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Artur Schnabel

Artur Schnabel was an Austrian classical pianist, who also composed and taught. Schnabel was known for his intellectual seriousness as a musician, avoiding pure technical bravura. Among the 20th century's most respected and most important pianists, his playing displayed marked vitality, profundity and spirituality in the Austro-German classics, particularly the works of Beethoven and Schubert.

Background

  • Born Aaron Schnabel in Lipnik (Kunzendorf) near Bielitz, Galicia, Austro-Hungarian Empire (today a part of Bielsko-Biała, Poland), he was the youngest of three children born to Isidor Schnabel, a textile merchant, and his wife, Ernestine Taube (née Labin). He had two sisters, Clara and Frieda. His family was Jewish.

  • Education

    • Schnabel's parents moved to Vienna in 1884, when he was two. He began learning the piano at the age of four, when he took a spontaneous interest in his eldest sister Clara's piano lessons. At the age of six he began piano lessons under Professor Hans Schmitt of the Vienna Conservatorium (today the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna). Three years later he began studying under Theodor Leschetizky, who once remarked to him, "You will never be a pianist; you are a musician"; accordingly, he allowed Schnabel to leave Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies and concentrate instead on Schubert's sonatas, which had been widely neglected up to that point.

    Career

    • Schnabel remained under Leschetizky's tutelage for seven years, between 1891 and 1897. His co-students of Leschetizky during that period included Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Mark Hambourg and Ignaz Friedman.

      Initially, for his first year under Leschetizky, he was given rigorous preparatory technical tuition from Anna Yesipova (Leschetizky's second wife and a famous pianist in her own right) and also from Malwine Bree who was Leschetizky's assistant. From age ten, he participated in all Leschetizky's classes.

      Following a failed initial approach to Anton Bruckner, Schnabel studied music theory and composition under Eusebius Mandyczewski. Mandyczewski was an assistant to Johannes Brahms, and through him Schnabel was introduced to Brahms' circle and was often in the great composer's presence. The young Schnabel once heard Brahms play in a performance of his first piano quartet; for all the missed notes, said Schnabel, it "was in the true grand manner."

      Schnabel made his official concert debut in 1897, at the Bösendorfer-Saal in Vienna. Later that same year, he gave a series of concerts in Budapest, Prague and Brünn (today Brno, Czech Republic).

      Schnabel moved to Berlin in 1898, making his debut there with a concert at the Bechstein-Saal. Following World War I, Schnabel also toured widely, visiting the United States, Russia and England.

      He gained initial fame thanks to orchestral concerts he gave under the conductor Arthur Nikisch as well as playing in chamber music and accompanying his future wife, the contralto Therese Behr, in Lieder.

      In chamber music, he founded the Schnabel Trio with the violinist Alfred Wittenberg and the cellist Anton Hekking; they played together between 1902 and 1904. In 1905, he formed a second Schnabel Trio with Carl Flesch (with whom he also played violin sonatas) and the cellist Jean Gérardy. In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, Gérardy (a Belgian) left the trio as he could no longer remain in Germany. He was replaced by Hugo Becker and this became the third Schnabel Trio.

      Later, Schnabel also played in a quartet with violinist Bronisław Huberman, composer/violist Paul Hindemith and the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (with whom he also played and recorded cello sonatas). Schnabel also played with a number of other famous musicians including the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the cellists Pablo Casals and Pierre Fournier.

      He was friends of, and played with, the most distinguished conductors of the day, including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, George Szell, Willem Mengelberg, and Adrian Boult.

      From 1925 Schnabel taught at the Berlin State Academy, where his masterclasses brought him great renown. For his piano students, See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Artur Schnabel.

      Schnabel, who was Jewish, left Berlin in 1933 after the Nazi Party took control. He lived in England for a time while giving masterclasses at Tremezzo on Lake Como in Italy, before moving to the United States in 1939. In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. There he took a teaching post at the University of Michigan. Among his pupils in Michigan was composer Sam Raphling. At the end of World War II he returned to Europe, settling in Switzerland.

      His mother Ernestine Taube remained in Vienna after the Anschluss and at the age of 83, in August 1942, was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she died two months later. Artur Schnabel never returned to Germany or Austria after the war. He continued to give concerts on both sides of the Atlantic until the end of his life, as well as composing and continuing to make records, although he was never very fond of the whole studio process. He died in Axenstein, Switzerland, and was buried in Schwyz, Switzerland.

    Works

    Personality

    Quotes from others about the person

    Neville Cardus described Schnabel, the composer, in the following words: “It seemed as though Wordsworth has suddenly gone off at a tangent and written like Gertrude Stein.”

    Connections

    • In 1899, when Schnabel was 17, his daughter Elizabeth Rostra was born in the Czech city of Brno. The offspring from a youthful love affair, Elizabeth became a pianist and piano pedagogue, was married to a psychoanalyst and died in Switzerland in 1995. In 1905, Artur Schnabel married the contralto and Lieder singer Therese Behr (1876-1959). They had two sons, Karl Ulrich Schnabel (1909–2001) who also became a classical pianist and renowned piano teacher, and Stefan Schnabel (1912–99), who became a well regarded actor. The Schnabel family kept a lifelong, close relationship with Artur Schnabel's daughter from his teenage relationship, Elizabeth Rostra.
    • father: Isidor Schnabel
    • mother: Ernestine (Labin) Schnabel
    • spouse: Therese Behr
    • children: Karl Ulrich Schnabel
    • Stefan Schnabel
    • Elizabeth Schnabel

    References

    • Artur Schnabel: A Biography
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    Artur Schnabel
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    Born April 17, 1882
    Died August 15, 1951
    (aged 69)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1933
      University of Manchester
      Manchester, United Kingdom
    • 1925
      Pianist, Berlin State Academy
      Berlin, Germany