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MONIQUE HAAS

Monique Haas first studied with Joseph Morpain and Lazare Lévy at the Paris Conservatoire. Whilst there, she also studied chamber music with Charles Tournemire, harmony with Suzanne Demarquez, and music history with Maurice Emmanuel. After gaining her premier prix from the Conservatoire, Haas studied privately with Robert Casasdesus and Rudolf Serkin. She started her international career a year after winning her premier prix with a recital at the Salle Érard, but was interrupted by World War II. In March of 1941 Haas and Ina Marika gave the première of Honegger’s Partita for Two Pianos in Paris, thereafter fleeing to Cannes. After the end of the war, Haas was one of the first French artists to appear in London, and at a Promenade Concert in 1948 she played Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3. One critic wrote, ‘This French pianist has shown herself on previous occasions to be an executant in the finest French tradition. Clear, easy touch and logical interpretation have distinguished her performances.’

Haas had a successful career as a soloist performing throughout Europe, the United States, and even in Russia, China, Australia and Armenia. She also performed with violinist George Enescu and cellist Pierre Fournier as well as with Igor Stravinsky and Francis Poulenc. Although Haas had a wide repertoire from Bach to Messiaen, she was chiefly known for her performances of twentieth-century music, particularly that by Debussy, Ravel, Milhaud, Bartók and Prokofiev. Florent Schmitt dedicated his Enfants to Haas, and Milhaud dedicated his Piano Sonata No. 2 to her.

Later in her career Haas concentrated more on teaching at the Paris Conservatoire and the Salzburg Mozarteum, where she gave master-classes. A critic once referred to Haas’s style as one of ‘spirited robustness’, and this describes her well. However, with her impressive power and strong tone she also possessed a delicacy and ear for colour which she displayed in her first recording of the Debussy préludes.

Haas recorded for Decca in England between 1946 and 1949. Only Bach’s Italian Concerto BWV 971 (a rather dull and straightforward reading), a few pieces by Rameau and Couperin, and Fauré’s Cello Sonata No. 2 Op. 117 (with Maurice Gendron) were released, but she also recorded Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor K. 466 with Jean Martinon, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and Jeux d’eau. However, her main recordings were made for Deutsche Grammophon, beginning shortly after World War II. In 1948 she recorded the Piano Concerto in G major by Ravel with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and the North West German Radio Orchestra. It is a vibrant and exciting account of the work, the coarse recording and rough ensemble giving it a feeling of impromptu jazz. Haas recorded it again, plus the Concerto for Left Hand, with the Orchestre National de l’ORTF, Paris and Paul Paray in the mid-1960s. In September 1950 Haas recorded Stravinsky’s Capriccio, a work she had played with the composer. During the 1950s she recorded Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 along with more music by Ravel for Deutsche Grammophon including the Sonatine, Valses nobles et sentimentales and Le Tombeau de Couperin. In 1954 she recorded an extremely impressive account of Debussy’s complete études which won a Grand Prix du Disque award, and in the early 1960s recorded both books of Debussy’s préludes. A recital disc from the mid-1950s included works by Bartók, Roussel, Debussy and Haas’s husband Marcel Mihalovici. With the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Eugen Jochum in 1951, Haas recorded the Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 by Schumann, and with the same orchestra and Ferdinand Leitner recorded Mozart’s Piano Concertos in E flat K. 449 and A major K. 488. Haas’s style when playing Mozart is one of clarity and light detachment, features she uses in a recording of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in F major Hob. XVI:23. Her recording of Schumann’s Piano Concerto Op. 54 was coupled with the same composer’s Fantasiestücke Op. 12, but Haas is not so convincing in German repertoire.

In the early 1970s for Erato, Haas recorded the complete solo works for piano by Debussy and most of Ravel’s works for solo piano in 1968. Both are fine sets of recordings, but the Ravel was recorded with the microphone very close to the piano which is not flattering in this music. Highlights of the Debussy set are the Ballade and Suite Bergamasque. In 2005 Tahra issued a compact disc of radio recordings from the 1950s including Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54 and the Toccata for Piano and Orchestra Op. 44 by Haas’s husband Mihalovici.


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