Monday, March 28, 2011

A teenager's first inspiration

Ingrid Haebler.
Don't know her?  You should.

When I was a teenage piano student growing up in rural Alabama, I didn't have much access to recordings of the "great pianists".

I was transitioning from method-book pieces and "teaching favorites" to more standard repertoire, and among that repertoire was Chopin Waltzes. My teacher at the time, Jimmy New, used the Chopin Waltzes as core repertoire (along with Beethoven Sonatas and Bach Inventions), and I probably played five or six of them during the two years I worked with him.

The Chopin Waltz op. 69 no. 1 was the first "repertoire" piece I performed in a recital. Before that, it had been a steady stream of Burgmüller, Heller, Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, and the various delights that the John Thompson Modern Course for the Piano had to offer.

So, there in a drugstore (of all places! in Village Mall at Auburn, Alabama, I came across a box set of Chopin, played by the finest pianists the Vox Box had to offer. I snatched that baby up.

The set contained a disc of the Waltzes played by Ingrid Haebler.  This was the first time I had ever actually heard a recording of a concert pianist playing a piece I was playing, and it was an epiphany.  (Students nowadays can hear CD recordings of even the most basic piano repertoire, and there are even Heller and Burgmüller cycles on CD these days, but back then, we only had the Educo records, with variable and often terrible sound quality.)

Later I bought discs by better-known Chopin pianists, including the usually-preferred Arthur Rubinstein.  But one never forgets their first love, and I found his waltz recordings cold compared to Ms.  Haebler.

When Ingrid Haebler was included in Tom Deacon's Philips "Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century" collection, it was one of the more controversial choices.  But not for me.  Her Mozart is her calling card, and it is admired to this day.  But I will always adore her Waltzes, because of the inspiration they gave to a teenage piano student.  And I want to share some of her Chopin with you.

And if you've followed the trail of pianists whose work was cribbed and presented as the work of Joyce Hatto, you will find that "Hatto's" Mozart Sonatas are actually the work of Haebler for the Denon label.

I have been a "fan" of Ms. Haebler's playing for years.  There are currently no Haebler recordings available on, but the diligent record collector can find copies of her recordings at other sources. 

Many years later I gave that old LP box set to a student.  I later regretted it, and searched eBay and used-record stores until I found an old Vox LP disc of her Waltzes - so I have her performances again. 

I remember my first kiss, my first date, my first love - and my first Chopin.  To this day.  So thank you, Ingrid Haebler, for the inspiration you gave to this gangly teenage boy.  And I know that I am just one of many who have been inspired by your playing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

William Kapell plays - in only known video clip

William Kapell (1922-1953) was a brilliant American pianist whose life and career were cut short by the crash of an airplane on which he was returning from an overseas tour in October 1953. He was barely 31, but was already acknowledged as the leading American pianist of his generation; some have said he would have been the greatest pianist of the 20th century.
Born in 1922, Kapell studied piano with Dorothea Anderson LaFollette at the Yorkville Settlement School in New York and with Olga Samaroff at the Philadelphia Conservatory and, later, at the Juilliard School. In 1941, he won both a Naumburg Award and the Philadelphia Orchestra Youth Concert competition. This gave him opportunities for major debuts both as a recitalist and as a player of concerti. In 1942, he was given the Town Hall Endowment Series Award, providing him with yet another Town Hall recital during the 1942-43 season. He then signed a contract with RCA Victor and recorded a wide variety of repertoire for that company. (All of Kapell's RCA recordings have been reissued in compact disc format.)
He toured North America annually thereafter, performing both with major orchestras and as a recitalist. He became an advocate of contemporary American piano music, and seems to have been especially prized by American composers. In 1945, he played a series of concerts in Australia, beginning to build an international reputation. He toured South America three times (1946, 1948, and 1951). He seemed to have a particular affection for music of South America that is reflected in his personal collection of piano music. He first played in Europe in 1947. In mid-1953 he performed in Tel Aviv, played at Casals's Prades Festival, and gave his final series of performances during the course of a three-month Australian tour. Returning from Australia, his plane crashed into a mountain moments before its scheduled landing in San Francisco.   (This biographical sketch from the International Piano Archives website.)

This is the only known video footage of pianist William Kapell. He performs the Scarlatti Sonata in E major, K.380 (L.23), the Chopin Nocturne in E flat, op. 55 no. 2, and Gato, an Argentine dance by Emilio A. Napolitano.

And as an encore, here is his legendary performance of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz no. 1, recorded when he was only 22 and still considered among the best of this work.

William Kapell: A Documentary Life History of the American Pianist by Tim Page, available at, as well as the CD collection below:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Myra Hess plays the "Appassionata" first movement - video

A treasure of a video - unfortunately she only made a motion picture of the first movement. Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) in a lunchtime concert at the National Gallery during World War II, playing the opening movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 57 ("Appassionata").