About this Recording
GP711 - FRIEDMAN, I.: Original Piano Compositions (J. Banowetz)
English  German 

Ignaz Friedman (1882–1948)
Original Piano Compositions


The secret of timing—not to hurry, to trust

It would be hard to find a pianist today who performed nearly 3000 concerts and was able to maintain the parallel activities of composer, arranger, teacher, and editor. Ignaz Friedman—born just four years before Liszt’s demise—became the 20th-century expounder of Romantic pianism. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the leading virtuosi of the day, such as Josef Hofmann (1876–1957), Moriz Rosenthal (1862–1946), Leopold Godowsky (1870–1938), and Josef Lhévinne (1874–1944), he has been compared to Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894) in his phrasing. Friedman continues to be renowned for his remarkable interpretations of Chopin (1810–1849), whom he called “the real father” of Russian and Polish harmony.

From the small village of Podgórze near Kraków, Poland (also the birthplace of Josef Hofmann), Friedman was born Solomon Isaac Freudman to a Jewish musician father and a seamstress mother. His musical gifts were visible from a very early age, although consistent progress with piano lessons was not possible due to the family’s travels to the USA, Turkey, Greece, and Hungary, which allowed the young lad to observe the life of his father as a touring musician.

Returning to Poland at age eight, Friedman began studying with a reputable teacher, Flora Grzywinska, whom he credited with developing his virtuoso technique. She introduced him to the Well-Tempered Clavier of J. S. Bach, whose fugues he enjoyed transposing, a skill that carried him far even at a tender age. When he was ten years old, he was asked to tour as accompanist to a tenor from the Prague Opera House. If the tenor were having vocal difficulties, he would signal Friedman by knocking three times on the piano. Friedman would then transpose the music down the third and be monetarily compensated for that favour. Not one to miss an opportunity, the bright lad would also transpose up a third on good days to convince the poor tenor that he was once again having vocal difficulties. Perhaps not coincidentally, Friedman’s chain-smoking habit began around this time.

Completing his education at the Kraków Gymnasium, Friedman then briefly studied philosophy at the local Jagiellon University before leaving for Leipzig to continue music. There, he counted Hugo Riemann (1849–1919) amongst his teachers. A year later, Friedman left Leipzig. Armed with a letter of recommendation from Riemann (who described Friedman as possessing “a very strong talent for the profession of musician… and promise as a conductor”¹), the teen-aged Friedman tried to study piano in Vienna with the famous teacher Theodore Leschetizky (1830–1915), himself a pupil of Carl Czerny (1791–1857). Leschetizky told him that he would be better off to play the tuba and instead sent him to his assistant, Malwine Brée (1851–1937). Later, Friedman became Leschetizky’s favourite pupil. The pedagogue noted that Friedman possessed the three prerequisites needed to make a great musician: Slavic origins, Jewish heritage, and child prodigy. The Viennese years were financially difficult for Friedman, who went hungry in spite of meagre work as a music copyist.

Friedman’s Vienna debut on 22 November 1904 created a sensation after he played three virtuoso piano concerti (Brahms D minor, Tchaikovsky B flat minor, and Liszt E flat major). At another time, his prodigious musical gifts were again evident when he learned two piano concerti in one day from memory (Rubinstein and Henselt), replacing Rosenthal with the Riga Symphony Orchestra. With Leschetizky’s guidance and a vast repertoire ranging from Akimenko to Zelenski, Friedman’s career became international.

In the summer of 1908, Friedman participated in Ferruccio Busoni’s (1866–1924) masterclasses where he encountered yet a different musical approach and other world class musicians, such as José Viana da Mota (1868–1948) who was one of Liszt’s last pupils, Béla Bartók (1881–1945), and others. Friedman characterized Busoni as “a good musical thinker”.² Busoni dedicated his revised version of Liszt’s Paganini Etude No. 6 to Friedman³, who, in turn, transcribed Busoni’s version of the Liszt-Paganini Etude ‘La Campanella’ as a tribute.

While a Leschetizky assistant, Friedman met his future wife, Maria von Schidlowsky (“Manya”), a relation of the Leo Tolstoy family. Maria became his pupil after having received a diploma at the Liceo Musicale di Santa Cecilia with Giovanni Sgambati (1841–1914). After converting to Protestantism, Friedman married Maria on 27 April 1909 in Berlin where they lived until the onset of WWI. Their only daughter, Lydia, was born in 1910. After the war, the Friedmans moved to Copenhagen in 1920.

An avid card player, Friedman possessed an uncanny wit and charm. He liked to practice while simultaneously reading a book and even playing a card game. He admired Horowitz as a pianist and gave assistance to the grateful Rachmaninov.

Touring for nine months of every year, at a time when travelling was long and tedious, Friedman performed throughout Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Palestine, and Asia before joining his family at their summer home in Italy. His attempts to establish a career in America never materialized, perhaps due to: 1) the lack of assistance from his compatriot Hofmann at the Curtis Institute; 2) the inability to break into the artistic clique of impresario Arthur Judson; and 3) the preference of the American public for more modern interpretations.

During WWII, the Friedman family properties in Berlin and Italy were seized. Becoming a last-minute replacement for the duo team of Vronsky and Babin, Friedman, with his wife, left for Australia in 1940 where he remained until his death in 1948, after complications following surgery. Neuritis, brought on by diabetes, had earlier ended his performing career in 1943. Today, the Sydney Conservatory offers a composition prize in Friedman’s name.4

Friedman’s career embraced not only vast solo repertoire and piano concerti, but also chamber music. He would sometimes perform his own transcriptions, but generally kept to standard repertoire. In performances, he would often modulate between pieces preferring not to take a pause. He set the standard for performing Chopin’s Mazurkas and emphasized their peasant origins, telling his students not to forget that there was both a male and a female dancer.5 Friedman’s reputation as a great Chopin interpreter led Debussy to base his own edition, (commissioned by Durand) on that by Friedman.6 Technological novelties allowed Friedman to make the first recording of the entire 3rd Ballade of Chopin and to perform two-piano works with himself in concert by using a Duo Art reproducing piano.

Neville Cardus described Friedman on stage, “[One knew from] seeing him walk on stage that he was a great man. His spirit and aura cannot be conveyed. The most difficult thing he ever learned was timing, to pause without making the music stop. The secret of timing—not to hurry, to trust.”7

The originality and beauty of the works presented here make the listener wonder why they have been forgotten for nearly a century. Having been brought out of obscurity by pianist Joseph Banowetz, these musical portraits give us a look at Friedman’s inner life.

Friedman’s compositions are largely miniatures even if grouped into sets. He is the master of the character piece. Writing in late German Romantic style, his compositions are often harmonically complex although tonal. Friedman does not employ the sensuality of a Scriabin or a Szymanowski but allows the beauty and poignancy of the melody to shine. Rhythms are traditional and within the genre depicted. Pianistically accessible, Friedman’s works demand technical and musical perfection.

Wiener Tänze nach Motiven von Eduard Gärtner (1916–1929)

Friedman’s early successes of performances of transcriptions of Johann Strauss waltzes (Schulz-Evler and Godowsky) may have been in his mind when setting these themes sung by Viennese court opera baritone, Eduard Gärtner. The generous Friedman, in order to provide publication and recording royalties to the singer’s widow, ascribed the works to Gärtner with himself as “arranger”.8 These “slow waltzes” contain much variety and are dedicated to Friedman’s Viennese friends, Ernő Dohnányi (No. 1), Isidore Philipp (No. 2), Germaine Schnitzer (No. 3), Irene Hellmann-Redlich (No. 4), Else Hutterstrasse (No. 5) and Sylvia Figueirdo-Mafra (No. 6). Friedman recorded Nos. 1–4 on Duo Art, as well as No. 1 on Wax (1924) and Nos. 2 and 6 on English Columbia DB1347 (1933). The latter two may be heard on Naxos Historical 8.111114.

Vier Klavierstücke, Op. 27 (1908)

These four piano pieces in Romantic style, possess the melodic invention of the character pieces of a Schumann, a Grieg or a Brahms with the lush harmonic inventiveness of a Chopin or a Scriabin or a Rachmaninov. Traditional folk music of Poland is also drawn upon as a source of inspiration. The beautiful Brahmsian Prologue is dedicated to Helene Ottawa. Geständnis (Avowal) is an introspective Scriabinesque musing that is dedicated to his friend, pianist Severin Eisenberger (1879–1945). Mazurka, in authentic style of which Friedman was one of the great interpreters, is dedicated to Martha Schmidt (a Leschetizky pupil). Im Volkston, is dedicated to Frau R. J. Spokorny.

Strophes, Op. 71 (1911)

As a set, the pieces are well integrated and satisfying. However, each “strophe” could stand alone or as an encore. The first one shows the Viennese influence in Friedman’s life. The second contains the passion and agitation of a Robert Schumann. The third is a beautiful reflection with harmonic complexity. The fourth possesses a haunting melody similar to Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, while the fifth gives the pianist much room for personal expressiveness.

Stimmungen, Op. 79 (1918)

This collection of nine “mood” poems is dedicated to Sergey Rachmaninov, whose musical influence is inherent in the set. The German word Stimmung implies harmony or “being in tune”, whether in the outward sense of instruments or inward sense of spiritual states. The work begins with the opening motif of Chopin’s E minor Prélude, Op. 28, No. 4, then is interspersed with remembrances of Rachmaninov. The second piece is a colourful and rapid scherzo. The seriousness of the third is contrasted with the fourth’s Grieg-like melody and murmurings of a peaceful brook. The dance-like fifth piece is juxtaposed with the pensive Scriabinesque sixth.

The seventh piece is a lovely waltz. The eighth evokes Scriabin’s passionate Etude, Op. 8, No. 12 but is a humble tone below Scriabin’s. The mysterious and soulful final piece is a small set of variations in Russian style with lush harmonic wanderings that bring the set to a sombre close.

4 Präludien für Klavier zu zwei Händen, Op. 61 (1915)

The four Préludes in this enchanting opus written in the Mendelssohn or Lisztian manner, are dedicated respectively to the Danish pianist Anna Johanne Schytte (1880–1953), daughter of the composer Ludvig Schytte, the pianist Paul Goldschmidt (1882–1917), H.N. Petersen, and Monsieur W. Schmidt. Friedman’s expressive indications at the beginning of each Prélude are very apt. The first is “thoughtful”, the second Mendelssohnian, the third meandering, and the last full of passion and brilliance.

Nancy Lee Harper

¹ Evans, Allan (2009) Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 30.

² Op. cit. p. 60.

³ Op. cit., p. 335.

4 Friedman’s first composition as a young schoolboy was a gavotte played by his father’s orchestra. During his lifetime, he composed more than one hundred works for piano, voice, and cello, mostly miniatures. A piano quintet, a suite for two pianos, cadenzas for Beethoven’s Piano Concerti (Nos. 1–4) and preparatory studies for advanced technique are also found.His transcriptions number more than fifty works and represent not only works of the great masters but also popular tunes and arias of the day.

5 Op. cit., p.178, 204.

6 Friedman’s editions include Bach Inventions (Hansen), some Beethoven sonatas (published in Japan), Chopin solo and orchestral works (Breitkopf and Härtel, 12 volumes), Liszt (Universal, 12 volumes), Mendelssohn (Hansen, various works), Neupert (Hansen), and Schumann (Universal). See Evans, p. 353.

7 Op. cit., p. 214.

8 Op. cit., p. 113.

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