Ilona Eibenschütz was a child prodigy who appeared in Russia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway before the age of ten. Her first appearance was at the age of six in Vienna where she continued her studies with Hans Schmitt whilst touring. At the age of thirteen it was decided that she needed a good teacher to guide her natural talents. She had already played to Liszt and Anton Rubinstein, but Liszt died in 1886 and Anton Rubinstein was often on tour. The remaining teacher of note, apart from Leschetizky, was Clara Schumann. Eibenschütz’s career as a mature artist commenced in 1890 when she played at one of the Gürzenich Concerts in Cologne. This led to further concerts at the Leipzig Gewandhaus where she played Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto Op. 73 under Carl Reineke, and the Hans Richter Concerts in Vienna where she played Schumann’s Piano Concerto Op. 54. Her London debut was with Schumann’s Études Symphoniques Op. 13 and a Beethoven cello sonata where she partnered Alfredo Piatti; on subsequent visits to England she played for Queen Victoria.
Eibenschütz had met Brahms at Clara Schumann’s home in Frankfurt where he was staying, and at this time she heard the première of his Piano Trio in C minor Op. 101 with the composer at the piano. On another occasion Brahms said that he would like to play some ‘exercises’ for Eibenschütz, but sat down to play his Opp. 118 and 119 Klavierstücke. Eibenschütz was the first person to hear them, and told of how he played in a grand and noble manner. Whilst in England in 1894 she gave the British première of his Opp. 118 and 119, and for the next ten years she had a very successful career, being one of the most highly regarded pianists to play in London at that time. However, in 1902 she married Carl Derenburg and retired from the concert stage to raise a family.
At the time of Eibenschütz’s première performance of the Brahms Klavierstücke, Clara Schumann wrote to Brahms, ‘Between ourselves I do not believe that Ilona understands them as they need to be understood. She goes too quickly over everything.’ In this respect Eibenschütz’s playing reflected her personality; she was lively and vivacious, constantly moving and acting quickly. Bernard Shaw noticed her energy at her London debut and commented that ‘…she has to use that energy itself for self control.’
Eibenschütz’s only commercial recordings were made in 1903 when she was thirty, a year after her marriage. Two Scarlatti sonatas show her impetuous style with rapid tempos and impressive finger articulation, while a pair of Brahms waltzes and the Ballade in G minor Op. 118 No. 3 provide a link to the composer. Private recordings exist from the early 1950s and 1962, and some of these have been issued on LP and compact disc. Eibenschütz also recorded an illustrated talk for the BBC in 1952, part of which has been issued on compact disc.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist