FLAC Downloads includes PDF scores of both works
REVIEW of 1964 LP reissues
"Schnabel is said to have disliked recording because a gramophone record stood as something permanent and finished which for him was not so. "I am living from the hope of doing my work better tomorrow than I have done it today, and if I did not I could not live as an artist," he once remarked. As listeners, however, we may be quite content to have a line drawn where HMV drew one 30 years ago. We may notice unevennesses in the series, but there is scarcely a movement in all the 32 that we can count a disappointment, even on Schnabel's own terms. His remains the first complete set of these works that was ever made and the most distinguished. Particularly remarkable is the fact that his Beethoven still speaks to us with such compelling immediacy. The climate of musical performance changes with the years just as other things do, and whether you consider the ebb and flow of musical fashions some thing to be accepted or regretted, the fact is that to enjoy a performance of 30 years ago an effort of adjustment, sometimes a considerable one, has to be made. But Schnabel confounds this. He might have made these records yesterday; they haven't dated a bit. His Beethoven may well prove to be timeless. I shall be very surprised at least if I do not find myself listening to him with the same pleasure 30 years from now.
I mentioned unevennesses; there are some, I think, on the discs here—a few things which fall short of perfection and one or two others which would even more clearly admit of improvement. But if the last word on the Hammerklavier had been spoken what a dull world for pianists we would be living in! In April I said that my first impression of Schnabel's performance of this sonata was of something almost untamed, a performance which conveyed more of the music's grandeur and brilliance and perhaps less of its notes than any other I had heard. It is true that in the fugue he covers the physical ground by the sheer skin of his teeth at times, but in the first movement his playing is really splendidly controlled considering the speed at which he attempts it (a tempo close to Beethoven's own metronome marking, incidentally—which is usually judged unrealistic, not to say unwise). A couple of hearings are probably necessary before one can take in the events of this movement at this pace; only then does the full majesty of the performance manifest itself. Now that I am accustomed to this tempo I do not want a slower one; somehow the speed projects the music closer to Beethoven's own overwhelming vision, and I feel that anything more moderate would lead to a corresponding loss of something precious. The slow movement on the other hand is at another extreme—very slow, as it must be, and perfectly distilled. To play a Beethoven slow movement really slowly, as so many of them demand, is perhaps the most difficult thing of all. Few pianists have the gift...
I have no reservations whatever about Opp. 109, 110 and 111. His poise and timing here leave nothing to be desired at all. The poise is even more classical than usual, I think; there is no lack of warmth and direct expressiveness, especially in the A flat Sonata, Op. 110, but in the variations of Opp. 109 and 111 he is at pains to let the patterns and structure of the movements speak as much as possible for themselves. I am sure this is right, particularly in the variations of the C minor, Op. 111. The "static and ecstatic visions" of this movement are seriously disturbed if the phrasing in the arietta and the first four variations is too fussy and conventionally soulful: the whole point here is that nothing really dramatic is going on. The real event of the movement happens in the coda, at bar 106, where the trills begin. The dramatic coup is the extraordinarily telling harmonic colour of E flat major first mooted in bar 110. Schnabel makes the world of this, and afterwards, in the restatement of the arietta and the final long dominant trill, and not until then, he lets the music soar up on to the highest plane to conclude the sonata in a glorious C major cloud. Not until this concluding section can we fully appreciate what has gone before; and this, surely, is how the movement should be."
From The Gramophone, June 1964, by S.P. (read full article here)
It is to the latter which I hope this new 32-bit XR restoration will appeal, as although we cannot (and would not) correct mistakes and missed notes, we can now appreciate a far clearer and fuller auditory picture of the grand scope of Schnabel's delivery. Steve Schwartz, writing in Classical CD Review on earlier volumes in our series, described well the merits of this approach: "it made me rethink my conception of Schnabel. He had always seemed to me a straight-ahead, rough-and-ready player, with a dominating rhythmic excitement. Without losing any of Schnabel's virtues I knew about, Pristine's incarnation showed me the subtlety of his line, the seamless naturalness of his crescendos and diminuendos, and his singing qualities. The last had totally escaped me."
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Artur Schnabel (April 17, 1882 – August 15, 1951) 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, he displayed a vitality, profundity and spirituality in works by Beethoven and Schubert above all. His performances of these compositions have often been hailed as models of interpretative penetration; and his best-known recordings are those of the Beethoven piano sonatas.
The early years
Born in Kunzendorf, a small suburb of Bielitz, Galicia, in the Silesian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Lipnik, Bielsko-Biała, Poland), Schnabel was the youngest of three children born to Isidor Schnabel, a Jewish textile merchant, and his wife Ernestine (née Labin). He had two sisters, Clara and Frieda.
The family moved to Vienna in 1884, when Schnabel 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. His prodigious talent quickly became evident. 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). Only three years later he was accepted as a pupil by the redoubtable and internationally celebrated piano pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky.
The Leschetizky years
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).
The Berlin years
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 Pau 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 Sir Adrian Boult.
From 1925 Schnabel taught at the Berlin State Academy, where his masterclasses brought him great renown. Among Schnabel's many piano pupils were Clifford Curzon, Rudolf Firkušný, Adrian Aeschbacher, Lili Kraus, Leon Fleisher, Carlo Zecchi, Claude Frank, Leonard Shure, Alan Bush, Nancy Weir, Konrad Wolff, Jascha Spivakovsky, Eunice Norton, Henry Jolles, and radio personality Karl Haas. His last and favourite pupil was Maria Curcio.
The later years
Schnabel, a Jew, 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, returning to Europe at the end of World War II. Among his pupils in Michigan was composer Sam Raphling.
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.
Schnabel married Therese Behr in 1905. 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.
Schnabel was best known for his devotion to the core German composers, especially the Viennese classics of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. He was also renowned for his playing of works by Brahms and Schumann. He also played and recorded works by Bach.
However, his repertoire was wider than that. During his young virtuosic years in Berlin, he played works by other composers including Liszt, Chopin and Weber. On his early American tours, he programmed works such as the Chopin Preludes and Schumann's Fantasie in C. Among other works that he played, as recalled by those such as Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Horowitz, who had heard Schnabel in the 1920s, were Chopin's E minor Piano Concerto and the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, and Weber's Konzertstück, Piano Sonata No. 2, and Invitation to the Dance. Schnabel himself mentioned that he had played the Liszt Sonata in B minor "very often", as well as the Liszt E-flat Piano Concerto.
It is not clear why Schnabel dropped those from his performing repertoire in the 1930s, after his final departure from Germany. He claimed that it was because he decided that he wanted to play only "music which is better than it could be performed". However, it has been suggested by some that "Schnabel, uprooted from his native heritage, may have been clinging to the great German composers in an attempt to keep his cultural origins alive".
Schnabel was known for championing the then-neglected sonatas of Schubert and, even more so, Beethoven, including his more challenging late works. While on a tour of Spain, Schnabel wrote to his wife saying that during a performance of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations he had begun to feel sorry for the audience. "I am the only person here who is enjoying this, and I get the money; they pay and have to suffer," he wrote. Schnabel did much to popularize Beethoven's piano music, making the first complete recording of the sonatas, completing the set in 1935. This set of recordings has never been out of print, and is considered by many to be the touchstone of Beethoven sonata interpretations, though shortcomings in finger technique mar many performances of fast movements (Sergei Rachmaninoff is supposed to have referred to him as "the great adagio pianist"). It has been said that he suffered greatly from nerves when recording; in a more private setting, his technique was impeccable. Claudio Arrau has said that Schnabel's live performances during the 1920s were technically "flawless." He also recorded all the Beethoven piano concertos.
Schnabel as composer
Despite his performing repertoire being concentrated largely on the works of Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and Brahms, almost all of his own compositions (none of which are in the active repertoire) are atonal. (It is interesting, in this regard, to note that Schnabel was a close friend of Arnold Schoenberg, his Austrian-American compatriot, who was famous as a pioneering composer of atonal and twelve-tone music.)
They are "difficult" yet fascinating and complex works, and are marked by genuine originality of style. Composers Ernst Krenek and Roger Sessions have commented that they show signs of undoubted genius (see biography of Schnabel by Cesar Saerchinger). Schnabel's list of compositions eventually included three symphonies, a piano concerto, a piano sonata (premiered by Eduard Erdmann at the 1925 Venice ISCM Festival) and five string quartets, amongst various smaller works.
In recent years, a number of his compositions (notably championed by the violinist, Paul Zukofsky) have been recorded and made available on CD, including three of his string quartets, the three symphonies, and four solo piano works: his Sonata, Dance Suite, Piece in Seven Movements (1935–37) and Seven Pieces (1947).
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artur_Schnabel