.WAFL (l-.@5S-Qa{9ep_ntry(k.3CS-Qa{9ep_-rurl .http://www.bohnenstengel.net/leschetizky.htmlmime text/htmlhntt"73d1c05b727c41:2a20"hvrsdata Theodor Leschetizky


Theodor Leschetizky

Following is an interview with the well-known Leschetizky expert Prof. Dr. Max Rudolph von Holzhausen on the famous pianist, teacher, and composer Theodor Leschetizky.

Dr. von Holzhausen, who exactly was Leschetizky?

Leschetizky was a famous pianist and composer in the nineteenth century, but he became especially well-known as a piano teacher. Being a pupil himself of the great Carl Czerny, Leschetizky went on to teach many world-class pianists. I'm thinking of pianists like Alexander Brailovsky, Ignaz Friedman, Ignace Paderewski, Benno Moisewitsch, or Artur Schnabel.

When was Leschetizky born?

He was born in Poland in 1830, but went to Vienna to study with Czerny when he was only eleven. At the age of thirty-two, Leschetizky joined the faculty of the St. Petersburg Conservatory to teach piano. He taught Anton Rubinstein's pupils while Rubinstein (then direcor of the Conservatory) was on tour, and he later became head of the piano department. However, in 1878 he returned to Vienna and eventually died in 1915. Leschetizky started teaching when he was still fairly young (probably at the age of fourteen) and was surrounded by students throughout his life. Three of his four wives were his piano students: Annette Essipov, Eugenia Donnemourska, and Gabrielle Rosborska. His first wife, Anne de Friedebourg, was a fine singer.

Who were, besides Czerny, the biggest musical influences on Leschetizky?

Besides Czerny, the Bohemian pianist Julius Schulhoff probably had the greatest impact on Leschetizky. Leschetizky heard him when he was about twenty years old and was amazed by "that cantabile, a legato such as [he] had not dreamed possible on the piano, a human voice rising above the sustaining harmonies!" Leschetizky then tried very hard to find that touch which produced such beautiful tones. He stopped playing pieces and just worked on exercises in order to train his fingers. Schulhoff, who was a friend of Chopin and probably absorbed some of his style of playing, probably had the biggest influence on Leschetizky's piano playing besides Czerny. Another influence on Leschetizky certainly was Anton Rubinstein. He talked often with his students about Rubinstein's way of breathing between phrases and in pauses. Leschetizky learned that "there is more rhythm between the notes than in the notes themselves."

What do we know about Leschetizky's teaching? Did he write any essays, books, or manuals?

Leschetizky himself wrote nearly nothing about his teaching. However, several of his students and assistants described his way of teaching. Ethel Newcomb and Annette Hullah wrote books about their studies with Leschetizky, Countesse Angele Potocka wrote an "intimate" biography of him. Two of Leschetizky's studio assistants, Malwine Bree and Marie Pretner, wrote technical manuals. However, these sources are based on very personal experiences and thus can't be treated as "definite truth."

Is there any secret, any method behind his teaching?

This is a question I expected, since there are arguments both pro and con. Leschetizky himself emphasized that he didn't have a method, he would even "laugh [...] when one speaks of his 'method' or 'system'." On the other hand, he approved the manual by his studio assistant Malwine Bree entitled "The Groundwork of the Leschetizky Method." This sounds like a contradiction in itself. However, we have to consider that Leschetizky never taught beginners. Thus, when he talked about not having a method, he meant a method for pianists who are already highly skilled pianists. Malwine Bree's manual on the other hand deals with basic exercises - exercises for students who are not yet on the technical level to be accepted by Leschetizky himself. So there is not really a contradiction.

Further, the similarities in the way of playing among his students (technically, not interpretationally) also seem to prove that Leschetizky indeed had a basic method of playing the piano. However, this method isn't concerned with interpretation, for which Leschetizky refused to have a certain system. Here is a citation of Paderewsky which reinforces the idea that I just explained: "There are principles, you will agree, that are to be uniformly inculcated in every pupil - that is breadth, softness of touch and precision of rhythm. For the rest, every individual is treated according to his talent."

You mentioned similarities in the way of playing the piano of his students and how they indicate a certain method of Leschetizky's teaching. What are some of those?

One of the things most of them have in common is their position at the piano. They are sitting rather straight on the bench and do not make any inessential movements. Leschetizky tried to explain the right position at the piano with the analogy of a horsemen. A horseman sits unconstrained and erect on his horse and as well as the horseman yields to the movement of his steed, the pianist should yield to the movements of the arms as far as necessary. Also, Leschetizky didn't approve of posing (for example to lean back to show that one is inspired) or carelessness at the piano. We can see these points very well in Moisewitsch's playing, who could play the most expressive cantabile or the most exuberant bravura with the same facial expression and very little movement. Leschetizky also used another analogy to explain the minimal body movements, he compared muscular relaxation in piano playing with the deep breathing of a singer.

Another characteristic in the playing of Leschetizky's students is the "beautiful" tone. Leschetizky was always on the search for the purest and most beautiful tone. Leschetizky believed that a good sound is created by the brain, not by the hands. Thus, he always emphasized deepest concentration during practice. He suggests that one should stop after a few measures and think if one really played what one wanted. Just if the right sound and interpretation is achieved should one go on. Leschetizky also suggested that "listening to the inward singing of a phrase was of far more value than playing it a dozen times[...] The best study could be done away from the piano."

Dr. Holzhausen, following that it seems as though Leschetizky's teaching was based on a certain method. Why do many people - including Leschetizky himself - argue against it?

As I described earlier, there is a basic technique in piano playing (how you sit, move, practice, etc.). Leschetizky certainly believed in and used a method about how the best basic technique is achieved (as we can see for example in his approval of Bree's manual). But, there is also a interpretative side in piano playing. This is the part where Leschetizky didn't use a certain method. Moisewitsch said that Leschetizky never taught pupils the same piece in the same way. Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler said in an interview that "he studied the individuality of each pupil and taught him accdording to that individuality. It might almost be said that he had a different method for each pupil." That makes clear that Leschetizky stressed the individuality of each of his students. Maybe this individual treatment of each of his students was his actual method, and maybe that's what made him so successful as a teacher.

Prof. Dr. Max Rudolph von Holzhausen, thank you very much for the interview.


Prof. Dr. Max Rudolph von Holzhausen is a fictional figure and used only to demonstrate the diversity in opinions about the "Leschetizky method."