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EDUARD STEUERMANN  

(1892 - 1964)

Eduard Steuermann, first name originally Eduard, was born in a small Polish city in eastern Galicia which is now part of the Ukraine. He first studied piano with Vilém Kurz, a Czech pianist, and then attended Ferruccio Busoni’s master-classes in Basle in 1910. The following year, at Busoni’s request, Steuermann joined Busoni in Berlin, taking private lessons in piano with him. Steuermann also wanted to study composition and his first teacher was Engelbert Humperdinck, but Humperdinck’s late nineteenth-century style did not suit the progressive young Steuermann. Busoni therefore suggested Arnold Schoenberg, with whom Steuermann forged close links, giving practically all the premières of Schoenberg’s works that included a piano, beginning with Pierrot Lunaire. This work was performed in fourteen or fifteen cities with Steuermann at the piano and the composer conducting some of the performances, other performances being conducted by Hermann Scherchen. In 1944 Steuermann was the soloist at the première of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski.

In 1918 Schoenberg founded the Verein für Musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Musical Performances) in which new works by Scriabin and French composers were introduced to Vienna. At the very first concert, Steuermann played Scriabin’s Piano Sonatas No. 4 Op. 30 and No. 7 Op. 64 as well as a four-hand arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7. Whilst in Vienna, Steuermann also was often the pianist for readings and recitations by Karl Kraus.

Although always a champion of contemporary music, Steuermann also performed as a solo pianist in repertoire not always of his own time. Works in his repertoire while he was in Vienna included Busoni’s Elegies, Berg’s Piano Sonata and Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, and although he did not perform any music by Bartók at this time, he did perform Stravinsky’s Piano Rag Music. After Schoenberg had left Vienna Steuermann played Debussy’s études and Stravinsky’s Petrushka in the four-hand version with Rudolf Serkin. In 1928 in a recital at London’s Grotrian Hall, he played Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a theme of Bach, Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata Op. 106 and his own arrangement for solo piano of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony Op. 9. He was a keen interpreter of Beethoven and gave a series of Beethoven recitals in New York in the early 1950s.

Schoenberg had asked Steuermann to play his Piano Pieces Op. 19 in public before 1911. In 1929, in a concert of contemporary music organised by the BBC, Steuermann played Schoenberg’s Piano Pieces Op. 23, ‘…with all the air of conducting a solemn rite. It was his earnestness and the superb pianistic gifts he had already shown in Busoni’s Six Elegies that persuaded one to sit through the function with becoming composure.’ Four years later in the same series Steuermann played Schoenberg’s Pieces for Piano Opp. 11 and 19, and Pierrot Lunaire conducted by Constant Lambert. Of his performance of the Piano Pieces, The Times wrote, ‘…no one played these pleasing trifles as Mr Eduard Steuermann played them last night, with his caressing, old-world, romantic touch, and his infinite faith in the rightness of wrong notes.’ (An interesting remark considering his connection to Schoenberg and the way these works are played today.)

From the end of World War I until 1936 Steuermann lived in Vienna. In that city he met Berg and Webern, and during the 1920s Steuermann met Milhaud and Poulenc, and played piano four hands with Ravel. He also came into contact with Edgar Varèse, Paul Hindemith and Ernst Krenek. Steuermann was a respected teacher from 1918 onwards, teaching in Poland, at the Paderewski School in Lwów and the Jewish School in Kraków as well as in Vienna and Prague. After emigrating to the United States he taught at the Philadelphia Conservatory and after several summer sessions at the Juilliard School in New York became a faculty member in 1952 teaching piano there until his death from leukaemia in 1964. Steuermann composed vocal, piano and chamber music and also taught at Darmstadt, the Salzburg Mozarteum and Dartington in England. His most prominent pupils are Lili Kraus, Moura Lympany, Alfred Brendel, Jakob Gimpel and Theodor Adorno.

Steuermann made few recordings, the most important of which are his 1940 Columbia discs of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with the composer conducting and an LP of Schoenberg’s complete piano music. An LP on the Contemporary label from 1960 contains Busoni’s Sonatinas Nos 1 and 6, the Toccata and Six Elegies. The playing is dry with sparse use of the sustaining pedal. Only the Pierrot Lunaire has been reissued on compact disc to date. Whilst in London in November 1962 Steuermann recorded Schoenberg’s Piano Pieces Op. 11 and Suite Op. 25 for the BBC, and this has survived.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).

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