Friedheim’s father was an Imperial army officer of Prussian descent. By the age of six, young Arthur was being taught piano by Carl Siecke, a pupil of Anton Rubinstein, whilst his debut at the age of nine was with a piano concerto by John Field. At fourteen he continued lessons in composition and harmony with Siecke but began taking tuition in piano from Anton Rubinstein. Four years later, in August 1878, Friedheim arrived in Weimar to study with Franz Liszt, becoming not only a pupil of the great master but also his close friend and secretary. After Liszt’s death Friedheim lived in Leipzig from where he toured Europe (including Finland) and Russia promoting Liszt’s compositions, also occasionally appearing as a conductor. His first tour of England was in 1889, where he was appointed professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music, a post he held until 1904.
Friedheim’s New York debut was given in 1891 with Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, and during the first season at the newly opened Carnegie Hall in April 1891 he gave three recitals within a week. The Liszt programme was vast, including the Sonata in B minor, the ‘Dante’ Sonata, Deux Légendes, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9, and culminating with all six ‘Paganini’ Études! Liszt scholar Alan Walker recently discovered that in 1892, during this first visit to New York, Friedheim was arrested and charged with causing an affray whilst inebriated. He struck a hotel doorkeeper, who died later that night. Although the charge of murder was dropped when it was found that the doorkeeper had a history of heart disease, the incident was reported in the newspapers at the time and cannot have helped his career. Nevertheless Friedheim toured both Europe and America before settling in New York around 1915; and upon the death of Mahler in 1911 he was offered the post of conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but refused it.
During World War I Friedheim was separated from his wife and son who were in Germany; they did not arrive in New York until the summer of 1919. Friedheim’s last years were spent playing at private soirées, editing music (most notably the Chopin études for Schirmer in 1916) and teaching in New York, Toronto and California where he went for the sake of his health. He gave a few large recitals in Toronto in 1923 and in New York in 1924 and 1925. Whilst in California he broadcast every week for seventeen weeks on radio station KFI, Los Angeles. He was also the composer of an opera, Die Tänzerin (1897), and two piano concertos, in B (1880), and B flat (1890). Friedheim was survived by his wife, who lived on until 1959.
Friedheim recorded for Columbia in New York between 1911 and 1913 when he was in his early fifties, and from these eight published titles he has gained a reputation as an erratic player whose records are disappointing. Yet for all their sonic imperfections, some fine playing can be discerned in two of Liszt’s études, Feux follets and La Campanella, as well as his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 is less successful, and it may be that Friedheim was unduly nervous in the recording studio as he attempted to record Mendelssohn’s Frühlingslied six times and Chopin’s Polonaise in A major three times, yet none of these was issued. Four more sides recorded in April 1916 were also never issued and as one of these was another performance of Liszt’s Feux follets it is possible that Friedheim was not satisfied with the earlier recording that had already been published.
Friedheim made one more disc, this time for the American company Emerson, of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 which, although in poor sound, contains some impressive playing.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist