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8.111120 - WOMEN AT THE PIANO - AN ANTHOLOGY OF HISTORIC PERFORMANCES, Vol. 1 (1926-1952)
English 

Women at the Piano Vol. 1
An Anthology of Historic Performances 1926-1952

 
"Honour to women! To them it is given
To garden the earth with the roses of Heaven."

-- Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Until recently histories of music were mainly concerned with male composers and male performers. Yet scholarship today has proved that women have contributed to the richness of musical history for over 700 years. All dictionaries, encyclopedias and musical histories were written by men, for men, about men. Women, although considered by the general public as great musicians, were always treated secondarily, their achievements often ignored, and their artistry undocumented. Only in the last 20 years have scholars re-discovered women's contributions to the art of music. With the advent of the compact disc, many more women composers have been recorded, and the artistry of female pianists, violinists, cellists, as well as the performances of legendary operatic voices have become available to a much larger public.

With this first volume, Naxos presents the most comprehensive anthology ever undertaken of historic performances by the pioneering women pianists who recorded during the first half of the 20th century. Each artist is represented by one exemplary selection. This approach will be followed in subsequent releases. It is our goal to present as many women pianists as possible in this series, and also to attempt not to repeat any piece of music. As this is a sonic history, the first few volumes will present primarily electric recordings. Subsequent releases will also include earlier acoustic performances. Each pianist will be profiled and detailed information on each recording will be also presented in the programme notes.

This first volume presents the artistry of 22 extraordinary pianists, spanning a period of 26 years (1926-1952). The earliest born of these is Marguerite Long (1874-1966). She was a student of Antoine-François Marmontel at the Paris Conservatoire, became a piano instructor there in 1906, and in 1920 succeeded Louis Diémer as professor. She was the first woman professor at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1920 she also founded her own private music school which became a success. In 1940 violinist Jacques Thibaud joined her. They gave numerous recitals together and eventually established the Long-Thibaud Competition. Although she was one of the great interpreters of the music of Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Beethoven and others, she devoted a great deal of her energies to performing the music of her contemporaries. Ravel dedicated his Concerto in G major to her, as did Milhaud his First Piano Concerto. Her interpretations of music by Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, and Milhaud are considered urtext. According to Milhaud, she once stated that "My task has been to serve great composers who chose me as their interpreter by passing on to others how their music sounded to them". Her 1935 recording of Alfama by Darius Milhaud [Track 15] is certainly an excellent example of her art.

Australian born Una Mabel Bourne (1882-1974) began her career in her teens in her native Melbourne. Dame Nellie Melba engaged her as solo pianist for her tours of Australia and New Zealand. It was with Melba that she arrived in England in 1912 and toured extensively. During World War I she played for the men and women of the services in England. The postwar years saw her perform in America and France and in 1939 she returned for a triumphant tour of Australia in concerto performances under the direction of Eugene Ormandy and Sir Bernard Heinze. In the 1920s she recorded a variety of short encore piano pieces for HMV, a number of which were by her contemporaries and friends. The Paderewski Cracovienne fantastique [21] which she recorded in 1926 shows her musicianship and dazzling technique.

Without a doubt the English pianist Myra Hess (1890-1965) was one of the great pianists of the 20th century. A student of Tobias Matthay, she made her début in 1908 with Beethoven's Concerto in G major under Beecham. Concert tours of the Netherlands, Germany and France followed. In 1922 she made her American début. Her mastery of the music of Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven was legendary. Equally impressive were her performances of the music of Schumann, Brahms and Chopin. Her extraordinary mastery of the pedal and luxurious finger legato, also served the many contemporary works she played. Debussy's Poissons d'or [7] recorded in 1928 illustrates her ability to weave a sonic painting.

Parisian born pianist Emma Boynet (1891-1974) was one of the most brilliant students of Isidor Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire. At an early age she won first prizes in piano and harmony at the Conservatoire, and then toured the world. A favourite of Serge Koussevitzky, she was engaged often by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She was an outstanding interpreter of the French masters as her 1938 recording of Chabrier's Bourrée fantasque [18] attests.

Harriet Cohen (1895-1967) was another of Tobias Matthay's brilliant students. She made her concert début at 13, and became internationally known when she appeared at the Salzburg Festival in 1924. She was admired as a Bach interpreter, but also as an advocate for contemporary music. She took the music of England abroad, performing works by Bax, Vaughan Williams, Ireland and others on her tours. She also championed works of other contemporary composers, giving first performances in England of music by Kabalevsky, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Kodály, Schoenberg, Medtner, Debussy and Ravel. Not averse to perform for the movies, it is her artistry that is heard on the silver screen when one hears the Cornish Rhapsody by Hubert Bath. Alfred Einstein once wrote: "Harriet Cohen must be added to the list of those chosen ones who stand among the elect". We hear her in a 1938 recording of Bax's Paean [13], a composer and work she championed.

Child prodigy, Guiomar Novaes (1895-1979) was born in Brazil. One of 19 children, she began playing the piano at the age of four. Her concert début took place at the age of seven, followed by a tour of Brazil. The Brazilian government paid her expenses for a trip to Paris, where she won first place among 388 contestants for a Paris Conservatoire scholarship. In her jury were Debussy, Fauré, and Moszkowski. She became Isidor Philipp's most famous pupil and also an advocate for his music. She made her American début in 1915, eliciting unanimous praise: "she sings on the piano better than any of her contemporaries". She was a master of ravishing tonal colours, a silky legato, and an eloquence, poetry and humour, rarely heard from others at the keyboard. A virtuosa of the first rank, she is heard in her 1947 recording of Isidor Philipp's Feux-follets [2].

Aline Isabelle van Barentzen (1897-1981) was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, of Anglo-Danish ancestry. A child prodigy, who made her solo recital début at four and her first performance with orchestra at seven, she was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at nine. She studied also at the Berlin Royal Academy with Karl Heinrich Barth (a disciple of von Bülow and Tausig) and Ernst von Dohnányi. In Vienna she became a pupil of Theodor Leschetizky. Returning to America, she taught at the Philadelphia Musical Academy, and later at the Buenos Aires Conservatory in Argentina. During her lifetime she performed with over forty of the world's greatest orchestras, under the batons of some of the most famous conductors. Her lifelong association with the piano music of Falla resulted in her being the first to record his Noches en los jardines de España in 1928. The Andaluza [12] was the filler piece on that album.

Marie Novello (1898-1928) was the adopted daughter of Clara Novello-Davies, famous singing teacher and mother of Ivor Novello. In 1912 Marie went to Theodor Leschetizky to study but was turned down because she only spoke English. She learned German and was accepted as one of his last pupils. Although she recorded quite a few recordings, little of her artistry is heard today. She died at the age of 30 of throat cancer. The Arensky Étude de Concert in F sharp major [4], recorded in 1927, was one of her most popular encores.

Gaby Casadesus (1901-1999) studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Louis Diémer and Marguerite Long. At 16 she received first prize in piano at the Conservatoire, and later went on to win the highest musical award for women in France at the time, the Prix Pagès. She received personal guidance from Moszkowski, Fauré, Florent Schmitt and Ravel in the interpretation of their piano works. In 1921 she married the pianist and composer Robert Casadesus, and they began concertizing as a duo-piano team. As a teacher of world-wide reputation, Gaby Casadesus gave master classes at the Ravel Academy in St-Jean-de-Luz, the Summer School of the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, and at the Fontainebleau School. In 1975, along with Grant Johannesen and Odette Valabrègue Wurzburger, she founded the Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition in Cleveland, Ohio. Although she is primarily remembered today for her four-hand recordings with her husband, and her many authoritative performances of music by French composers, she also left evocative recordings of the music of Mendelssohn, Mozart and Chopin. She often included Baroque works in her concerts, and her 1945 recording of Couperin's Le Carillon de Cithère [5] is among her best.

Jeanne-Marie Darré (1905-1999) studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Isidor Philipp and Marguerite Long. In 1926 she performed all five concertos by Saint-Saëns in one evening, with Paul Paray conducting the Lamoreux Orchestra. This extraordinary event launched a distinguished international career. She was a lifelong friend of Sari Biro (also featured on this disc), with whom she performed Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat Major, K.365. In 1958 Darré was appointed professor at the Paris Conservatoire and in 1962 she made her New York recital début. A virtuoso of the first rank, Darré left fabulous recordings of music by Saint-Saëns, Chopin, and Liszt. It is only fitting that she be represented by one of Liszt's most difficult études, Feux Follets [19] which she recorded in Paris in 1944.

Lucette Descaves (1906-1993) studied with both Marguerite Long and Yves Nat, receiving first prize in piano at the Paris Conservatoire in 1923. A lifelong champion of contemporary music, she was coached by Prokofiev for her performance of his Third Piano Concerto in 1932, and gave the premières of Jolivet's Danses rituelles and Piano Concerto. She taught at the Paris Conservatoire from 1947 until her retirement in 1976. Among her distinguished students were Katia and Marielle Labèque, Pascal Rogé, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Her rhythmic acuity, evocative phrasing and effortless virtuosity is evident in her 1946 performance of the rarely heard Pierné Étude de Concert [20].

Tasmanian-born Eileen Joyce (1908-1991) had humble beginnings, often, as a child, following the nomadic existence of her Irish labourer father and Spanish mother. A local priest in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, spotted her musical talents and she was put into the Loreto Convent in Perth, where Percy Grainger heard her. When Wilhelm Backhaus was touring Australia and heard Joyce, he recommended that she travel to Europe for piano studies. She was admitted to the Leipzig Conservatory. In 1930 she made her way to London, where she made her Proms début under Sir Henry Wood in Prokofiev's Third Concerto. She continued her studies, with Artur Schnabel among others, and continued concertizing. During World War II she often performed under the baton of Malcolm Sargent with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the orchestra's famous "Blitz Tours", concerts given in industrial towns and cities badly hit by the war. Her artistry can be heard on soundtracks to the films The Seventh Veil, Brief Encounter, A Girl in a Million and Men of Two Worlds. Her own life story became the subject of a biographical novel, Prelude, which was later made into a film entitled Wherever She Goes. She began her recording career in 1933 and left an impressive legacy. The rarely heard Stavenhagen Menuetto scherzando [14] which she recorded in 1937, testifies to her musicality and virtuosity.

Hungarian-born Sari Biro (1910-1990) began private piano lessons at the age of six and then received a scholarship to study at the Franz Liszt Academy. During those years she appeared as soloist under the baton of Ernst von Dohnányi at the opening concert of the Hungarian National Broadcasting system. After graduating with highest honours from the Academy, she performed all over Europe, appearing with the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, in Warsaw, Paris and many other cities. In the winter of 1939, Sari Biro left Hungary and arrived in New York City. She made her début at Town Hall in May 1940. The New York Times extolled: "Sari Biro must be reckoned among the foremost women exponents of the keyboard of the time". For the next 18 years she lived in New York, while continuing to tour extensively in the United States, Mexico and South America. In 1949 the American State Department named Sari Biro the most distinguished new citizen of the year. Also in 1949, she became the only woman to perform nine piano concertos in a series of three concerts at Carnegie Hall. A television pioneer, she was featured in 1958 in a 13-week series of live television shows, in which she discussed the works she performed. Although there are only a handful of commercial recordings left by Sari Biro (she was the first woman to record Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in 1951), there are many live concert transcriptions to draw upon. In 1944 she recorded an extensive series of performances for radio transmission in New York City. Among these was the encore piece she played in many of her concerts at that time, the La Danza di Olaf by Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli [6].

Polish-born Maryla Jonas (1911-1959) made her début with the Warsaw Philharmonic at the age of nine. At eleven she took piano lessons from Paderewski. In 1926 she gave a recital in Berlin which launched her career by bringing her a contract to tour Germany. She continued her studies with Emile Sauer, won the Chopin Prize in 1932 and the Beethoven Prize of Vienna in 1933. She quickly became acclaimed as one of the leading women pianists of the day. Tragedy, however, descended on the young artist. When Nazi Germany attacked Poland, her husband, father, mother and a brother were all killed by the Nazis. She herself was interned in a concentration camp when she refused to go to Germany to give concerts. In this camp, a German officer, who had heard her play, helped arrange for her escape. She found refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin which provided her with a forged passport by way of Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. She met fellow Pole Artur Rubinstein in Brazil during the war and he encouraged her to return to the concert stage. On 25 February 1946 she made her United States début at Carnegie Hall. She began recording and widely concertizing. One of her favourite opening works to a concert was the Handel Passacaglia in G minor [11] which she recorded in 1947.

American pianist Jeanne Behrend (1911-1988) made her début with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 11. She studied with the Leefson brothers in Philadelphia and then entered the Curtis Institute, where she was a pupil of Josef Hofmann, and studied composition with Abram Chasins and Rosario Scalero. In 1934 she married the Russian pianist Alexander Kelberine with whom she continued her studies and performed as a duo-piano team. She also undertook studies in orchestration with Ernst Toch. She made her Carnegie Hall début in 1937 to great acclaim. In 1939 Jeanne Behrend presented a series of recitals of music exclusively by American composers at the Curtis Institute, where she was on the faculty. Shortly after, she recorded a series of these works, one of which we feature, David Guion's Country Jig in D major [8]. She was a lifelong champion of the music of American composers, and the first to bring back into popularity the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

Russian-born pianist Ray Lev (1912-1968) moved to the United States in 1913. Her father was a synagogue cantor, and her mother a concert singer. She studied the piano with Walter Ruel Cowles in New Haven and with Gaston-Marie Déthier in New York. At 17 she was awarded the Matthay Prize in London. Her American début which followed hailed her as "a colossal musician", and her performances were labelled as "tempestuous" and "cyclonic". From 1930 to 1933 she studied with Tobias Matthay in London. After World War II she was signed by the Concert Hall Society record company, for which she recorded many significant firsts. Among these was the first recording in 1946 of Prokofiev's Music for Children, Op. 65, from which we hear the Valse [10].

Monique de la Bruchollerie (1915-1972) studied with Isidor Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire. Graduating with brilliance and distinction at the age of 13, she began an international concert career soon thereafter. She was the first French pianist to record concertos by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Brahms in the 1950s. In 1964 she made a bold proposal to modernise the piano as a performing instrument by constructing a crescent-shaped keyboard to facilitate simultaneous playing in high treble and low bass. She further proposed to install electronic controls enabling the pianist to activate a whole chord by striking a single key. What seemed far-fetched then is now possible on advanced electronic keyboards. Her virtuosity was legendary, yet few today have heard of her or heard her recordings. Two words come to mind upon hearing her 1947 performance of Saint-Saëns' Toccata [1] - "passionate and fiery".

Reah Sadowsky was born in 1915 in Winnipeg, Canada. She was one of two prominent child piano prodigies in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1930s (the other is also featured on this disc - Ruth Slenczynska). She made her début on 5 February 1929, at the age of 13. The critics at that time agreed that she showed "remarkable interpretative ability and expression with amazing executed technique". She won a scholarship to both the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She studied in New York and in Europe with Alberto Jonas and Josef Lhevinne, who declared that "her pianistic facilities cannot be surpassed". She often performed works of South and Central American composers and was invited to play for the representatives of the 21 American republics of the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. A number of Latin American composers wrote works for her, including Alberto Ginastera, Juan Orrego and Rafael Hernandes. Marion Bauer, Ellis Kohs and Alec Rowley also dedicated works to her. Poise, balance, and virtuosity abound in her performance of Vianna's Corta-Jaca [9].

The English pianist Moura Lympany (1916-2005) actually began piano studies in Belgium at the Liège Conservatoire. She then studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and at the Vienna Hochschule. In England she continued her studies with Mathilde Verne and for ten years with Tobias Matthay. She made her début in 1929 with a performance of Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto. In 1938 she gave her first Henry Wood Promenade Concert, and she entered the Ysaÿe Competition in Brussels. One of the youngest of the 78 contestants, Moura Lympany emerged a triumphant second to Emil Gilels, who then already was launched on his international career. After the end of World War II Moura Lympany built an enviable reputation as one of England's most distinguished musical ambassadresses. Her concert tours took her to almost all corners of the world. She became Dame Moura in 1992, the first pianist to receive Britain's highest distinction since Clifford Curzon became Sir Clifford in 1977 and the first woman pianist since Myra Hess was honoured in 1941. She was the first pianist to record the complete set of Rachmaninov's Preludes in the 1940s, then re-recorded them twice more in her career. Associated with Romantic music all her life, she had a particular affinity with the compositions of Franz Liszt. The 1947 recording of Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este [22] shows her incomparable technique and infallible musicianship.

London-born Iris Loveridge (1917-2000) studied at the Royal Academy of Music. She won numerous awards and prizes there, and was chosen by Sir Henry Wood to perform a concerto under his direction in the old Queen's Hall in London. Her broadcasting career began in 1936. She always championed music less often played, works by Bax, Medtner, Ireland, Rubbra, Jacob and many others. A pianist of great distinction, with virtuosity to spare, she always focused on seeking out the inner meaning of any work she performed. It is perhaps the reason why she was able to shape and craft Palmgren's Evening Whispers [3] so beautifully in her 1947 recording.

The pianist Hilde Somer (1922-1979) moved to the United States from Austria as a child prodigy, having made her recital début in Vienna at the age of twelve. In 1936 she performed four piano concertos (by Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Liszt) with the Vienna Philharmonic, a rare accomplishment even for a seasoned artist, let alone a fourteen year old. She studied with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute, graduating in 1941, and was also coached by Hedwig Rosenthal-Kanner (wife of Moritz Rosenthal), Wanda Landowska, and Claudio Arrau. She had an active career as a recitalist and as a soloist with orchestras in Europe and America and gave the première performances of piano concertos of John Corigliano, Alberto Ginastera (his Second Piano Concerto is dedicated to her), and Henry Brant. She often performed Scriabin's music with the accompaniment of coloured laser lights projected onto a screen, as prescribed by Scriabin. Among her earliest recordings is the frothy virtuosic transcription, Soirée de Vienne by Strauss- Grünfeld [17].

The American pianist Ruth Slenczynska was born in Sacramento, California in 1925. She began her piano studies in Europe at the age of four and took lessons with Artur Schnabel, Egon Petri, Alfred Cortot, and even performed for Sergey Rachmaninov. Her Berlin début at the age of six was a sensation. At 11 she made her début in Paris with a full orchestra. Although she astonished audiences in her native California and her New York début persuaded the critic Olin Downes to call it "an electrifying experience", Europe heralded her as the first child prodigy since Mozart to sweep the continent. From 1964 until her recent retirement, she was Artist-in-Residence at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. She is still active today, celebrating over 70 years of professional music-making. Ruth Slenczynska is a magnificent pianist, endowed with the inspiration of the moment, that gives her playing a great deal of spontaneity and musical persuasion. The Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor [16] was among her very first commercial recordings, made on a Baldwin piano in San Francisco in 1945.

Marina and Victor Ledin


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