Bauer was born in New Malden, a suburb of London. His parents were musical and from the age of six he studied the violin, first with his father and then with Adolf Politzer, making his debut at the age of ten. He continued studying the violin as well as the piano, and, at Paderewski’s suggestion, moved to Paris to study the violin with Gorski. He later assisted Paderewski in his preparation of some piano concertos by playing the orchestral part on a second piano. Paderewski was impressed with Bauer’s talent as a pianist, and it was at this point that Bauer decided to focus on the piano instead of the violin. Paderewski coached him, though never gave him formal lessons, and helped him to get engagements, the first being a tour of Russia accompanying a singer, and recital engagements in parts of Europe. In 1899 he toured Scandinavia and Holland, and, because Hans Richter had heard him play in London, he was asked to play Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Richter. More concerts followed in Europe, and Bauer made his USA debut in 1900 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15.
From the turn of the century to the early 1920s was Bauer’s most successful period as a solo pianist. He toured Europe, Australia, America, the Far East and Near East, becoming especially associated with the music of Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann. He lived in Paris, where he gave the Paris première of Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite. He also performed the New York première of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, the composer dedicating to Bauer Ondine, the first movement of his Gaspard de la nuit.
In the 1920s Bauer began to play more chamber music, his collaborators often being Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, Mischa Elman or Fritz Kreisler. At this time he also formed one of the most famous two-piano teams with his friend Ossip Gabrilowitsch, an artist of similar musical sensibilities. In 1919 Bauer founded the Beethoven Society of New York, originally to further the lesser-known works of the composer. The society existed until 1940 and was expanded to include other composers in its concerts. During the 1930s Bauer spent more time teaching, particularly as head of the Manhattan School of Music’s piano department, remaining on its board of advisors until his death in 1951. He edited piano music for Schirmer, by composers such as Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Sibelius, Schubert and Schumann, and made transcriptions and arrangements of Bach, Brahms and Haydn amongst others. In 1948 Bauer prepared for Schirmer ‘The Pianist’s warming-up exercises for the maintenance and improvement of technical fluency and especially for the restoration of power and control to cold and stiff fingers’. By the time he decided on a career as a pianist Bauer had felt he was too old to take instruction from Paderewski or anyone else, but, after attending a performance of dance, had the notion to somehow apply the dancer’s movements to the pianist’s body. His own experimentation revealed that he could find gestures to produce particular musical sounds or tones. Hence, he applied the physical process of dance to the technique of playing the piano.
Bauer was not a virtuoso, yet he could not be described as a miniaturist. He was interested in making a beautiful sound at the keyboard and aligning it to an innate, intellectual musicianship. New York critic James Huneker expressed it perfectly when he said: ‘He is a musician for whom the message of the composer is the primary consideration. There is a violin tone in his touch, the warmest, mellow tone heard since Paderewski. His fingers always sing, whether in velocity or cantabile passages and there is above all a strong sense of mentality—a sense of historical value—and at times a colour sense becomes overpowering, suggesting Pachmann in his most sensuous mood.’
Bauer is at home in recordings of Schubert, Chopin and Liszt: in an extremely fine Un sospiro he displays his balletic approach and highlights many details within: one can hear Bauer sustain a chord under a scale passage at the end of the cadenza. Popular encores by Anton Rubinstein, Eduard Schütt and Auguste Durand were also recorded. The 1929 stock market crash led to the suspension of his recording for Victor, but whilst in London in 1935 he did record a sublime version of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 12 for HMV.
The music-publishing firm of Schirmer, for whom Bauer was working as an editor, had its own record label, and in 1939 Bauer made a series of recordings for it, most importantly of the Piano Sonata in F minor Op. 5 by Brahms. It is justly recognised as one of the best versions of the sonata and has even been described in print as ‘unquestionably one of the great piano recordings of the century’. The other ten sides recorded for Schirmer are of works Bauer had edited, such as Chopin’s Berceuse and Debussy’s rarely heard Rêverie. All have rather poor sound yet it is interesting to hear Bauer in varied repertoire, including Schubert’s Moment Musical in F minor played at a curiously slow tempo.
Bauer’s last recordings were made for Victor over two days in January 1942, when he was nearly seventy. He recorded Liszt’s Waldesrauschen and, again, Un sospiro, plus ten of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10)
Role: Non-Classical Artist