These are brands of piano manufacturers which have consistently produced concert quality instruments and are frequently encountered on the stages of major concert venues. They are listed more or less in order of my preference. However, artistic satisfaction always depends on the condition of the individual piano at the time when it is played, and thus the ordering can vary:
- FAZIOLI pianos: http://www.fazioli.com/
(I’m on the Fazioli artist list of 1988...)
- German STEINWAY: http://www.steinway-hamburg.de/ (website is in German)
- MASON & HAMLIN (made in USA): http://masonhamlin.com/
- New York STEINWAY: http://www.steinway.com/
- C. BECHSTEIN: http://bechstein.com/en/home-page.html
(in German: http://bechstein.com/startseite.html)
- BÖSENDORFER: http://www.boesendorfer.com/
- YAMAHA: http://www.yamaha.com/ (they also make motorcycles and other non-piano related things!)
Albert Hirsh (1915–2003) was an extraordinary musician, pianist, teacher, and human being. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him during my formative years as a budding pianist.
Originally from Chicago, he later moved to Houston where he lived a modest but comfortable life as professor of piano at the University of Houston. He also had a fair number of private students who always came to his house on Saturdays for their lessons. And I think we all must have worshipped him in some way or other. Most of the time, I only took lessons every other week, but it was always a big event to me when I went in to Houston for my lesson.
He was certainly something of a child prodigy — perhaps not of the “Mozart” variety, but he did perform his New York solo debut recital in Town Hall at the age of 18, or perhaps even earlier. His program included demanding works such as “Triana” by Isaac Albéniz (which by itself is quite a feat at any age.) And in his teaching studio at U-of-H (I had one lesson there), one was constantly reminded of his Chicago debut, played around the same time period, which was announced prominently on a huge poster hanging on the wall — along with the likes of Artur Schnabel and Josef Lhevinne who were both performing in the same series that season.
Obviously, Albert Hirsh started out his career with solo ambitions. He performed as a soloist with orchestra on occasion, too. The “Variations on a Nursery Song, Op. 25” by Ernst von Dohnanyi and the Rachmaninoff 2nd concerto were big warhorses of his. What most people don’t know about him (but the people who mattered DID know!) is that he was in great demand as a collaborative artist throughout his long career with the likes of Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Feuermann, Wolfgang Schneiderhan and just about every other artist (well-known name or not) who toured the southern United States, or Mexico, and needed an accompanist — often on very short notice. He had absolute pitch and could sight-read virtually anything. Blessed with an incredibly flexible technique as well, he had a command of the entire chamber music repertoire for strings and piano in all conceivable combinations, and he had probably performed it all at some point during his life.
When I met Walter Hautzig for the first time, who was my teacher at the Peabody Conservatory, he told me about a recital that Albert Hirsh and Emanuel Feuermann played at the Curtis Institute during the time when Hautzig was still a student there. They played Chopin’s big Introduction and Polonaise in C Major, Op. 3 which has a brilliant piano part. Albert Hirsh apparently stole the show from Feuermann with that piece!
Nevertheless, if one of his students planned a recital somewhere, he and Mildred, his wife of many years, would take the time and drive for an hour or two in order to attend it, sit through the program, attend a reception afterwards, and then drive back home — regardless of where it might be taking place. I’ll never forget one example of this generosity: their son lives in Denmark, and once a year (or fairly regularly) they fled from the 100-degree heat of southern Texas to fly to Europe and visit him in the summer months. So when I played at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen in August of 1983, he showed up together with Mildred quite unexpectedly at the concert — in spite of a bad cold and fever he was having — just to hear me play! After my school days (and my lessons) ended, we corresponded frequently during the years I lived as an “expat” in Germany and Switzerland.
Listen to some of these extremely rare recordings of his playing which are now available on YouTube, and you will get an idea of the kind of artist he was. The links will open in a new window:
- with Emanuel Feuermann in Town Hall, New York
City — Feb. 9, 1941
(unfortunately, just the end of Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major, Op. 102 No. 2 for violoncello and piano)
- with Mordecai Baumann: Six Songs by Charles Ives
- with Wolfgang Schneiderhan: Le Cygne (The Swan) by Camille Saint-Saëns (arrangement from “Carnival of the Animals” — recording by Deutsche Grammophon)
Here are a couple of concert programs from his performances with Emanuel Feuermann in Michigan and with Yehudi Menuhin in Lubbock, Texas:
- Program: Feuermann + Hirsh / Ann Arbor, Michigan (from Oct. 30, 1941 — a local copy is here, just in case the above link is broken.)
- Autographed program from Nov. 30, 1950 in Lubbock, Texas (with Yehudi Menuhin)
These are recordings of a complete recital played by Albert Hirsh together with Shirley Trepel, violoncellist at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University on March 15, 1978. The links lead to the school’s Digital Scholarship Archive page for each individual work which contains links to downloadable MP3 audio files of the performances:
- Beethoven: Sonata in C Major, Op. 102 No. 1
- Hindemith: Sonata Op. 11 No. 3 (the first movement is split up into two files)
- Rachmaninoff: Sonata in G minor, Op. 19
- Printed program (PDF format) with program notes and bios of the performers
Here is an extensive interview which appeared on Sept. 30, 1984 in the “Houston Chronicle”.
Finally, here is an obituary which appeared in the “Houston Chronicle”.
(Albert, we miss you dearly ... your memory is a blessing!)
- Official website of Leon Fleisher (be sure to check out the videos on that site!)
- “Salute to Elliott Carter” (look for 1983 - I am first in the
- Dedication from Elliott Carter in my copy of his “Piano Sonata (1945-46)”
- Gamba Sonata by “Carlo Angeloni” (humorous parody of Baroque performance practice, in German)
- My page at the Alte Kantonsschule in Aarau where I have taught piano since 1985 (in German)
Finally, here are a few hobbies of mine:
(yes, I know, I really should be practicing … )
- My collection of Russian Imperial coins and U.S. coins (the first page takes forever to load, so please be patient!)
- Russian Numismatic Society (RNS) — an international
group of collectors and numismatists who have a serious interest in furthering general and detailed knowledge about all aspects
of Russian coins, mostly from the Imperial period of the Russian Tsars beginning with Peter the Great and ending with Nicholas II,
but also from times before and after that era.
I have written three articles for the Journal of the Russian Numismatic Society. You can order the back issues from the RNS, but here you can see just the first page of each article:
- JRNS, No. 84: A Statistical View of the Two Principle Varieties of the 1913 Romanov Tercentenary Rouble
- JRNS, No. 88: The 15 Rouble Gold Coins of 1897: An Overlooked Variety
- JRNS, No. 90: Die Characteristics of the 50 Kopeck Coins of Nicholas II
- http://www.coinpeople.com/ Some of the world’s most knowledgeable collectors and numismatists hang out here.
- Here are some of the ones that DIDN’T get away! A pastime I used to share with my
Dad, and now by myself, and also with my sister whenever we get a chance. Although my wife doesn’t fish, she likes
to eat the fish I catch. And she even composed a “Fisherman Song” for me
after I brought home a little trout I caught in Norway at 5 am (while she was still asleep) on one of our summer holiday trips
(sunrise is early there in the summer).
(Hint: when visiting the fish page, hit CTRL-R to refresh the display in order to shuffle the pictures around, because a few photos are always hidden — just like the fish!)
- Until I was in my senior year of high school, I was never sure as to whether I should become a scientist (physicist, engineer,
etc.) or a musician. During the summer months of 1968, I was selected to participate in the John von Neumann summer mathematics
program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where I learned some computer languages (PL/1, Fortran and
Basic … I’ve forgotten these, however, since I never used any of them since then) as well as taking courses in advanced
math (probability and statistics as well as number theory come to mind). After graduating from high school, I studied at Rice
University for a year before taking an audition in piano at the Peabody Conservatory. My parents would have rather seen me in
science, but we made a deal that if I passed the entrance audition, I could study music at Peabody …
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