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Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist. Allan Evans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. 399 pp. ISBN 978-0-253-35310-8
Reviewed by Jonathan D. Bellman
Familiar phrases like “Romantic Master Pianist” or the “Golden Age” of Romantic pianism (cf. an excellent recent book by Kenneth Hamilton) are problematic, because they imply the existence of a single tradition shared by the giants of bygone eras. Rather, the greatest pianists of the past made their names by individuality, their independent artistic personalities and personal, often subjective interpretations of musical works that are now often normalized, more or less, into “the way this piece is played.” Foremost among these fiercely independent superpianists was Ignaz Friedman, a Polish-born Jewish virtuoso whose memory and recordings are revered by pianists but whose reputation has, unavoidably, faded somewhat. Although Friedman’s father was a peripatetic musician with limited skills at providing for his family, and his mother did most of the earning via needlework, their son’s prodigious musical gifts, which showed themselves early, were nonetheless never exploited commercially in his childhood. His family’s search for favorable circumstances meant that he would live in Poland, America, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Germany before going to Vienna for a university education and to complete his piano training with the renowned Theodor Leschetizky, who also trained a variety of other virtuosi. What all this meant was that Friedman would be among the best educated and most culturally well rounded of artists. Read the rest of this entry »