Arthur Loesser received his education at New York’s City College and at Columbia University, where he concentrated on zoology. At the Institute of Musical Art in New York, which was later to become the Juilliard School of Music, Loesser studied piano with Sigismond Stojowski and Percy Goetschius. He graduated from the Institute of Musical Art with the highest honours.
After debuts in Berlin and New York, Loesser toured Australia with violinist Maud Powell between 1914 and 1919, and Japan, China, and the Philippines with violinist Mischa Elman in 1920. He appeared often throughout America, in 1921 touring the States with soprano Ernestine Schumann-Heink. In 1926 Loesser joined the piano faculty of the Cleveland Institute and remained there for the rest of his professional life, later becoming head of the piano department. During World War II Loesser was an intelligence officer in the US Army. He took a six-week course in Japanese at Columbia University and was called to the Pentagon to translate Japanese documents. After the war he was posted to Japan where he was the first American to perform in the country for a Japanese audience. He played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11 with the Nippon Philharmonic Orchestra at Hibiya Hall and lectured in Japanese. Languages were clearly another of his talents as he apparently learnt Portuguese in a month in order to lecture in South America. After returning to America, Loesser continued his career as teacher, performer and lecturer on music, becoming head of the piano department of the Cleveland Institute. He was a modest man who did not seek fame, preferring to play chamber music for friends. Loesser was the half-brother of Broadway composer Frank Loesser and wrote two books, Humor in American Song (1943) and, one of the most well-known books on pianists, Men, Women and Pianos: a Social History (1954).
Loesser first appeared on record as a result of his touring partners. In 1915 he accompanied violinist Maud Powell in some recordings for Victor, and in 1921 accompanied violinist Mischa Elman, also for Victor. His first electrical recordings were made as accompanist to violinist Toscha Seidel. These recordings, of the Violin Sonatas No. 1 in G major Op. 78 and No. 2 in A major Op. 100 by Brahms, and Grieg’s Sonata No. 3 in C minor Op. 45, are extremely fine. Seidel has a wonderful tone and both players seem totally involved in their music-making. Most of this material has appeared on compact disc.
For a very small American label, Friends of Recorded Music, Loesser recorded Brahms’s rarely-heard Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor Op. 2. In the early 1960s Loesser appeared on one side of an LP recorded for the Composers Recordings Inc. label where he plays piano music by Marcel Dick, Juli Nunlist and Jane Corner Young.
Some of Loesser’s recitals were recorded, one of the most well-known being the one he gave at New York’s Town Hall in October 1967. Entitled Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, it is a programme of rarely-heard piano pieces that were popular in their day but have since fallen into oblivion. Loesser enjoyed finding and playing such works, and in this recital pieces by Dussek, Hummel, Field and Clementi are included with those by Anton Rubinstein, Paderewski, Leopold Godowsky and Ferruccio Busoni which may not be so unusual today. However, those by Jensen, Reger, Casella and Raff really were obscurities then and remain so now. This concert has been issued on LP in the past by the International Piano Archives and more recently on compact disc by the Marston label, along with excerpts from recitals given at the Cleveland Institute in 1967 and in Maryland in 1964. It is interesting to hear Loesser in a variety of music by Bach, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Beethoven, and fascinating to hear him play Prokofiev and Chopin, to each of which he gives an individual voice.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).