Pianist / Conductor Justus
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Justus Frantz is an internationally acclaimed German pianist and
conductor. He began playing piano at the age of four. Professor Eliza
Hansen early recognized his talent fostered it. Later the young
musician studied conducting under Wilhelm Kempff.
At age of 23, Frantz became the youngest musician ever to be granted a
scholarship by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (German
National Scholarship Foundation). In 1967 he won a prize at an
international music competition held by a famous German TV channel,
which marked the beginning of his international fame.
In 1970, he rose into the group of first-class pianists with the Berlin
Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan. He celebrated
his US debut five years later with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Leonard Bernstein, whose musical ideals he continues to
adhere to. Bernstein's dream of an international, young and
professional orchestra inspired Frantz to found the Philharmonia of the
Nations in 1995. As the chief conductor, Frantz works throughout the
world with the constantly updating cast of the orchestra, also
discovering new names. He does a lot to cultivate young talents, and
therefore his schedule includes frequent auditions, which gives young
musicians a great chance to start an international career. Among the
musicians who were first introduced to the audience by Justus Frantz
are violinists Maxim Vengerov, Midori and Joseph Lendvay, pianist
Evgeny Kissin, and composer Martin Panteleev.
In 1986 Justus Frantz founded the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival and
was its director for nine years turning it into one of the world's
greatest music forums.
Justus Frantz has been awarded several television prizes of high
prestige for the highly successful TV programs that he has produced
including the famous Achtung! Klassik ("Attention! Classical music").
Since 1989, Frantz has been a special ambassador for the UN High
Commission for Refugees and in the same year he received the German
equivalent to the OBE, the Grosse Bundesverdienstkreuz.
Frantz is the chief conductor of the Philharmonia of the Nations and
works on a regular basis with renowned orchestras all over the world,
such as the Mariinsky Orchestra in St. Petersburg, the Great Symphony
Orchestra Moscow, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the KZN
Philharmonic Orchestra Durban, the Georgian Chamber Orchestra, Sinfonia
Varsovia and many others.
Every summer Frantz invites musicians from all over the world to his
music festival Finca Festival Frantz & Friends in Monte Leone.
Justus Frantz was in Chicago with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra in
February of 1991, marking the 200th anniversary of the composer’s
death. The concert held two concertos, #20 in d minor, K. 466, and #21 in C major, K. 467, as well as
the Jupiter Symphony, all led
by Hans Graf.
The pianist arrived a couple of days ahead of the performance, and we
arranged to get together for an interview. His English was quite
good, though, as usual with Europeans, his sentence-structure was often
of the old-world variety. I've straightened out most of the
syntax, but some charming varieties and usages have been left in where
they do not interrupt the flow of the words. Names which are
links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website.
As we sat down for the conversation, we were looking at some CDs he
brought, including one that was quite special . . . . . . . . .
Justus Frantz: I
founded that orchestra, the German-Soviet Youth Orchestra. It’s a
orchestra. You see, we were always enemies, and suddenly we
were together with the music, and it was such an enjoyment.
Everybody tried to be better. The recording is of the whole
concert, even with the National Anthems! Being a concert we have
no chance to repair
it! [Both laugh]
Do you prefer making records in live concerts?
the last times I only did live
concerts. I did one with Vladimir Spivakov and the Moscow
Virtuosi, a middle Mozart concerto, and I’m very proud of it. I’m
also proud of Valery
Gergiev, who is a wonderful conductor, to do this
Beethoven. I remember in the beginning I really had to fight for
the right way because he played it a little bit, in my
opinion, like Tchaikovsky. Maybe I played Beethoven too
German for him, and so after a while we met and we
both are very happy with the product of this Fifth, Emperor Concerto.
BD: You say
you’re looking for the right
way. Is there only one right way to play any piece of music?
JF: Of course
there isn’t, but
in the moment you feel it and you want to be suggestive. Then
only one way. Later on, maybe five years later, sometimes
you’re a little bit ashamed because you think there are lots of ways to
make music, but just the particular one you did five years ago,
that’s not the right way. [Both laugh]
BD: Has the
music changed or have you changed?
course, I have changed, yes, and my approach
has changed. It is also the interesting thing, and I must say I’m
not interested in artists who always are doing things the same way,
find the most anti-artistic thing is reproduction or repetition.
must be always a rebirth and it
must be new. It must be always full of strength, and so
BD: Do you
find you change even from performance
to performance on a given weekend?
JF: I would
say so, yes. Of course, I don’t want
to change the law of the composer and of what he has given to
us, but from that moment on we have absolutely liberty.
For example, what does allegro
mean? It means ‘fast’, but
what is ‘fast’? Today this is fast for me, and tomorrow I might
much faster, and after tomorrow I might be much slower. That is
very honest, and one has to do that this way.
BD: If your allegro is faster today, will
your adagio be slower today
or faster to keep up in proportion?
JF: That has
something to do with the
strength. If one can generalize, normally I would say if you have
first movement very fast, then
the slow movement should be a little bit slower to get
the right architecture. But that is very
difficult. Every piece has its own cosmos and its own law.
BD: You have
this huge repertoire of piano
music from which to choose. How do you decide which pieces you
work on, and which pieces you might turn aside for a while?
JF: That is a
funny thing. I decide like any pianist two, three, four
years in advance
what I’m going to play. I’m sitting in the Canary
Islands where I’m working on my new programs, and suddenly I can’t
work at what I want to work. I’m seduced by playing some other
music, and so sometimes I really have to change because I must be
honest. I’m so excited by some new piece that I cannot
follow the wishes I had spoken of two years ago, and I must
play something different. That doesn’t occur very often but
sometimes it does, and then I’m following this new idea.
BD: I assume
there’s too much music for you to do
everything you want?
JF: Yes of
course, but I decided to play the three
late Beethoven sonatas next year. I played a lot of
Mozart all these years, and suddenly I notice that I never have
played Beethoven sonatas in concerts and recitals. I might have
played one, but I didn’t play a whole
recital. Maybe I thought that this was
apparently a little superficial, that it is not full of
enough contrasts for a whole recital. But now since I have
played all Mozart piano concertos, which I find is the heaven of music,
now I want to do this. So I change. I change because
in this moment I’m in the world of music of Mozart, and I’m very happy
to play his sonatas, which he wrote in Paris, so I make a program of
Mozart in Paris.
BD: Is there a
secret to playing Mozart?
JF: It is a
Unfortunately we don’t have a piano here in this room or I would show
you! I would say if there is a
secret in playing a slow movement by Mozart that it is singing.
You really make a line, a long
phrase, and not separate each phrase by having it cut at the Schwerpunkt [the focal point].
BD: You don’t
want a separation?
JF: No, no,
no, no, no. For
example, in the slow movement of the Bb
Major K. 595, [begins to
sing it] it’s going to the second bar of the phrase,
and there is the high point. But many people and pupils are
playing [sings again, showing the lack of phrasing], and
then they already have three chunks. That is absolutely what
did not want.
BD: So there
is no accent on every bar?
exactly yes. No accent, and always, or nearly always, in the
music of Mozart there is an upbeat to himself. For
example, every theme that I know he has written that way. In the A Major Concerto K. 488, [sings
goes to the second bar, and it doesn’t start [sings, giving an
accent on the first beat]. This is also in the K. 467 Concerto, which I
will play tomorrow.
BD: So it’s
always going someplace!
always leading to something, yes. That is really a law of Mozart.
BD: So you
always have to look ahead?
Yes. That propels his architecture
BD: Are there
any other composers who do this same
kind of thing with the long line?
No one else is like Mozart doing
that, absolutely not.
hasn’t some other composer picked up on it?
composers are more on earth than Mozart. For example, Beethoven
is standing with both feet on the ground,
and that’s why he needs more accents. His
willpower is there from the first moment. There is not
baroque bowing like Mozart.
BD: Do you
find that Mozart is more in the
style of Telemann???
JF: No, I
meant not musical-baroque, but baroque in the way of history.
When people turn and are bowing like this [demonstrates] ...
BD: Using the
JF: Yes, the
grand gesture, yes.
BD: It is
JF: It is a
very much more elegant, absolutely, yes.
people who are living in the 1990s, who
have come through a couple of world wars and depressions ready for the
elegance that Mozart put into his music?
JF: I find it
more necessary than ever to hear the Mozart in
this time, when after one year of hope for all of us, suddenly we
come back to the threat of a war. I was just in the Baltic
States, and I looked especially for Mozart, for concertos for
hope. The last concerto, the Bb
Major, is a concerto of
hope. I played it just for my friends there because nobody is
helping them. They want to be independent, like they used to be
until 1940 when Hitler and Stalin decided to over-rule them.
Since then they’re suffering, and they need independence like any
other country in the world. They have determination...
BD: And music
can help this?
yes! Music can help because what we all need
is hope, and this is what he composed; hope is what Mozart has written
BD: Is music
in itself political?
JF: In itself
it is not political. It is too abstract, but it is also
humanistic. That’s what I believe in, and so it always, at
least for a moment, can help people to become better. As long
as somebody is listening to Mozart, he’s not shooting. [Both
the point] The same cannot be said if someone is listening to
Hindemith or Wagner?
JF: Well, of
course, yes, yes. The
approach of Hindemith or Wagner when they’re understood rightly also
goes into the same direction, but Mozart is
maybe the profoundest of all. For me, at the moment, that is the
Mozart not human?
JF: He was
very much human but somehow it appears to
me that he had a direct way to also become an angel, at least in
BD: So he’s
JF: He’s a
divine composer, yes, and
he has probably a direct transmitter for divine music. I hope I
am communicating my ideas correctly...
coming across very well. I’m glad you’re able to give your ideas
thought as well as in music.
JF: I hope I
can do it better in
music! [Both laugh]
BD: Do you
like being a wandering minstrel?
JF: What is a
performer who travels all over the world... a jongleur!
JF: [With a
big smile] Oh, jongleur!
no. Sometimes it’s a little bit too much. Normally I
feel like a musical gypsy going through the world because I’m
at home when I have my keyboard with me. I couldn’t
travel so much without music, but with music it doesn’t take too
much effort from me. I feel at home.
keyboard that you travel
with, it’s not a sounding keyboard is it?
no. It’s a silent keyboard, and of
course it cannot replace a piano. But today, for example, I will
go to Orchestral Hall for some hours later on. To learn a new
piece it’s perfect on a
silent keyboard because your fantasy has to be much stronger than just
BD: So there is more
heart in it?
JF: Yes, and
the pre-imagination is much
BD: As you go
around the world you have new
pianos to try each time. How long does it take to make each
piano your own?
JF: That’s a
difficult question because I don’t
think that every time you can make the piano your own. Sometimes
pianos are using you, and you are playing a different way than you are
to playing because the piano is in its beauty with the treble section,
wonderful that you must use that. Even you have thought about
accents in the bass, because the bass is horrible you can’t do
that. So there’s always an inspiration of the piano to yourself,
and you achieve that. You also have the hall with the piano, and
again, in certain ways you try to change a little bit. You have
to change, otherwise it doesn’t work. Sometimes
you are better than the piano, and sometimes you have the feeling that
the piano is better than yourself, and that is the most inspired
moment. Very, very seldom, I would say
out of fifty concerts there is just one where you really feel that the
acoustics are such that with
the piano you can achieve a hundred per cent of what you wanted,
and everything is fulfilling your wishes.
BD: I assume,
though, that there are times when you
achieve things you didn’t think you could do?
JF: Yes, very
often. That depends on some of the beauty of the acoustical of
the piano... and also of the public!
They can be an enormous inspiration when you’re playing a slow
movement. When you try to make an enormous tension with the pause
and you suddenly notice that they’re really following, and they are
really appreciating this. You feel the tension in the hall,
and then you are inspired and you are maybe better with this
public than you are alone at home.
BD: Are the
publics different from city to city and
country to country?
JF: Oh yes,
very much so. I must say on this tour we had a marvelous
Mozartian public in New York. They were so silent and attentive,
and when we really
played a pianissimo there was
not one cough. It was
wonderful! In Italy, people are not really wanting much in the
movement. They’re much more for the fast movements, and there’s
always a lot of coughing in the slow movement. They’re only
waiting for when it starts to become fast
again. In Russia they love Mozart more than I thought.
they love Mozart the most, at the moment at least.
[Surprised] More than Tchaikovsky?
JF: I have
the feeling, yes. We played the last week in Moscow only Mozart,
and people were
standing around the Bolshoi Hall half a week in order to get
a ticket. And that is for Mozart! I had the same
experience with Sviatoslav Richter and his December
festival in Moscow. There was the same thing, so people want to
listen to Mozart in Russia.
BD: More than
just they want to listen to great music?
JF: Well, I
think there is a contradiction which you
don’t mean, because Mozart is great music.
[Smiles] I mean more than the general picture of great music?
Yes. Probably they seldom have more than
Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov or the banging pieces. [Both laugh]
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] Mozart is never bangy?
JF: No, but I
don’t believe in a ‘sugar
Mozart’. I believe in a Mozart which also
has both sides, like in
these two concertos I will be playing here, the C Major,
which is full of
enthusiasm and of optimism, and then the abstract, contradicting D
Minor, which is abstract and demonic and full of passion.
don’t know where it’s going to go, but the feeling of death in
one concerto and the feeling of life in the other concerto are
the two sides of Mozart, and with all the passion I feel this.
I wrote a lot
of cadenzas to these Mozart concertos. Often Mozart didn’t write
or we don’t have them. That’s also a big joy to play your own
cadenzas. For the D Minor,
of course you must play the one by
mock horror] You must???
JF: Well, I
must! I never tried
to compose my own cadenza for this one because I feel nothing
can ever replace this cadenza that Beethoven wrote. It’s a
BD: Have you
ever gotten through a work and then
decided to improvise your own cadenza as on the spot?
Yes. I did it on a tour with a conductor who
said to me that he didn’t like the idea that cadenzas are always the
same. So I said to him I would do something. Just
before coming out on the stage, he was to give me a little theme, and I
would improvise and combine it with themes of the concerto. So
we did it, and we started of course with Mozart, and it
was very nice. But then the stupid man started to ask me for
things like Sacre du Printemps
and even Mathis der Maler.
[Both laugh] We got a very funny review
because the critic wanted to know what we did with the cadenza.
Why was it suddenly that
modern? But we had a good time.
BD: But isn’t
that the purpose of the cadenza to
JF: Yes, it
is. Sometimes I’m doing that, but normally conductors don’t
like that because then they are very frustrated because they don’t know
when to enter!
they just wait for the trill?
JF: Yes, but
something I don’t like so much. I like nice scales when it really
runs into the orchestra, and that is always
intimidating enormously for conductors. I remember once there was
suddenly silence after ending the cadenza, and then suddenly the
orchestra came in. After that the conductor was never very
friendly to me!
BD: How do
you divide your
career between solo recitals and concerto performances?
JF: I must
say that I give many more concerts with
orchestra. That depends, for example, on the twenty-seven Mozart
piano concertos, which I so much love to play at the moment, but
I only have two programs of Mozart sonatas. I need much more time
in order to play all of the
concertos, and we do this in series in different cities in Europe
— Berlin, Munich, London, Paris, and so on. I would
play seventy per cent with orchestra and thirty per cent recitals.
BD: Do you
ever conduct from the keyboard?
JF: I started
as a conductor. I
never conducted from the keyboard, but I conducted The Magic Flute in
Hamburg nearly fifteen years ago, and I might conduct
again this year. Then I will invite all my friends, and they
will say this is good or not good! I have a feeling
I would like to continue my relationship with conducting.
BD: For a
concerto performance you have yourself and your
own ideas, and you have the conductor with his or her ideas.
Are they always in sync?
JF: A ‘concerto’
sort of means competition. ‘Concerta’
means ‘we are fighting together’ for
the right thing. I find it very interesting sometimes if
the conductor and the soloist both are not always the same, that
they are striking a little bit, but on a friendly basis, of
course. Then that could really create another
sort of tension in the concert, which would be very nice. With
Lenny Bernstein [shown with Frantz in
photo at right] I had this experience very often, because he
was a completely different person in a rehearsal than in a
concert. I remember when we did the Schumann Concerto with the Vienna
Philharmonic for records, we tried to do
it, as he said, ‘feverish’! “The Schumann
fever should spread out over
the concert,” he said. But then in the
concert suddenly he was half as fast, or doubly as slow than in the
BD: So it was
JF: It was
completely different, and I was really shocked. It came out later
on when we heard it on the
tapes. We couldn’t combine anything from the concert with the
rehearsal, but it was marvelous because somehow you could feel
the tension between conductor and soloist. It was a fight for the
Devil’s advocate] So why do you rehearse
if you’re going to change
things around in the concert?
that’s a good question. [Both laugh] In this case Lenny was
absolutely contrary of
Karajan. Karajan was very difficult to rehearse with, but then
he was so reliable and he was just fulfilling what one time he had
done. Lenny was swept away by new ideas and by wonderful new
fantasies, and so everything could be changed. So both
sides were wonderful, and great gifts into my life experience.
BD: It seems
that those two conductors are
opposite ends of the spectrum.
Absolutely, for me, yes they were.
BD: And yet
you could deal with both of them?
JF: Yes, of
course. With great things, one
always wants to deal. They were both great characters.
BD: Tell me
about the Schumann Concerto.
a special for you, or is it just another concerto?
JF: I don’t
have such things like ‘another
concerto’. Always these are friendships which are lasting for the
whole of my life. The Schumann Concerto
piece which I heard the first time from the last pupil of Clara
Schumann. That was a grand aunt of mine, who was a pupil of
Clara Schumann. I remember I was five or six or seven years
old. It was just the beginning of the ’50s,
and she was still
alive. She was nearly 100, and she played the Schumann Concerto
and very much other of his music. That was an enormous impression
me. From this moment, Schumann’s music has always accompanied my
life. I feel the obsession in Schumann. I feel his fear
and his humanity. Schumann is a composer I really
would have loved to become a friend because somehow I
feel enormously sympathetic with him. I am a
Schumann-being! [Both laugh at the pun]
BD: Do you
feel you could have rescued him from his
JF: I would
give everything to do
that, but no. In his diary and in his letters and mostly in his
it’s so full of heart. Even little phrases are so full of poetry,
which somehow touches me very much. And when he becomes ill, his
music brings me into
tears. Such a piece like the Requiem,
or other very late pieces, when he really has difficulties to find
forms and to
express himself and find the right orchestration, somehow it is
like seeing someone you love getting older and becoming feeble.
Such a feeling I have with his music.
BD: Have you
given any thought to playing any of
JF: I was
thinking to play her Piano Concerto.
Maybe I’ll be able to do this sometime.
BD: It would
be interesting to see what you could
bring to that, or what you could find within the score.
JF: Yes, but
at the moment I’m on the way
through the world of Robert. I think about how long
I will still be in this world.
BD: It would
be interesting to see if you could find the
relationship between his music and her music, and the influences back
JF: Yes, yes,
absolutely. There are the Variations
on a Theme by Clara Wieck. Maybe some dreams are ending
when they are
fulfilled! [They both laugh again]
BD: Let me
ask the big philosophical question. What’s the purpose of music
more a sociological than a philosophical
question. For me it’s quite easy. I became a
musician because I need spiritual
meanings in this world, and for me music is the language of God.
I find God by making music, and I need this. I find that in a
is overflowing with information and by consumerism, it is so
eminent. It is
necessary also to have a world which never can be materialistic, and
that’s why music is maybe more important for all of us than it was ever
BD: Do you feel that
you’re a musical missionary?
JF: I feel
that everybody who is listening to music is
listening to a sort of mission, yes.
BD: Is it
your mission, or is it Mozart’s mission?
JF: I don’t
know. I think it is a mission which
is the beginning. From the Bible, “In the
beginning was the Word,” and that was the sound
and was the logic. I find that music is the
expression of this law of construction of the cosmos.
BD: Do you
feel that all of the great music in the
world comes directly from God?
JF: Yes, I
feel that. I believe music is always under these laws, and so I
actually feel we are all interested in
what composers were doing during their lifetime. But whether
wearing a beret or not doesn’t make any difference. The music
is somehow a miracle that through him came to birth and to the world.
BD: Does that
miracle continue today with the
composers who are righting now?
JF: I hope
that is the case. It is very difficult for us to speak about that
because it is too new. But I
would say that composers like Ligeti, like Schnittke, maybe Berio, to name three
are composers which also will last for a long time, and also will be
under these laws.
BD: Do you
play some of this new music?
Yes. I played music by Ruzicka [photo
of CD booklet shown later on this webpage], by Henze, by Stockhausen
Schnittke... not so much in this moment, since Mozart is such
an enormous amount of work. The new scores are not striking me in
the moment very much, but normally I do play some.
BD: Do you
feel that the spirit of Mozart is
applauding the new efforts?
JF: I hope
so! [Both laugh]
talk a little bit about your festival in
Schleswig-Holstein was born as different festivals,
because different festivals have their own spirit and also sometimes
their own mistakes. In Europe, music is much more
of an elite class than in America. If you are in Berlin you have
this avenement [advent,
coming]. For example, every second Monday you are always
to the Berlin Philharmonic.
BD: Oh, a
JF: A series
to which you are subscribing,
yes. We call that avenement,
and normally in cities we
have a very old public because you get it passed to you from your dead
father. You get
the second Monday series, and you give it to your son, and so on, and
so on! In Salzburg the prices are immensely high, especially
for young people, and so I thought that ours must be a festival which
little bit similar to Tanglewood or Blossom, or even here the Grand
Park concerts in Chicago. So we spoke with Lenny
Bernstein about this, and we thought we must combine
different things. We must found a school which brings different,
wonderful teachers from all the world to Schleswig-Holstein, which was
the place actually we spoke about back then. We must bring an
orchestra together with youngsters from all over the world to create
show as a symbol for a world that could do much better if it would be
more symphonic. We should like to bring
young musicians and give them the same platform like the big stars of
music. That was all very difficult to
create, but it worked out. We had 250 concerts which were
sold out normally, but if we had a long line of people, we just opened
the doors and let them in. That was good for the spirit.
Midori was there, as was Vengerov, and
Kissin was there for the first time outside of
Russia. He was in the first concert, and everybody knew
that a new star from Russia was born. So throughout these years
youngsters created an enormous interest, and they’re not playing for a
small public or just your family — which
is so frustrating for young musicians — but for
a really big audience. We have the same amount
of people that Lenny Bernstein has. We also want to bring modern
music. Lenny conducted for 20,000 people things like Sacre du Printemps.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
for 20,000 is
nothing, but Sacre, and then
the Fifth of Sibelius, these
are not pieces for the general public, but they were enormously
accepted. So this festival is now ready, a very nice part of
the big European festival scene. We didn’t want to add just
festival. We wanted to do something which others are not
doing. We want to bring the youth aspect — education,
music, young composers, young instrumentalists. We want to make
it as part of the villages, to bring music we have not only to people
flowing in from Salzburg and New York, but also we want to do it for
the farmers and for the people in the villages. That sort of
modern musical democracy has worked out.
BD: So you
feel that concert music is for everyone?
course, it’s for everyone. It
would be as stupid to say it should only be for the inner circle!
It is like a
religion, and how could we ask people not to go to
church? It must be open for everybody, yes.
BD: I want to
come back to the
idea of recordings. Do you play the same in the
recording studio as you do in the concert hall?
recording studios is how often do you have to play something
and always be inspired by it. For example, we had sometimes in a
recording enormous problems with woodwinds. They were out of
tune, and so I played three bars and they were already too low or too
high. That was going up and down, and we had to repeat and repeat
it. After a
while I said I don’t want to do that anymore because
twenty times, or a hundred times, you cannot say ‘Ich liebe dich’ with
the same passion. It’s only the surface, but it’s
not deep and profound anymore.
BD: And yet
in a concert, if there’s a little bit which is out of tune you just
have to go right on.
JF: Yes, and
sometimes it matters so much
more. But of course a recording engineer is looking for
surface that must be perfect. We,
the public and the artists, are looking more for the
profoundness of interpretation.
about during a solo recital when you
are the only one there?
JF: Then I
like very much to do it in a recording
studio because you can stop if you feel you are getting
tired, or you’re not that inspired. Then some hours later you
start again, and hopefully the enjoyment and the joy of music will
be bring you to new inspiration.
BD: Are you
pleased with the recordings that have been
issued of your music?
JF: That is a
difficult question. If I
say no, then it’s not good, and if I say yes, it’s
immodest. But I would say I think
that’s what I wanted to do, at least with the Mozart
and with the Dvořák and
the Beethoven Emperor.
BD: Tell me
about the Dvořák Concerto.
JF: The Dvořák!
Dvořák has written a piano
concerto that really is extremely difficult to play because Dvořák
not a pianist. He wanted to sound like Brahms, but he didn’t know
how to do it. So it’s very combined like a cello with a violin,
wanted the piano to be banged like Brahms or Tchaikovsky, and that is
nearly impossible. So even it’s
harder than a Brahms concerto. It doesn’t
transmit to the public, and so pianists don’t like to play it so much
because nobody knows how much work is in it.
BD: And yet
you have to bring this music to the public.
JF: Yes, but I
love this piece. It’s very unfortunate that it is
forgotten by so many pianists. I find it in the ranking
of Romantic piano concertos beside the famous concertos like the
Brahms concertos, the Tchaikovsky, the Grieg, the Schumann... [pauses
Beethoven? You think Beethoven is a
Romantic? I leave him to the Classic Period.
BD: I thought
at least the last two concertos would be into
maybe. I also play Beethoven, but I’m speaking about the second
half of the last century. The Dvořák
Concerto for me really comes
much before Liszt. I find it much more musical, much more
honest and finer than the Liszt concertos. But of course if you
play Liszt, you get a
standing ovation you never get with the Dvořák.
BD: Is the
public missing what is
in the Dvořák?
JF: Maybe it
is. It’s such a big orchestra.
The piano, as I said, has not the banging octaves. It has a
lot of other difficulties, but when it does not create the big sound,
maybe sometimes they
don’t listen. Maybe they cannot hear you the subtleties. I
don’t know. I really
only hear this piece from the stage or from the records,
but the first movement has great architecture. It’s great
symphonic work, a wonderful sonata movement. The second movement
a wonderful creation, and the third is like a picture book of Slavic
countries with its beautiful themes. Of
course the last movement with its different Slavonic themes is very
long, and so George Szell, for example, tried to do it with a short
cut, which I
found I don’t like, I must say.
BD: You don’t
like the cut?
absolutely not. I like every note from
the first single note to the last. Maybe the other way is
more successful, but I like my way better.
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] You like Dvořák’s way
that’s right, yes, yes, very right.
BD: Is there
a competition amongst pianists in the
for a moment] Actually if you are speaking of playing faster and
louder, then there would be a
competition. But in a way that a music should come to be given
by an individual soul to the other individual souls, then there is no
competition because there is not, for heaven’s sake, a competition
between souls. This kind of
competition, which apparently we are all accused of, is not for
also teaching at the
BD: Is this
piano technique or repertoire, or what?
include all of this. I’m
teaching piano technique and repertoire in what we call a
masterclass, and I’m also teaching sometimes management through the
festival. Our young artists can come and help in the festival so
they learn something about
the organization of the musical world. That way they’re a little
more self-determined, and they know better what they want and are not
simply delivered to the power of the big managers.
lambs to the slaughter!
advice do you have for young pianists
coming along today?
JF: I would
say the most important thing is that we must
strike against the danger of the electronic media which makes products
that are clean and perfect by using many takes and cutting the best
parts together. In a concert you can try to be the same as on the
recording, but then very often it destroys
the profoundness of music. It’s wonderful if you can do it, but
it’s not the main
point. The main point is that you have a birth of fantasy and of
temperament, and that must be striking. It is much more
important to show the great architecture of music. Beethoven had
one pupil, and he delivered a very famous word of
Beethoven. He played at one time the Appassionato to the composer, and
it was perfect. Not one wrong note. Beethoven was
listening, and then he said, “But really nothing
happened!” That is sometimes unfortunately
what is appearing
for us in concerts today — nothing
happens. Everything is clear and
not one false note happens, but also there is nothing of the soul, of
fantasy, of striking new things in the concert.
BD: So the
performer should make something happen?
JF: Yes, and
danger we are confronted with at the moment is the sterility of
concerts. That is because we try to imitate. We don’t
try to follow the great moments of art, but we follow great
records, and that is not good, of course. We must be performers,
not record reproducers.
BD: [With a
sly grin] Then why do you make records?
Yes! [Both laugh] The last record
I did, I made in concert, and even this is, hopefully, not for being
repeated by others. Maybe it can inspire somebody to do
something new. That would be wonderful, but I don’t want to have
pupils who are doing exactly the same things I did, because everybody
playing the piano fun?
JF: Yes, a
lot of fun, yes. Yesterday, for
example, I felt very bad in my body. I had a very bad migraine
I played Mozart, and from movement to movement I felt better, and at
the end I was cured.
has therapeutic value!
JF: Yes, but
not only Mozart. When I am in a
depression, and I play sometimes Beethoven. You can’t have a
after having played the Emperor
Concerto. You must be as if the
music came to your heart and your soul. Then you must be a proud
vital human being after having played this work. I
don’t understand musicians who are always so exhausted after a concert
because I feel music gives you so much strength that I’m much
better after a concert. We could repeat this
interview then, and you would see I know much better English than I do
now!!! [Both laugh]
BD: I’m glad
the music gives you so much.
BD: Then you
give that to the audience?
that’s at least what I try, and in good
moments that’s what happens.
BD: Thank you
for being a pianist. Thank you for
being a musician.
JF: Thank you.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
© 1991 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on February 20,
1991. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following day,
and again in 1994 and 1999.
This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this
at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una
Barry for her help in preparing this website
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.