November 27, 1915
Page 3

Death of Theodor Leschetizky at the Age of Eighty-five Removes One of the Most Notable and Picturesque Figures in Music of the Last Half Century—Early Studies with Czerny—Career as a Virtuoso—His Many Love Affairs—Long Activity as Pedagogue in Vienna Preceded by Many Years of Work in Russia—The Leschetizky Method—Paderewski His Most Celebrated Pupil—Americans Who Have Studied with Him

THE dean of piano pedagogues, Theodor Leschetizky, died on Nov. 17, at Dresden, at the age of eighty-five. Unquestionably the most famous teacher of piano that the last half century produced, Leschetizky had lived in Vienna the major part of his lengthy career. Recently he had taken residence in a village near Dresden. Like his most famous living pupil, Paderewski, Leschetizky was of Polish birth, his natal place being Lancut, Galicia, not far from Lemberg, Austrian Poland. The master teacher first saw daylight on June 22, 1830. Until lately his energy had remained unimpaired and he had continued his activities with unflagging zeal.
It was his mother who determined that Leschetizky’s musical talent, which was marked even at a very tender age, should be developed to the utmost. During his hours of practice (according to the Comtesse Angèle Potocka, from whose biographical study many anecdotes are herewith borrowed), Mme. Leschetizky was constantly on the alert, fearful lest an opportunity to help should present itself and be lost. She seldom bestowed praise, but her intuition was usually infallible and resulted in constructive criticism. Theodor was at that time studying the Italian school. He made his début in public at the age of nine. Here is his own account of this event:
“My father took me to Leopole (Lemberg) to take part in a concert. I was to play Czerny’s Concertina with orchestra, under the bâton of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—a son of the immortal Mozart—then musical director in Lemberg. The theater was a miserable, barn-like structure. Moreover, it was infested with rats, and during the rehearsal I noticed a number of these abject animals running about in the body of the house. The concert was a grand affair. I was myself transported with delight by the admirable reading of the great Polish actor, Bogumil Dawison, who declaimed a number of pieces with which I was familiar.
“He was at that time already quite celebrated, especially for his incomparable interpretations of brigand rôles. After the concert, the friend at whose house we were stopping presented me with a real little gun, and next morning I went back to the theater to hunt the rats.”
The boy’s first love was his cousin, Mincia Merkl, who is described as a charming, blue-eyed blonde. An amusing story which illustrates how ready were the future master’s rejoinders is told of Leschetizky when, as a child, he played at the apartments of Prince Metternich, then chancellor of the Empire. His first taste of champagne exhilarated him strangely but pleasureably. Metternich, who enjoyed drawing the boy out, said to him: “Well, Theodor, whom would you wish to marry?” The child, fixing his bright eyes on one of the bottles, rejoined enthusiastically: “Veuve Clicquot, your· Highness,” an answer eliciting much applause.
Theodor’s development was rapid, for before he was eleven, besides being generally well advanced in all his studies, he had acquired very considerable fluency in reading music. His father, who watched his progress sharply, used to take the boy to the “Geistige Concerte.” After one of these events, father and son would sit down to play the overture or symphony heard the evening before. In two years the child had been through a great deal of Beethoven’s music, and this exercise proved of great value to him; for so deep an impression had the orchestral version made upon him that he was able to reproduce it on the piano with great fidelity as regards tempo and dynamics. He remained ever a devout admirer of Beethoven.
Studies with Czerny
As his technical prowess increased the necessity of a fresh stimulus was engendered in the boy and he conceived a burning desire to meet the noted pedagogue, Karl Czerny. Taken by his father to play for Czerny, Theodor tells of having performed that master’s Concertina and the “Alexander Variations” of Herz. Thereafter, Theodor went every Sunday for lessons with Czerny, whom he describes as highly intelligent, deeply interested in politics and commanding seven languages. His method of teaching, according to Leschetizky, was somewhat that of an orchestral director. He gave his lessons standing, indicating the different shades of tempo and coloring by gestures. Czerny insisted principally on accuracy, brilliancy and pianistic effects. Under him the youth played much Bach and some of the works of Alkan, Thalberg and, above all, Beethoven. “Czerny taught that Beethoven should be rendered with freedom of delivery and depth of feeling. A pedantic, inelastic interpretation of the master made him wild. He allowed me to play Chopin as I pleased ***.” Czerny’s lessons cost five florins.
The meeting with Liszt occurred long after. Of course, it was a day apart, the day on which he was to meet the great man who had revolutionized piano playing. Leschetizky recounts his impressions of Liszt vividly. That same year he played for Thalberg, the aristocrat among pianists, who gave the boy an autographed picture. These were gala days for the budding artist. Now and again he earned handsome sums for playing in Prince Esterhazy’s drawing room. This money, however, was freely spent, and his early habit of lavishness clung to Leschetizky throughout his life. He was always generous and free-handed.
The year 1842 marked the meeting of Leschetizky and the Rubinsteins, who, accompanied by their teacher, Villoing, had gone to Vienna. A fast friendship was quickly cemented between Anton and Theodor. The latter was endowed with a good soprano voice, which was heard in church and attracted the attention of the celebrated tenor, Salvi. After singing one evening in the open air against better advices, Theodor found himself, on the following day, bereft of his voice.
Donizetti was the first to be judge of the youth’s efforts at composition and gave him valuable advice. The Italian master also took Theodor to Schõnbrunn, where he played for the Emperor Ferdinand and the Archduke Charles. All this time Theodor (or Dory, as he was called) was studying assiduously under Czerny. He was also teaching, many of his pupils being older than he. His first pupil was one Rossi, father of the gifted violinist.
The youth’s independent spirit impelled him to be self-supporting even at this time and, as soon as his pupils began to bring him sufficient revenue, he rented two rooms adjoining his father’s. Thus, at the age of fourteen, he was established in his own quarters. This period also found him essaying the study of counterpoint with the illustrious Simon Sechter, to whom Leschetizky always remained deeply grateful. Although Theodor was never fortunate enough to meet Chopin personally, he was, in his own words, “a fervent worshipper at the great Pole’s shrine.” He made friends with Filtsch, a brilliant Chopin pupil, presented him with an autographed manuscript copy of a Chopin impromptu. This has remained one of his most precious relics. At the susceptible age of fifteen Theodor fell desperately in love with a certain Mlle. Angri, a famous singer of that period. The affair, however, came to naught.
In 1845, Theodor and a number of friends went to Dresden to assist at the première of “Tannhäuser.” Of course, Leschetizky was hypnotized by Wagner’s music. Meantime, the pianist’s reputation had spread beyond the walls of Vienna and outside of his native province of Galicia. He went to Prague that year, and in 1846 to Buda-Pesth to participate in some of Berlioz’s concerts. The French composer’s high encomiums pleased the young pianist mor•e than his own unequivocal triumph with the critical Buda-Pesth audiences.
Hearing Schulhoff formed an epoch in Leschetizky’s career. Schulhoff’s playing was a revelation and an inspiration. The stimulus provided by his lovely cantabile playing never deserted Theodor and he finally mastered the secret for himself. Gifted by nature with inordinate mechanical facility, he attained brilliant virtuosity in his youth and always maintained that his technique was at its zenith when he was seventeen. His early acquired habit of concentration was a great help; for Leschetizky practiced only three hours daily at the most. But he was never idle, having a good deal of university work to accomplish. The great dramatist, Grillparzer, came into his list at this time and left his mark upon the rapidly broadening mind of the younger man.
The Revolution was unchained in 1848 and Theodor was wounded in the right arm in a quarrel with a comrade. Recovered, the pianist was seized with wanderlust, and visited Italy for the first time. In Venice love smote him again and this time grievously. He played for and became friendly with one charming Giulia. But the dream lasted only two weeks—Theodor was refused. Again in Vienna, he threw himself ardently into his work. He was honored by the visit from Meyerbeer, carrying the inevitable red umbrella. The object of the latte’s visit was highly flattering, for he had come to request Leschetizky to teach one of his daughters. Meyerbeer also encouraged Theodor’s first attempt at opera, “Die Brüder von San Marco.”
Leschetizky made the acquaintance of von Bülow during the time that the latter was studying law in Leipsic. He also met Litolff. Always the social instinct was active in Leschetizky’s character. At twenty he was a visitor at the most artistocratic homes in Vienna. He was everywhere a favorite. Another love affair closed unsuccessfully and Leschetizky was persuaded to go to St. Petersburg. He was equipped with but one word of the Russian language—“Karavannaia,” the name of the street where his friends there lived. Chief among his friends in the Russian capital were Anton Rubinstein, Henselt, Baron Stieglitz and the Princess Ustinov.
Career in Russia
The pianist’s public début in St. Petersburg was delayed by an unforeseen and unfortunate occurrence. His concerts had already been advertised when Michel Stohl fell dangerously ill of typhoid fever. With characteristic generosity, Theodor immediately abrogated his contracts and devoted himself to nursing his sick friend. The latter becoming convalescent, Leschetizky made his début at the Michel Theater, an event which was soon followed by offers of further engagements and applications of pupils. In fact, his position in St. Petersburg became quickly assured.
In the summer of 1853, the master made a trip to Finland and gave successful concerts in Helsingfors. Not long after his return to the Russian capital, he received a summons to play for t the Emperor and Empress and was obliged to sacrifice a promising young beard, for the official mandate insisted that its recipient be smooth-shaven. The instrument at court was in bad condition, and the artist left without playing. Later another was procured expressly for Leschetizky.. Conditions were good in St. Petersburg so far as Theodor was concerned, and he seriously considered remaining there permanently. Finally, he went back to Vienna, only to return to St. Petersburg, where another ardent love affair was blighted in the bud.
Later Anton Rubinstein recommended Leschetizky for the post of concert-master at the court of the Grand Duchess Helen. He accepted and, in so doing, met Anne de Friedebourg, one of the ladies of honor. In this case his suit was successful and he married her in the winter of 1855-56. She was a wonderful singer, praised highly by Rubinstein, and a pupil of Viardot Garcia. The marriage was celebrated with pomp. One of the most interesting figures that Leschetizky met at court was Carmen Sylva, later Queen of Roumania.
In 1858 the artist became connected with the Smolna Institute, where his duties comprised examination of all new students of music, general supervision, etc. But he felt the need of extending his pedagogical horizon and began to assemble a number of private pupils to whom he gave class lessons at moderate prices. From far and wide pupils flocked to him. Soon he was obliged to have assistants and his pupils, Van Ark, Sinovieff and Luscheck, became preparatory teachers. He never relinquished this system of Vorbereiter, which he felt to be advantageous both to teacher and pupil; especially the latter.
The year 1860 found his mother’s health failing and she died soon after.
In 1864 a twelve-year-old girl was brought to the St: Petersburg Conservatory, then in existence about two years. It was Annette Essipoff, destined to be Leschetizky’s second wife. Theodor predicted great things for her; and these were indeed fulfilled. Conjugal relations with his present wife were gradually becoming strained. Finally, with characteristic frankness, Leschetizky admitted to his wife his true feeling for Annette. On Dec. 21, 1871, he parted from his wife.
During his long· Russian sojourn Leschetizky became intimate with a number of distinguished native composers. This period (1870) may perhaps be considered the most brilliant of his virtuoso career. He gave many successful concerts in the principal Cities of Russia, Austria, England and Germany. In London he was associated in concerts with the famous violinists, Auer and Sarasate. There he also met Gounod. In 1874 Leschetizky received the Franz-Josef Order from the Emperor of Austria. His other decorations were the Anna and Stanislaw orders, the Gustav Vaca and the Roumanian Order of Commandeur.
In 1878, Leschetizky and his wife, Mme. Essipoff, were both stricken with typhoid fever. After strength had returned they journeyed to Vienna to comfort his father’s declining years. In 1882 he was honored with a visit from Liszt. To entertain the master of Weimar properly, Leschetizky sacrificed hearing the first presentation in Mannheim of his own opera, “Die Erste Falte.” At about this time Leschetizky met Francesco Lamperti, and became a friend of the noted vocal teacher.
Paderewski as a Pupil
Leschetizky’s spirit of enterprise was a factor in establishing the now celebrated Tonkünstler Verein in Veinna. Its inception may be said to have dated from the year 1881. It was here that Leschetizky brougt out his world-famous pupil, Paderewski, who went to Vienna at this period to study with him in 1885. Of all his pupils Leschetizky claimed that Paderewski was the most docile. There was no remark so insignificant, no detail so small as to deserve less than his whole passionate attention. In two modest rooms, in No. 46 Anastasias Grungasse (which for motives of sentiment he retains on a life lease), with a scanty wardrobe and few comforts, Paderewski patiently laid the cornerstone of his great career. His début in Vienna excited no special comment, but Leschetizky’s faith in the future of his pupil was firm. Paderewski studied on and off in Vienna for two years, receiving lessons from Mme. Essipoff and many from Leschetizky.
On the 4th of March, 1887, Leschetizky terminated his virtuoso career at Frankfort-am-Main, playing Beethoven’s E Flat Concerto, under the direction of Desshof. In 1892 Leschetizky and Essipoff were divorced, and two years later the master married Eugenie de Benislawski. That year Rubinstein gave his Cyclus in Vienna. Tickets were difficult to procure and Rubinstein generously offered to give a private concert for Theodor’s pupils. That event was a great one; in the audience were Albert Gutman, Rosenthal, Grünfeld, Schlitt and other notables. It was the last meeting between the great Anton and Leschetizky, who claimed that the Russian virtuoso was the greatest pianist that ever lived.
Leschetizky was a liberal-minded man and very much of a cosmopolite. He was extremely generous, but was also very sensitive. The slightest proof of affection, however, touched him deeply. His intense interest in dumb creatures was one of Leschetizky’s most conspicuous traits. Hospitality, too, was deeply in grained. His favorite diversions were cards and billiards. Personal traits included attachments for certain inanimate objects, such as a pencil, or articles of dress, which he could not be persuaded to relinquish even in a stage of dilapidation. He was averse to discussing himself.
The master was always a fervent admirer of the classics, and believed the study of the older school to be the foundation of musicianship in piano playing. Yet he was not narrow, for he inclined toward the modern school. His musical memory was prodigious. New works of merit he hailed with eager interest. He and Schütt sat up a whole night studying “Cavalleria Rusticana,” and it was due to Leschetizky that the work was put on at the Vienna Opera and performed under its composer’s direction.
The Lesehetizky Method
Here is the Leschetizky method, according to his. sister-in-law, the Comtesse Potocka:
“As far as the position of the hand is concerned, it offers nothing strikingly different from the .common practice of modern virtuosi—a rather low, pliable wrist, high knuckles, curved fingers with firm tips, light thumb, and accurate preparation in advance of all single tones, octaves, chords, etc. The peculiar excellence of his teaching consisted, I believe, in. the absolute obedience, concentration of mind and purpose not only demanded but actually obtained from every pupil, the minute attention to detail and the patient reiteration of suggestion.
“The assistants, at that time four in number, prepared the ground, and the master’s lesson was valuable chiefly, perhaps because he devoted his energy to each accepted pupil during his allotted time as though he were alone in the class. No one can in justice rank him with those who, viewing the lesson from a commercial rather than from an artistic or philanthropic standpoint, too indolent to exact from each pupil his best, allow mistakes to go by uncorrected and dismiss the offender with a smile. And further, his strength lay in his careful study of, and respect for, each individuality, in his intuitive knowledge of every student’s faults, and in his unerring hand in the application of proper remedies. A certain despotism, an irritability at times finding vent in cutting sarcasm, was not without value.
“To be entirely candid, I must admit that my brother-in-law was not always impartial, and that when he conceived an aversion he would do or say anything to justify it. Certain personalities affected him pleasantly, others unpleasantly, and in the latter case master and pupil were both victims. On the other hand, his methods found their justification in the necessity, or at least, expediency of trying a pupil’s metal; for, as he has said, ‘If they cannot bear with me, how will they face the world?’ And as the striking of steel on stone brings forth the spark, so his apparently unmitigated severity often peremptorily called forth what might otherwise have remained latent forever.
“Leschetizky’s kindness never degenerated; he encouraged no false hopes; his dearly bought approbation was always sincere. He recognized and acknowledged the good in each pupil, endeavored to develop it and point out its proper sphere of action; but, believing that an important element of strength lay in self-knowledge, he did not shrink from the duty of mercilessly revealing to each his limitations.
“Leschetizky’s was primarily a school of virtuosity; brilliancy, velocity, authoritative rhythms, and all specially pianistic effects being chiefly insisted upon. He once remarked to me that the pianist’s art is akin to the actor’s; the piano should be used declamatorily; the pianist must speak.
“He generally gave but three lessons a day; and though he began shortly after noon, the four o’clock dinner-hour usually found him still teaching. Any invisible eavesdropper was forced to smothered laughter at Herr Professor’s sallies, often of too personal and stinging a nature to amuse the victims, but always to the point and full of wit. And it was interesting to follow the apt comparisons, the plastic explanations and the exciting little drama enacted in the studio—the lightning-flashes, the often hasty retreat of the unfortunate pupil, the thundering rage of the old man, who was so quickly soothed, and so prompt to regret his harshness, which he often expiated by a sleepless night of remorse. The pupil’s waiting room, its walls decorated with autographs and pictures of famous artists and other great personages of the century, was suggestively called the Chamber of Tortures.”
Leschetizky gave up active teaching about two years ago, when he underwent an operation for cataract; but up to that time his work had been uninterrupted. The cataract was successfully removed. His fourth wife was Mme. Rosbowska, whom he married about seven years ago. She survives him. His piano compositions were chiefly salon pieces.
American Pupils Leschetizky’s most prominent American pupil was undoubtedly Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler. He used to call Mme. Zeisler his “electric wonder.” One of the chief charms of her playing is a beautiful tone, the secret of which may be· discovered in the handling of the sustaining pedal, one of Leschetizky’s specialties. Other distinguished American pupils of the Polish master are John Powell, Howard Wells, Marguerite Melville, Wager Swayne, Clarence Bird, Edwin Hughes and Ward-Stephens.
The following celebrities of the first water were his pupils: Stepanoff, Wienkowska, Galston, Hopekirk; Sieveking, Schütt, Slivinski, Gabrilowitsch, Katharine Goodson, Hambourg and Artur Schnabel. The eminent Vorbereiter, Mme. Malwine Brée, and Valle·Hanson, Prentner and Jahn have achieved an international reputation. It is said of Leschetizky that he so entered · into everything his pupils did that he could not endure the strain of attending a concert in which they participated, but remained at home, sending his wife, who must needs report faithfully every detail of the performance.


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