Leslie Howard first learnt the piano from June McLean until he won a scholarship to Melbourne Grammar School, where he continued to study with Donald Britton. He began his studies at Monash University, Victoria, where he continued his piano instruction from Michael Brimer, later gaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969 and a Master of Arts degree in 1972 for which he wrote a thesis on Franz Liszt. After this, Howard lectured in musicology at Monash University. At the same time he studied at the University of Melbourne and after receiving his Master’s degree went to Italy to study at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena. Whilst in Italy, Howard received piano instruction from Guido Agosti, a pupil of Busoni, and studied composition with Franco Donatoni. He also studied conducting, organ and harpsichord, and, from 1972, received piano tuition in London from Noretta Conci. Howard won the Premio Curci at the Casella Competiton in Naples in 1976.
After his debut at the Melba Hall, Melbourne, in 1967, Howard pursued a performing career, touring throughout Australia, North and South America, Asia and Europe. He appeared in London in March 1973 in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 with James Blair and the Young Musicians’ Symphony Orchestra at a concert in St Peter’s Eaton Square, the church which Howard still attends. He played again in London in May 1974 in a two-piano recital with David Stanhope playing music by Liszt and Percy Grainger. At Howard’s solo London debut in July of the following year he gave a programme consisting entirely of the works of Liszt. The Times critic wrote, ‘Leslie Howard’s was an arresting debut: his programme of Liszt was done with a panache demanding no allowance for inexperience.’ Already Howard was gaining a reputation for playing the works of Liszt, and also for programming unusual and rarely-heard works. At a recital of Russian works in London in 1978 he contrasted the familiar Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky with the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F major by Anton Rubinstein, the Finnish Variations Op. 72 by Glazunov and some early works by Rachmaninov. Other recitals consisted of works by Grainger and Liszt whilst another was devoted to Bach transcriptions which critic Max Harrison found ‘Altogether, an absorbing evening’. In 1982 Howard gave a recital in which the first half was devoted to Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’Sonata, and the second to Liszt’s concert waltzes.
In conjunction with his performing career Howard also taught at Monash University and in 1987 became a professor of piano at the Guildhall School of Music in London. He is in addition a member of the London Beethoven Trio with violinist Catherine Manson and cellist Thomas Carroll, and a composer, having written a ballet, an opera and many chamber, instrumental and vocal works. Howard has also broadcast extensively for the BBC, ABC and RAI as pianist, chamber musician and musicologist.
Howard has become associated with the music of Franz Liszt, both as scholar and performer. In 1988 he became president of the Liszt Society in England and has recorded the complete piano works of Liszt for Hyperion on ninety-four compact discs, a project that took fourteen years and was completed in the autumn of 1999. Howard’s exhaustive Liszt series for Hyperion includes première recordings of many unpublished works and recordings of Liszt’s many different versions of works.
Apart from Liszt, Howard’s repertoire is essentially Romantic, concentrating on the Russians, but in addition he plays the complete piano works of Beethoven, some Mozart, Granados and Franck. Also for Hyperion Howard has recorded piano sonatas by Tchaikovsky, and two discs of music for viola and piano by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Vaughan Williams and Britten with violist Paul Coletti. For the same company Howard has also recorded the complete piano sonatas of Anton Rubinstein on two discs as well as two further discs of piano pieces. ‘Leslie Howard is fully equal to the composer’s diversity and he makes the most of the moments when the rhetoric abates and an agreeable melody emerges…Yet Howard obviously relishes the flamboyant passages and one cannot help but respond to his enthusiastic bravura.’
HMV issued a disc of music for two pianos by Grainger which was recorded in Australia in 1976 with David Stanhope at the time Howard was touring with this repertoire. Merlin Classics have released Howard recordings of the sonatas of Sibelius, Gade, Palmgren and Grieg.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).