Son of an Alsatian father and German mother, Edouard Risler studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Théodore Dubois and Louis Diémer gaining his premier prix in 1887, the premier prix in Diémer’s class in 1889 and a premier prix for accompaniment. He continued his studies in Germany with d’Albert, Stavenhagen and Klindworth, all of whom had studied with Liszt. He then toured Europe playing in London in 1894. During the 1896–1897 season at Bayreuth he was répétiteur for Felix Mottl and prepared Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for the Paris Opera assisted by Alfred Cortot, upon whom he had a considerable influence. He was appointed a member of the Conseil Supérieur of the Paris Conservatoire in 1906 and was a professor of piano there until 1909. By this time he had already given many recitals in Europe and Russia and in 1906 played all thirty-two sonatas of Beethoven in London, gaining himself the reputation of a Beethoven player comparable to Hans von Bülow. A critic of the time wrote, ‘In the evening in the Aeolian Hall, M. Edouard Risler brought to an end his recitals of the piano sonatas of Beethoven with a performance of the last four of the immortal “thirty-two” Opp. 106, 109, 110, and 111. Here his excellent technique was of great value, for the difficulties of the sonatas seemed as nothing in his hands; his habit of forcing the tone of his instrument and overemphasizing the points he wishes to make clear, greatly diminishes the pleasure which is given in passages where Beethoven is allowed to speak for himself, such as the lovely slow movement of the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata, the fugue of which was also played with wonderful virtuosity and intelligence.’ Other cycles he performed were Das wohltemperierte Klavier of Bach and the complete works of Chopin. Risler was a champion of modern composers, giving first performances of works by Chausson, Dukas, Enescu, Fauré and Hahn. When Risler met Mieczysław Horszowski in Milan in 1917 he said to the young man, ‘A masterpiece has been published in France, have it sent right away.’ This was Ravel’s piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin.
Works were dedicated to Risler by Chabrier and Granados. His varied repertoire also included virtuoso works such as Liszt’s Sonata in B minor and Risler’s own arrangement of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche by Richard Strauss. Later in his career he favoured the early French keyboard composers Rameau, Couperin and Daquin.
It would seem that Risler succumbed to the pleasures of food and drink and died a corpulent man at the age of fifty-six.
Risler’s recordings are frustrating. The playing is obviously that of a great pianist yet the sound quality is very poor. Around eighteen titles were recorded circa 1917 for the Pathé company in Paris and these cover most areas of his repertoire. A movement from a Beethoven sonata is barely audible; Weber’s Aufforderung zum Tanz is in better sound and is given a virtuoso performance as is Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11, probably his most impressive disc with light, articulate fingerwork and a sparing use of the pedal. Four works of Chopin, compositions by his friends Granados, Saint-Saëns and Chabrier plus some Couperin and Rameau all have a similar style. Risler does not seem to favour a different approach to varying styles and composers, but one cannot judge his talent solely from these primitive disc recordings. All these have been reissued on compact disc by Symposium, and in 2005 superlative transfers revealing far more of the original piano sound were made by Marston.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist