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.

1 comment:

  1. Haebler recorded for more than just the budget Vox label. I have her Mozart concerti 15 and 16 with Colin Davis and the LSO on Mercury SR 90428, undated but stereo so probably 1960s. The playing, as you might imagine, is very beautiful. Thanks for these lovely memories.