Bonci, de Luca, Fernando de Lucia, Plançon, Sigrid Arnoldson, Olympia Boronat, Emmy Destinn, Hulda Lashanska, Nordica, Jarmila Novotná, Sembrich or Tetrazzini, Emma Calvé, Galli-Curci, Alma Gluck, Melba, and Patti and many other singers out of my father´s great record collection who have had - and to this day still have - a decisive influence on my musical thoughts. Left to myself, I had acquired a completely natural way of playing, which, however, showed somewhat unorthodox characteristics. Since no one had ever pointed out to me that one´s thumb should be passed under one´s fingers, I frequently played an ascending scale over two octaves with the fingering 1-2-3-4-5-1-2-3-4-5 etc: Finding the forth finger awkward after the fifth when descending the same scale, I replaced it with my thumb; therefore I played 5-1-3-2-1; or I preferred to start a phrase or a scale with my second finger (also in C-major), playing 2-3-4-1-2-3-4-5 and back 5-1-3-2-1-4-3-2. My thumb was like the joker in a pack of cards as it would take the place of any finger. It served as a pivot and because I used it so much, it never became tense, (an affliction which affects so many pianists). I even very often played three successive notes with 1-1-1 or 5-5-5 which I much later discovered was very often used by Chopin and J. S. Bach, a fingering which is essential for the correct articulation in his music. (Contrary to the wrong silent finger changes on one note, used by François Couperin but seldom by J. S. Bach.) This is why I now use these unconsciously acquired insights when I teach, thus preventing my pupils from working in a repetitive and mechanical manner.
NL: Does this mean that much of your teaching is based upon the intuitive insights of your childhood?
PF: Yes! The most important thing is to recognise or, better still, to accept the fact that we should first of all rely on intuition and that only later should we question that which had happened intuitively. These two planes, intuition and reflection, are not contradictions but complement one another. Basically - the intention, the thinking and the doing should happen practically simultaneously. When one is studying a new work, one should first play it through by sight as perfectly as possible with all the nuances, pedal etc: thus obtaining an overall conception of the work. Everything must first be absorbed by the ear. Only then should one concentrate on the details and reflect upon whether one´s intuitive playing had been correct or not. Once having heard a work as a whole, one can then read it through without playing it, thus heightening one´s understanding of it, through the power of imagination.
NL: In later years, you took lessons from some great musicians. Which one of these was it who shaped your playing most of all?
PF: Clara Haskil!
Although I cannot claim that I was a pupil of hers - for she never gave lessons - I did play for her a number of times and she then drew my attention to certain details. These details proved to be of such great importance that they not only changed the pieces I was playing but they radically changed my whole way of thinking.
The other great musician who influenced my musical thinking was Kathleen Ferrier, the English contralto who died tragically at such a young age. In many ways she differed from Clara Haskil, but she shared her most outstanding qualities - a genuine humility and simplicity, on stage as well as in her private life. Her singing was free from mannerisms, always direct and immediate. Although I met her only once - backstage after a concert - her radiant personality and her singing had an overwhelming influence over me as a human being as well as on my whole musical development.
There are other artists who have influenced my way of thinking. One of those was Bruno Walter, whose rehearsals I was allowed to attend. Another was Felix Weingartner whom, regrettably I grew to know only from records and from a short film. There were also two dancers, the English ballerina, Alicia Markova and the Danish Bournonville dancer, Toni Lander, who in their dancing expressed everything that I admired so much in the musicians I mentioned before. In later years, I was also influenced by Youra Guller, who was a friend of Clara Haskil´s although totally different from her.
Amongst my real teachers I should like to mention the following: my first piano teacher, Gertie Rainer (herself a pupil of Emil von Sauer), who contributed so much to my development both as a person and as a musician: and secondly Dr. Hans Heimler, a pupil of Heinrich Schenker, Felix Weingartner and Alban Berg. Dr. Heimler introduced me to the Schenker analysis and taught me the enormously important theory of formal analysis, structure etc: It was through him that I began to understand the structure of a work, the inter-relation of motifs and their harmonic function. It was through him and the musicians already mentioned that I realised that there are no contrasts which do not derive from unity. I now know that form is not simply a cover for a work of art, it is also its skeleton. And I realised that every note has its importance in the overall structure of a work.
NL: We now come to a theme which is perhaps amongst the most interesting and attractive in your work: that is to say, technique - or more adequately expressed ?craftsmanship.
PF: Let us begin with posture.
Not enough piano teachers insist on the correct sitting position for a young player or how his posture should be as a whole. Posture combined with both the stability and the correct height of the piano stool are the sine qua non for correct playing. (Please refer to the excellent book The Pianist´s Talent by Harold Taylor, published by Kahn ´ Averill, London). Even while executing the most difficult of passages, the pianist´s body should remain still, without being rigid, and there should not be any exaggerated facial expressions. In many pianists, the mere thought of a chord will cause an unnecessary change or a contraction of the muscles - the neck stiffens, shoulders are pulled up or thighs are tightened. All of this is totally unnecessary for the coming action and furthermore, it hampers it. I do not like to use the expression "relaxation" since we cannot play without tension: but only the muscles and tendons needed at that moment should be used, whilst the rest of the body remains free of unnecessary strain. Many pianists imagine that they are playing with expression by pulling faces and making ugly movements with their bodies. Artists such as Horowitz and Heifetz do not move unnecessarily while playing; their faces radiate serenity and they play even the most technically difficult passages with seemingly the greatest of ease. Yet how exciting and electrifying their playing is to the listener! The initial movement of the arm brings the fingers into contact with the keys, but thereafter any movement as far as possible should come from the fingers whilst the arm follows them freely as part of the whole body. The fingers should always stay as close as possible to the keys, almost as if the latter were an extension of the fingers, thus setting the hammer into action and the strings into vibration. The sum total of the activity of a co-ordinated performance may be compared to a reciprocal current of energy between the performer and his instrument. It is paradoxical that the performer must first submit to this current in order to be able to control it. With this we come very close to Zen and the martial art of the Far East. Only in this way can the impression be created which conveys the exhilarating sensation that the piano is playing on its own. I always advise my pupils to read Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.
NL: Earlier on you mentioned your unusual fingering. Why do you teach these fingerings, as surely there is a danger that the new students could become insecure without the old, familiar rules?
PF: In my opinion, there are many conventional fingerings which do not express the music as well, as certain less conventional fingerings. This - at first sight may seem odd. Since I was lucky enough to have started learning the piano without the intrusion of a teacher, I was spared fingerings which would have restricted my imagination. Let us return to the use of the thumb. It always disturbs me when out of sheer habit pianists start playing scales or phrases with their thumb, merely because they were taught to do so in their first piano lesson (e.g. C Major). On the contrary, I love doing the forbidden: I often use my thumb on the black keys, considering the thumb to be basically a middle finger, a pivot, over which the other fingers move. In this way, we arrive at an elliptical motion - a motion which is nearly always clockwise with the left hand and the anti-clockwise with the right. Therefore, the fifth finger usually plays with an inward motion, towards the keyboard. Naturally, I do unsettle my pupils with this unfamiliar attitude; but after a short time they become used to it and they quite spontaneously choose a fingering which is similar to mine - which follows the musical context. However, these fingerings are exchangeable at a given moment. I often ask my pupils to play a melody with one finger in order to free them as much as possible from the so-called finger memory which, in any case, may not be very reliable. This develops their musical memory and prevents any kind of computerised playing. Once when I asked Clara Haskil which fingering she used in a certain passage, she looked at me quite taken aback and replied "whatever comes!" I had a similar answer from Shura Cherkassky, one of the most spontaneous of pianists. Of course, there are certain passages where a fixed fingering is advisable, especially in those passages which are unpianistic. I have encountered many musicians who do not realise to this day that fingerings can be very creative, since each fingering calls forth a different movement and each such movement a different fingering, therefore creating each time a new musical experience. If one could convince young pianists of this fact, their playing would gain considerably in spontaneity and directness.
NL: Is it then your aim to free your pupils - as far as this is possible from physical habits , so that they can achieve spiritual freedom which will shape their interpretation far more spontaneously?
PF: Yes. Although this does not mean to say that I favour anarchy! Quite the contrary. A much greater discipline is required to achieve this freedom - but many musicians are afraid of freedom, as are most human beings. Perhaps man is more afraid of total freedom than of anything else, a point which is made in Dostoyevsky´s Grand Inquisitor. Pupils who cannot cope with this freedom are advised to seek the help of another more conventional teacher.
NL: If one observes quite a few well-known pianists whose playing is very tense, one would be permitted to think that physical tension or hypertension might well have its advantages.
PF: A certain amount of tension is always present, as I have already said - it is indeed absolutely essential. However, one must not confuse the right tension with strain. We need tension in order to walk upright, or to stand or sit, to hold a cup or to play the piano; without it our bodies would collapse helplessly as in a faint. The tension you mentioned is in fact strain, which is present in the playing of some great pianists and which under no circumstances should be imitated in the mistaken hope that by doing so one would be able to play like these artists. We must look at it from the opposite angle: these great pianists are so gifted that they can play magnificently not at all BECAUSE of their tenseness but DESPITE it. Should we wish to learn from these musicians let us learn from their best qualities and not from their faults or so-called idiosyncrasies which, in any case, cannot be imitated. We should ask ourselves how these pianists reached their present stage and we should try to trace their development from the beginning.
What would you say if a painter were to try to imitate the last period of Malevich or Mondrian? Their White on White canvasses can only be understood by tracing the painters´ development from the beginning; in Mondrian´s case it was his early landscapes and his magnificent trees which led to his ultimate abstract work. To look solely at the last phrase of an artistic development would be utterly futile.
NL: Why do you attach so much importance to avoiding the excessive and exaggerated movements of the body whilst playing, as after all, the musical result is what actually counts?
PF: As to your question concerning the grimacing and excessive movements of the body, and its relation to the musical result, this may be likened to the Japanese Tea Ceremony in that it is not merely the taste of the tea which is of sole importance but it is the preparation, the immediate surroundings and the manner in which the tea is served.
NL: Let us go on to a field which is of decisive importance to you: that is to say, bel canto and its relationship to the piano. You belong to the few who still regard bel canto as the ideal for the pianist. Why do you feel so strongly about this point? Who influenced you most of all?
PF: I have been - and still am - mainly influenced by the "golden age" records with which I have been familiar since childhood and which I still collect today. We must not forget that the great singers of the past inspired the composers of their time. We know that the voices of Giuditta Pasta or Malibran inspired their contemporaries Bellini, Chopin and Donizetti. Jenny Lind inspired MendeIssohn. Chopin is said to have remarked frequently whilst teaching: "This is how Pasta would have sung this phrase". He was a passionate opera-goer and the influence of bel canto can be heard distinctly in practically all of his compositions. One day, after hearing Norma, he was so deeply impressed that he wrote the Etude Op. 25/7 in C sharp minor using the theme of Norma´s great dramatic aria at the beginning of the second act. In my opinion, we cannot fully understand MendeIssohn, Chopin and most other composers without the knowledge of bel canto. It is to be regretted that so few pianists of our time possess the beautiful sound of the great pianists of the past such as Friedman, Hoffman or Lhevinne. From earliest childhood Clara Haskil heard the great singers at the Vienna opera and she frequently emphasised their importance to her own concept of sound and her "cantabile" playing.
NL: As your ideal sound is an imitation of the human voice, presumably you do not share the views of an increasing number of pianists of today, who treat the piano almost as if it were a percussion instrument?
PF: Of course, there is percussive piano music, especially in the music of the 20th century. But generally speaking, the piano is a singing instrument or, better expressed, an instrument which can give us the illusion that we are listening to a human voice - or perhaps a cello or a wind instrument.
NL: Then would you say that piano playing depends upon imagination and illusion?
PF: Certainly! You must consider yet another aspect. A singer or a string player who wants to produce a sound on his instrument must create it himself; he does not have the sound ready-made under his fingers, as we pianists have. This gives rise to the following problem: all musicians, except those performing on keyboard instruments, must hear the note with their inner ear before it is played. A pianist who plays the leading note B, which leads to the C above it, the same way as the B which descends from the C and goes to A, has missed one of the most important aspects of music-making. He must hear a C sharp differently to a D flat and therefore play it differently; a fifth has a different tension to a seventh, one interval needs more time than another. If this is not felt accurately, agogics and rubato remain artificial. We do know that all composers, be they Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Clementi, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schubert or Thalberg talked about the singing of the instrument and that they developed a cantabile playing which came close to the singing voice.
NL: You are rather insistent that seldom played works are to be included in the repertoire of your students. Why is this?
PF: It is for a number of reasons. For one because there are many, many neglected masterpieces by the great composers, such as Weber, Mendelssohn, Handel or Haydn or the sons of J. S. Bach. What music do we know by MendeIssohn? The Rondo Capriccioso, The Variations Serieuses, a Fantasy and a few Songs Without Words. And what do we know by Weber? At the most, the Invitation to the Dance or the A-flat-major-Sonata. And yet, he wrote four wonderful Sonatas, variations and shorter works (not to mention the influence he exercised on composers like Schubert and Chopin). Even Beethoven´s music for the piano is partly neglected - as for instance the Polonaise or the Fantasy. Of his Variations, we only know the Diabelli - Eroica - and the C minor Variations although he wrote twenty-four sets for the piano. (Two sets for piano and flute ad lib. Op: I05 and I07 were only recently reprinted). Some of Beethoven´s Sonatas are also rather neglected; for instance Op: 31/1 or Op: 54. By contrast, we hear the Waldstein or the Appassionata ad Nauseam. The same is true of all composers; from each we hear a few popular pieces played whilst the rest remains practically unknown. I do not share the opinion of those experts who argue that if a work is neglected, it rightly deserves to be; or that when another work is played frequently this necessarily proves it to be of a higher quality. Beethoven´s Fifth is more popular than his Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131. A football match or a pop concert draws greater crowds than an evening of chamber music.
Besides, it is of great importance that young pianists should grow, so to speak, with the composer and come to grips with his earlier works before they start playing the later ones. I think it is foolish, even presumptuous, of a young pianist who is making his debut, to perform works such as Op. 111 by Beethoven or the B minor Sonata by Liszt. It takes great experience not simply in music but in life, and a great maturity to do justice to these masterpieces and also, in the case of Liszt´s Sonata, a thorough knowledge of Goethe´s Faust. When Schnabel was asked why he had played so much drawing-room music when he was young, he replied that this was the type of music which had helped him to understand the so-called masterpieces. The works of some of the lesser-known composers must also be played, as this is essential for the understanding of their contemporaries and their successors. There are magnificent works by Czerny, Clementi, Hummel, Field and Moscheles which merit a far greater appreciation. This is also true of the piano music of Alkan, Busoni, Massenet, Rossini, Reger, Saint-Saëns, Smetana and Dvorak.
I am completely against weighing up works one against the other and of making value judgements. Each work has its own merits and may not be better or worse than another - merely different. One cannot say that an eagle is more important than a sparrow or that a rose is more beautiful than a violet. Quite apart from this, the study of lesser-known works is of the utmost importance to the young pianist because, since it is unlikely that he will hear other pianists perform these works, he is forced to think independently about his own musical interpretation; he will not be intimidated by some famous interpretations and neither will he give the reviewers and the public an opportunity to compare him with others. Finally, he can submit works which are hardly to be found in the repertoire of other pianists.
NL: How do you ensure that your pupils learn a maximum of pieces for their repertoire in a relatively short time?
PF: I have often come across students who had been studying a very few pieces over a relatively long period of time. Recently I met a student from a German Academy of Music who had learned to play only six works in three years. He has passed his exams brilliantly - but afterwards, there he was with his Waldstein Sonata, the Handel Variations by Brahms, a Mozart Sonata, a Bach Partita and two other pieces, wondering what to do! He was tired of these works and could hardly bear listening to them; and in any case one cannot start a career with as limited a repertoire as this. To avoid such pitfalls, I may ask my pupils to study the following in one week: a Prelude and Fugue by Bach, three Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, three Chopin Studies, the Schumann Abegg Variations, a Beethoven Sonata or Variations by Mozart. In the ensuing lessons, we go through these works as far as time will allow. We cannot discuss every detail, of course, but we do discover enough problems shared by all these works as well as problems which apply specifically to one of them - at any rate enough to stimulate the student so that he may work at it on his own at a later date. For the next week, the student is given another Prelude and Fugue by Bach, or perhaps a work by Handel, C. P. E. or J. C. Bach, three more Scarlatti or Soler Sonatas, another classical sonata, three more studies by Chopin, Mendelssohn, Scriabin or Liszt, another set of variations and also, if possible, a work of the 20th century. We return again and again to some of these works. The student will continue to study them and sometimes perform them at a concert or, if necessary, at a competition.
NL: But is it possible to cope with such a programme within a week, since no student can practise for 12 hours a day?
PF: Of course, it all depends upon the talent of the student. In the beginning, most of them find such a task almost impossible but after only a short time their ability to learn quickly improves to such an extent that they themselves can hardly believe it. Students who are good sight-readers generally find it easier because at first I never insist that everything should be played by heart. (I do not refer to those pianists who can play anything by sight mechanically and superficially - but to those who can present a work, prima vista, with all its details and nuances, immediately shaping it musically.) On the other hand, a student who struggles month after month over a single work will lose his distance to it, and to have distance to a work is of vital importance. He will also fail to develop a speed in learning and a flexibility of thinking. As a matter of fact, even a work which has not been studied for a long time will improve and develop through work done on other pieces. Children can learn several languages with the minimum of effort; they do it unconsciously. This is something which adults should learn to recapture.
At this point I would like to stress how important it is for a young pianist not to concentrate solely on piano practising but to play as much chamber music as possible or to accompany singers. Without this he can never become a complete musician. Through his partnering with string players he will learn about bowing and from singers and woodwind players he will learn the right breathing. The art of bowing and the correct breathing will lead him towards the correct phrasing and articulation.
NL: How far do you respond to your pupils as individuals?
PF: Completely and utterly. One of the most important qualities in a teacher is his ability to recognise and understand the nature of the human being entrusted to his care. It needs almost a sixth sense to be able to recognise a student´s latent ability. This sensitivity allows a teacher to guess, or better still, to feel that which is genuine in his pupil and that which is the result of wrong teaching. In fact, one cannot teach a student anything he has not experienced and which is not already dormant in him, be he conscious of it or not. We cannot explain the colour red to a blind man if he has never seen it, nor can we describe a Schubert symphony to a deaf person if he has never heard it. And neither can we teach a young musician to express an emotion he does not possess. How often do we hear a teacher telling his pupil to play with more passion, to put more feeling into a certain passage - as if one could instil passion or feeling into a piece as though one were using a watering can! Either the student was born with passion in his make?up or he was not; it may lie dormant within him and awaken at the right moment. The only result from such a remark, will be a mere pretence of passion - an artificial flower - an imitation or a substitute for the genuine article. Quite frequently, hysteria is mistaken for passion as is banging for strength. (Forte means "strong" but not necessarily loud). Feeling is all too often conveyed by grimaces only or by exaggerated twists of the body. A teacher should never have a ready-made recipe, handing out the same doses to each pupil. Nor should he try to model a pupil after an image. All one can do is to bring the existing potential to a flowering. As a rule, I am not in favour of the teacher playing to his pupil too frequently during a lesson because the latter will be tempted to imitate his teacher in a superficial way and will then lose his ability to think independently. Basically any performance of a work, be it good or bad, is unique and unrepeatable. Much as I rejoice in the fact that the performance of so many great artists have been preserved to us on gramophone records, I have to confess that to me a recording is something unnatural in that it repeats that which is unique and cannot in fact be repeated. To meet the individual problems of my pupils, I invent technical exercises for each of them, also selecting pieces which are important for a particular time in their development and which also suit their natural inclination. Pupils who happen to be of delicate build with particularly small hands do not necessarily have to play the 2nd Brahms or the 3rd Rachmaninoff concerto. Emotionally, not all pupils are able to tackle the same works. The study of Baroque music, which to my mind is neglected by so many pedagogues, is of the utmost importance to all music students. Baroque music is, after all, the basis of classical, romantic and contemporary music. Too many pianists still play Baroque music just as it is written, without realising that the Baroque musical notation is little more than a type of musical shorthand. Too few pianists know enough about ornamentation, rhythmical alterations, characteristics of the various dance forms, tempi - not to mention figured bass or Baroque fingerings. However, there is a vast literature on the subject which would enable the pianist to deepen his understanding in this field. It is incomprehensible to me as to why the correct performance of Baroque music is left almost exclusively to the harpsichordists or the so-called Baroque experts. No other music can develop the imagination of the young musician and his power of invention and stylistic feeling to the same extent. I believe that without the study of Baroque music one cannot fully understand the pre-classical and classical composers, or composers such as Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Chopin.
NL: Do you think that one can apply the ideas we have discussed to academies of music where one has very often to deal with average talents? And what about beginners?
PF: After all, what in fact is an average talent? As I have already said, one can increase the ability to learn in almost every pupil. I have often seen beginners, who have studied with one of my pupils, progressing far more quickly with the help of exercises specially written for them, also by using various fingerings in the same passage, and through studying a great number of pieces in a relatively short time, as well as exposing them to the recordings of the great singers of the past. Those pupils played with a far greater facility and with a more beautiful tone than others who had studied with pupils of mine who have not yet dared to teach beginners in this way. I am convinced that one could introduce all these ideas into the academies. However, it would require some changes in both school system and in the way in which music is taught. There are several music teachers amongst my friends who agree with me wholeheartedly on this point.
NL: In your opinion, what are the qualities which a teacher of a musical instrument should possess?
PF: Above all, a good teacher should not seek glory through the successes of his pupils. He should never push himself into the foreground. Unlike the teacher a performing artist can be (and as a matter of fact usually is) an egocentric. For that reason great artists very often make unsuitable, and sometimes even destructive teachers. Although one should be fully aware of one´s talent as a musician, one must also know one´s limitations and one must be prepared to further one´s knowledge through exchanges of views with one´s colleagues; but most of all the teacher can learn from his pupils, be they highly talented or not. Also a teacher´s interests should never be limited to music alone.
At the beginning of this interview you mentioned that I had given up my career as a pianist in order to become a teacher. I should like to correct this impression in as much as I did not give up a pianist´s career in favour of teaching. The teaching side developed only gradually. The real reason was that I had far too many other interests - psychology, philosophy, oriental music, painting and, in particular, composition. They seemed to me at the time more important than the perpetual piano practising which a pianistic career demands. I take my students regularly to the theatre, the opera, the ballet, to art galleries
and to museums, all of which are vital to their artistic development. It is of the greatest importance for the teacher to try and develop his pupils´ intellect and reason without destroying their intuition. Intellect seeks knowledge whilst reason searches for meaning, as we can learn from Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt. A teacher, in order to avoid being destructive, must know intuitively when to say something to his pupil and when to keep silent. His aim should be to guide his pupil in such a way that he will become able to make his own musical discoveries. That is why it is often preferable to ignore a mistake and to give the pupil a chance to discover the mistake for himself at the right moment. Rather than have attention drawn to his mistake by his teacher, it is infinitely preferable for his pupil to recognise and correct the mistake himself. Such discovery is a significant step towards the pupil´s independence. Patience is another very important quality in a teacher. The ability to wait, without inhibiting the pupil´s development through active intervention is absolutely vital.
NL: Which, in your opinion, is more important - the interpretation or the composition?
PF: I have often heard people comparing the importance of the composition with that of the interpreter. One simply cannot compare one with the other. The composition is no more important than the interpreter, nor is the interpreter more important than the composition. Without an interpreter, one would not hear the music. Without the music, the interpreter would have no function. To put it bluntly, interpretation is the continuation of a composition, so to speak, or as the German philosopher, Georg Picht said in Hier und Jetzt - Philosophieren nach Auschwitz und Hiroshima (Published by Klett-Cotta): "Compositions are designs to be realised by the future generations of musicians." The expression "faithfulness to a work" is often misused. The notation of a work can express everything except its essential quality. By the same token, the innumerable black dots are like shorthand which the interpreter must translate into longhand, as I have already mentioned in connection with Baroque music. This applies to all other music as well. Words form sentences and certain words have to be stressed. Some words are more expressive than others - but a sentence only comes to life with the right punctuation, which in music is the phrasing and articulation. As music is usually many-layered, the phrasing, articulation and dynamics of each individual voice have to be defined. The right tempo has to be found, too. The metronome markings which are to be found sometimes in 19th and 20th century music are also very important, but have to be treated with care. Rubato must happen naturally, as I have mentioned before. It has to grow out of the text, so to speak. Only after all the points I have spoken of are put into use, does one have the preconditions for that which is the most important, namely the spirit - for without this a work of art cannot live. As you see, there are many criteria which bring a composition to life. Each interpretation is a creation of the moment - and if one accepts the fact that a miracle cannot be repeated, each and every performance is a new miracle. It follows that the term "faithfulness to the text" does not exist. Of course, we should follow the so-called Urtext as much as possible since pedantic editors, who missed their calling as book-keepers, often disfigured the composer´s text to a point where it became unrecognisable. Most composers for the piano were outstanding pianists who took immense trouble to notate exactly which hand was to play which notes (c.f. Beethoven Sonata Op: 110, the semi-demiquaver passages in the first movement, the beginning of the Hammerklavier Sonata or that of Op: 111 and also the end of the Etude in C sharp minor Op. 10, No. 4 by Chopin). That is why I am so particularly against a wilful re-arrangement of the hands i. e. the right hand taking over something that was intended for the left hand or vice versa, merely to make a passage easier or safer, thus avoiding any danger of wrong notes. But then music is full of danger, as is life. An artificial re-arrangement of the hands can completely destroy the true meaning of the music. Some of my highly esteemed colleagues, whom I otherwise value greatly, are of a different opinion. For me exceptions are permissible only for pianists with an extremely small stretch - or where such a re-arrangement makes specific musical sense.
In conclusion, I would like to say that although the shape of a work is fixed and one should remain faithful to the notes, any interpretation is an individual statement. This individuality should always be encouraged - and not suppressed - by the teacher. After all the most important thing in any interpretation is for it to be unpredictable and at the same time inevitable.
NL: Many of your pupils have already won international competitions and often you were a member of the jury at these events. Yet you confess you dislike competitions. Why is this so?
PF: I would not like to go as far as a famous musician of our time did when he said that competitions are for horses only. Yet this comment is not entirely unjustified. One outstanding human being and artist is no better than another - he is simply different. The less outstanding musicians should never enter competitions in any case. Furthermore, competitions often bring out qualities which do not necessarily have anything to do with art but in conjunction with artistic qualities ?are nonetheless indispensable for a musical career. By this I mean the possession of strong nerves and stamina and naturally, the ability to play with the minimum of wrong notes. Judged by these qualities, many of the greatest artists of the past would never have won any competitions at all. The finest talents are sometimes eliminated in the first round; they can hardly give of their best, due to nerves, and need more time than others to "play themselves in". Great artists are also too highly individual to be acceptable to the more conventional judges. Competitions encourage fast, loud and mechanical playing which will hurt the more sensitive members of the jury, while it is admired by the others. One can say the same of the public who, influenced by the media, has lost its ability to judge. I should, of course, add that there have been many artists who have won a first prize deservedly and therefore a justifiably successful career has followed. At the same time, many prize winners in the ever more proliferating competitions have disappeared without a trace. If a young pianist has the competition pieces in his repertoire, and if he has performed them already a number of times publicly, I see no reason why he should not take part in the competition. But I do not consider it advisable that he should prepare especially for a competition, thereby interrupting the natural rhythm of his work. I can only emphasise again that which I already expressed in metaphorical terms at the beginning of this talk: "When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way."
There is also the danger that some young artists, after winning a competition, will have neither the stamina, nor the repertoire, nor the maturity for a successful and demanding career. Another drawback is that he will have hardly any time to continue his studies.
NL: I have heard that besides your teaching you also compose and that you studied the music of Near and Far Eastern countries intensively. Does this influence your teaching?
PF: Yes, it does. I think a musician who composes sees a musical work in a different light from musicians who do not compose. But even when one understands all the rules of composition, there still remain many unfathomable secrets. Take the mystery of the "Chaos" from Haydn´s Creation or the mystery of a special harmonic twist in a Mozart or Rossini opera or that of a typical Schubert modulation. Then, for example, there is the mystery in the magic of the slow movement in Schumann´s piano quartet in E flat major and many others. These are the miracles that cannot be explained. In fact, one cannot actually learn how to compose. What one can learn are certain rules of composition which stimulate one´s creative power. I learned this craft mainly through intensive studies of Palestrina counterpoint. This took me three years and it fundamentally influenced my polyphonic understanding and thinking. Therefore it is incomprehensible to me as to why young pianists, often trained at the best of academies, will bash out a fugal entry at all costs wherever it appears. Neither do I understand why every high note has to be accentuated or why a crescendo is believed to be necessary for every melodic ascent. Even worse, why should every bar line be emphasised, when they are there merely for the performer´s orientation? In Schnabel´s words: "Bar lines are like children who should be seen but not heard." When coaching chamber music, I was also greatly helped by my knowledge of composition.
As for my studies of oriental music - these included both Arabic and Indian music and their instruments which I studied for five years. They refined my sense of hearing considerably, mainly because of their microtones. As the rhythmical element in Indian music is infinitely more complex than that of Western music, my sense of rhythm also developed quite considerably. In the same way, my understanding of the ornamentation of Baroque and Spanish music from Soler to Albeniz, and my interest in it was greatly enhanced by my studies of Indian and Arabic music. Unfortunately, I have less time these days for composing, which I often do in mid-air on a long flight to Japan, Brazil or the United States. As a rule, I manage to write one or two works a year. Of course, having conceived everything beforehand, all that remains for me to do during the flight is to write it down. However, when writing for the piano, I need an instrument for pianistic reasons. Composing always gives me new inspiration for my work with my students.
NL: Is there a philosophy in which you can recognise a guideline for your work?
PF: In order to answer this question, I refer once more to Herrigel´s Zen in the Art of Archery because in it you will find all there is to know concerning the teacher-pupil relationship and their approach to their craft. The way in which the relationship between "master" and "apprentice" is described in this book has proved to be highly instructive. Of course, in a Western society, we have to compromise as our lives are regulated by dates: i. e. a concert has to be given on a certain day and therefore cannot wait till "it" happens by itself. However, the fundamental thought of Zen philosophy forms the basis of my attitude towards teaching and art, and life in general.
NL: Can you, in a few words, summarise your function as a teacher?
PF: A friend and colleague once said very aptly that you cannot change a rose into a carnation - or indeed, vice versa. Like him, I see myself as a gardener whose task it is to nurse and protect the plants which are entrusted to his care. He tries to bring every single one to bloom. Of course, the talent must be there - for if the gardener is to bring forth a flowering, there must be seed. Without a seed, there will be no plant; if it is there and the soil is fertile, growth, success and flowering will still depend upon the environment and the climate, and also the amount of patience which the gardener devotes to his task. He must know when his plants will need watering, and when and how much sun they will need. But most of all, he must know when to leave them alone.
NL: So now we have the portrait of a practically self-taught gardener who nurses his plants in order that they may flourish freely and independently. As a result they will always appear new to the spectator, since their growth is guided by the motto "unpredictable" but at the same time "inevitable". Many thanks.