Two Greatest Pianists Differed in Style. How different can pianists be and still be on a par? This question is inspired inspired a quote from a quote:
Henry Pleasants. a music critic from Philadelphia once asked Rachmaninoff: Who are the greatest of the living pianists.
Harold Schonberg, music critic for the NY Times quotes Pleasants quoting Rachmaninoff in his own book, The Virtuosi: Classical Music’s Great Performers from Paganini to Pavarotti:
The story goes: Rachmaninoff thought a bit. “Well, he said, there’s Hofmann…”and he thought a little bit more, …”and there’s me.” Rachmaninoff did not say another word, as the story goes. The fame of Rachmaninoff as eclipsed that of Hofmann, but it is still worth looking into Hofmann’s background and accomplishments:
The Second of the Two Greatest Pianists
Josef Hofmann was born in Podgórze (a district of Kraków), in Austro-HungarianGalicia (present-day Poland) in 1876. His father was the composer, conductor and pianist Kazimierz Hofmann, His mother the singer Matylda Pindelska. As a composer, Hofmann published over one hundred works, under the pseudonym Michel Dvorsky. Included two piano concertos and ballet music. In 1946, he gave his last recital at Carnegie Hall, He made 151 appearances at Carnegie. Retirement to private life in took place in 1948.
How Did the Two Greatest Pianists Differ?
Physically (1) Hoffman was short. Rachmaninoff was tall. Hofmann was loquacious talking fluently, readily, and incessantly. Rachmaninoff severe, stern, or gloomy in manner. His appearance was stern and he wasted no words. Hofmann color his music; while Rachmaninoff projected strength, structure and form. Advance planning marked the music of Rachmaninoff. Spontaneity marked Hofmann’s style.
What I find amazing is that Rachmaninoff, as the story goes, (1) Mentions Hoffman before he mentions himself. (2) He idolizes a polar opposite. (3) Then again, the mind of a genius is not easy to understand. My main teacher was primarily Mischa Kottler. Rachmaninoff, in the 1920’s gave Mischa a recommendation to study in Paris with Cortôt. Mischa then went and studied with Emil von Sauer. Enjoy this youtube recording of Mischa playing the Minute Waltz.
Rachmaninoff Versus Editor – Who is Right? It was the early 1920’s. My piano teacher took an audition to study piano with Sergei Rachmaninoff. The gist of the audition was this: Rachmaninoff was too busy giving concerts and composing to take on any students. But, he gave my piano instructor, Mischa Kottler, a letter of recommendation. The letter was addressed to Alfred Cortôt. Who was Alfred Cortôt? Alfred Denis Cortôt (born Nyon, 26 September 1877; died Lausanne, 15 June 1962) was a French–Swisspianist and conductor. He is one of the most famous 20th century musicians. He was especially known for his playing of piano music by 19th centuryRomantic composers such as Chopin and Schumann. He formed a piano trio with the violinistJacques Thibaud and the cellistPablo Casals. Now back to Rachmaninoff versus Editor.
For Mischa Kottler’s audition, he played Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto for the composer. Sergei told Mischa after he finished: “That’s not how the editor marked the phrasing in the music!” Mischa told me at one of my piano lessons that he replied to Sergei:”I know. But I heard you play the concerto in concert. You did it the way I played it for you!”
Rachmaninoff Versus Editor …. The Composer Wins and so Does Mischa Kottler
Rachmaninoff was so impressed, he wrote the letter. Mischa studied with Cortôt in Paris. Then he went to Vienna and studied with Emil von Sauer. That launched him on a successful piano career. He consequently became the official pianist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Mischa headed the piano department at Wayne State University. I took lessons with him for 5 years at WSU. He taught about 50 piano students with full one hour lessons. He was the music director of WJR in Detroit. He raised many successful students. Now I (blogger David Ohrenstein) am offering piano lessons in Sarasota, Fl. From Dec. 20- April 1 2017. I will play in Boca Grande, Fl. This will be at the Gasparilla Inn. Their vintage Steinway Grand was just rebuilt for me. Larry Keckler rebuilt it with new Steinway parts direct from Germany. Hope to see you there!
How, Music is in the Biblical Name, David: OK, so my name is also David. I’m a composer/pianist. Pure co-incidence. The Hebrew language can lift the fog that lies between the similarities between music and David. In Hebrew letters, David is spelled “dalet, vav, dalet”: דוד. As a letter and a number actually share the same symbol in Hebrew, we have:
Dalet- the 1st letter equals 4
Vav- the 2nd letter equals 6
Dalet-the third letter equals 4.
Now, I hope not too many of you will be upset with this quote from Aristotle:”The elements of numbers are the elements of things and therefore, things are numbers.” The most obvious connection of numbers with things are musical intervals. They use set ratios between two number.
ALL ABOUT THE “PERFECT” MUSICAL FIFTH OF DAVID
The basis of both ancient and modern tuning is the musical fifth. Here is the ratio of the two tones:
For every time the higher of the two tones vibrates three times,
The lower note vibrates two times
To hear these notes just think of the opening 4 tones of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. The second two are a fifth higher than the first two.
Now let’s look at the numbers behind the name of David:
4 to 6 reduces to 2 to 3. By interval ratios this defines the lower fifth from a starting tone,
then 6 to 4 reduces to 3 to 2. This defines the higher fifth from a lower starting musical tone
David’s power came through his music. He harmonized with the natural plan. This is why the Bible speaks of him as a musician first and and ruler second.
MY UPCOMING BOOK, MUSIC UNDER THE ZODIAC
At this point, I must mention another upcoming project (too many projects!). I call the book Music Under the Zodiac. It is based on a unique way to align the 12 key signatures with the 12 signs of the zodiac. It will be used to advance musical therapy. For example, if you have a headache, listen to the music in F# minor. So much is recorded on Youtube that is free. Most important, pick a pianist with a good touch. Arthur Rubinstein is my favorite in this regard. I also plan to make piano recordings of music that uses my inspired system of therapy. I have several examples of touch in the music of Debussy on my front page of DSOworks,com. Francois Couperin le Grand wrote a treatise on this subject in 1717. It is called L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin. Then, if you care to, e-mail me about the effect of the music you’ve listened to.
Chopin- Polonaise Opus 44 in F# minor
Chopin- Nocturne Opus 48 #2
Brahms- Sonata in F# minor
J.S. Bach- Prelude and Fugue No. 14 Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier
Mischa Kottler – A visit by the legendary piano instructor. Here’s how it all started: The phone rings. I pick it up and hear, “David, this is your piano teacher, Mischa.” I was incredulous . Having left Detroit, Michigan 10 years earlier, I remembered that Mischa Kottler was in his eighties just before I had moved to Sarasota. I said to the voice on the phone: “That’s a joke. Who is this, really?”
Chopin’s Minute Waltz, with a twist … … Mischa Kottler playsRachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, Movement #1 – Duration: 15:18. by Joseph …
The voice said, “Really, it’s Mischa and I hear that you have more children than I know piano concertos.”
At that moment, I knew it was Mischa because his gruff, Russian accent now matched his familiar sense of humor. To my shock, he said he would love to fly to Sarasota to visit me and my family. To which I, without hesitation, said , “Yes.” He also said he would be happy to give me piano lessons in the exchange. To which I immediately said,”That would be a dream come true!”
Mischa’s famous students
Mischa had guided the careers, at least in part, of such notables as Seymour Lipkin, Ruth Laredo, and Cynthia Raim. Mischa’s student frequently went on to win piano competitions. He even gave advice to Van Cliburn, who flew in from Texas for fingering solutions to a Brahms Piano Concerto. My father and I saw van Cliburn leave as I arrived for my piano lesson. I was told at the time by Mischa to keep Van Cliburn’s visit a secret…. which I have until now. You may remember that Van Cliburn was an American pianist who achieved worldwide recognition in 1958, at the age of 23, when he won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War that actually opened the doors to better Russian-American relations. Ah, the merits of great music, well-played!
If you were accepted as a Kottler student, you might have to wait about 1-2 years just to start, his lesson time was in such demand. Even then, acceptance didn’t mean regular piano lessons. Since Mischa was the official pianist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he would tour for months.
Mischa’s own legendery teacher – Alfred Cortot
A visit from the legendary Mischa Kottler. Wow! That Mischa was actually coming to stay with our family was beyond my wildest dreams. When he arrived at our home, this man at 94 years of age, sat down at our not so great piano and played Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”. It is incredibly difficult to play in tempo with single notes, but Mischa played it with double notes in 3rds, 4ths and 5ths in the right hand at the same tempo that other pianists are only able to play it one note at the time. Mischa mastered this most difficult art under the instruction of Alfred Cortot….who had studied with a pupil of Chopin. Kottler studied with Cortot at the Paris Conservatory during the 1920’s because of a recommendation from a very impressive pianist composer – Sergei Rachmaninoff. Kottler had auditioned for Rachamninoff. I was told by Kottler that Rachmaninoff said to Kottler, ” You have to go to Paris and study with Cortot.” and gave him a a personal letter of recommendation.
Another notable Mischa student – Greg Philliganes
From work with Stevie Wonder while still in his teens, to tours and recordings with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, and Toto, Phillinganes’ massive discography reads like a “Who’s Who” of pop music, encompassing four decades.
From Greg Philliganes’ interview in Keyboard Magazine
“Sensing that I needed discipline more than anything else, my Mom managed to hook me up with a wonderful teacher named Mischa Kottler. He was a no-nonsense Russian Jewish guy who could crack a pane of glass with one finger. He was a complete badass, and he cooled my attitude out immediately. I studied with him well into my teens.
What kinds of things were you studying with him?
I was studying technique and classical repertoire. He taught me a certain way of playing that I still use to this day: a sense of evenness where your wrists aren’t loose or moving up and down. It’s a totally linear way of playing, where there’s even movement in both hands so your wrists stay perfectly still. Misha would take two fingers and weigh them down on my wrists to keep them from moving. He instilled a sense of dexterity and definition in my playing. If I’m known for my speed and precision, it’s probably due to Misha more than anything else.
Now you see why titled the blog: Mischa Kottler- A Visit By the Legendary Piano Instructor