Paul Wittgenstein

Last updated

Paul Wittgenstein
Paul Wittgenstein 3 (c) BFMI.jpg
Paul Wittgenstein playing the piano
Background information
Born(1887-11-05)November 5, 1887
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
DiedMarch 3, 1961(1961-03-03) (aged 73)
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation(s)Musician
InstrumentsPiano

Paul Wittgenstein (November 5, 1887 March 3, 1961) was an Austrian-American concert pianist notable for commissioning new piano concerti for the left hand alone, following the amputation of his right arm during the First World War. He devised novel techniques, including pedal and hand-movement combinations, that allowed him to play chords previously regarded as impossible for a five-fingered pianist.

Contents

He was an older brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Early life

Paul Wittgenstein (front left) with his siblings. Ludwig Wittgenstein siblings.jpg
Paul Wittgenstein (front left) with his siblings.
The Wittgenstein family, Vienna, 1917. From left, sibs Kurt, Paul, and Hermine Wittgenstein; brother-in-law, Max Salzer; mother, Leopoldine Wittgenstein; Helene Wittgenstein Salzer; and Ludwig Wittgenstein Wittgenstein family Vienna 1917.jpg
The Wittgenstein family, Vienna, 1917. From left, sibs Kurt, Paul, and Hermine Wittgenstein; brother-in-law, Max Salzer; mother, Leopoldine Wittgenstein; Helene Wittgenstein Salzer; and Ludwig Wittgenstein

May 11, Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, the son of the industrialist Karl Wittgenstein and Leopoldine Maria Josefa Kalmus. He was raised as a Christian; three of his grandparents had converted from Judaism as adults. Only his maternal grandmother had no Jewish lineage. [1] His brother Ludwig was born two years later. The household was frequently visited by prominent cultural figures, among them the composers Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Josef Labor, and Richard Strauss, with whom the young Paul played duets. His grandmother, Fanny Wittgenstein, was a first cousin of the violinist Joseph Joachim, whom she adopted [2] and took to Leipzig to study with Felix Mendelssohn.

He studied with Malvine Brée and later with a much better known figure, the Polish virtuoso Theodor Leschetizky. He made his public début in 1913, attracting favourable reviews. The following year, however, World War I broke out, and he was called up for military service. He was shot in the elbow and captured by the Russians during the Battle of Galicia, and his right arm had to be amputated. [3]

New career as a left-handed pianist

During his recovery in a prisoner-of-war camp in Omsk in Siberia, he resolved to continue his career using only his left hand. Through the Danish Ambassador, he wrote to his old teacher Josef Labor, who was blind, asking for a concerto for the left hand. Labor responded quickly, saying he had already started work on a piece. [4] Following the end of the war, Wittgenstein studied intensely, arranging pieces for the left hand alone and learning the new composition written for him by Labor. Once again he began to give concerts. Many reviews were qualified with comments that he played very well for a man with one arm, but he persevered.

He then approached more famous composers, asking them to write material for him to perform. Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Alexandre Tansman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev, Karl Weigl, Franz Schmidt, Sergei Bortkiewicz, and Richard Strauss all produced pieces for him. Maurice Ravel wrote his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, which became more famous than any of the other compositions that Wittgenstein inspired. But when Wittgenstein made changes to the score for the première, Ravel became incensed and the two never reconciled. [5]

Wittgenstein did not perform every piece he had commissioned. He told Prokofiev that he did not understand his 4th Piano Concerto but would some day play it; however, he never did so. [4] He later stated that "Even a concerto Prokofiev has written for me I have not yet played because the inner logic of the work is not clear to me, and, of course I can't play it until it is." [3] He rejected outright Hindemith's Piano Music with Orchestra Op. 29; he hid the score in his study, and it was not discovered until after his widow's death in 2002 (by which time Hindemith himself had been dead for 39 years). [6] He was able to take this approach because he inserted into his contracts with composers the stipulation that he held the unique performing rights on a composition during his life time. As Wittgenstein explained to Siegfried Rapp on June 5, 1950:

You don't build a house just so that someone else can live in it. I commissioned and paid for the works, the whole idea was mine ... But those works to which I still have the exclusive performance rights are to remain mine as long as I still perform in public; that's only right and fair. Once I am dead or no longer give concerts, then the works will be available to everyone because I have no wish for them to gather dust in libraries to the detriment of the composer. [7]

(Siegfried Rapp was to premiere Prokofiev's 4th Piano Concerto in 1956, five years before Wittgenstein's death.)

Many of the pieces Wittgenstein commissioned are still frequently performed today by two-armed pianists; in particular, the Austrian pianist Friedrich Wührer, claiming the composer's sanction but apparently over Wittgenstein's objections, created two-hand arrangements of Franz Schmidt's Wittgenstein-inspired left-hand works. Pianists born after Wittgenstein who for one reason or another have lost the use of their right hands, such as Leon Fleisher (although he eventually recovered his right hand's abilities) and João Carlos Martins, have also played works composed for him.

As a performer, Wittgenstein's posthumous reputation is mixed. Alexander Waugh comments in "The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War" that between 1928 and 1934, Wittgenstein was "a world-class pianist of outstanding technical ability and sensitivity" but that his playing grew increasingly "harsh and ham-fisted". Orchestras and conductors that had invited him once, seldom sought to rebook him. His tendency to alter and rewrite, without authorisation, the works he had commissioned have also contributed to his controversial musical status. [8]

The Wittgenstein family had converted to Christianity three generations before his birth on the paternal side and two generations before on the maternal side; nonetheless they were of mainly Jewish descent, and under the Nuremberg laws they were classed as Jews. Following the rise of the Nazi Party and the annexation of Austria, Paul tried to persuade his elder sisters Hermine and Helene (69 and 64 years old at the time) to leave Vienna, but they demurred: they were attached to their homes there, and could not believe such a distinguished family as theirs was in real danger. Ludwig had already been living in England for some years, and Margaret (Gretl) was married to an American. Paul himself, who was no longer permitted to perform in public concerts under the Nazis, departed for the United States in 1938. From there he and Gretl, with some assistance from Ludwig (who acquired British nationality in 1939), managed to use family finances (mostly held abroad) and legal connections to attain non-Jewish status for their sisters.

The family's financial portfolio consisted of properties and other assets in Germany and occupied lands with a total value of about US$6 billion, which may have been the largest private fortune in Europe. Essentially all family assets were surrendered to the Nazis in return for protection afforded the two sisters under exceptional interpretations of racial laws, allowing them to continue to live in their family palace in Vienna.

Personal life

His wife, Hilde, had been his pupil; they had two children before their marriage, the first conceived after the first piano lesson,[ citation needed ] when Hilde was eighteen years old and Paul was forty-seven. Because Hilde was not Jewish, Paul was open to charges of "racial defilement"; in 1938 he fled to New York. When his wife and children arrived in the United States in 1941 he set them up in a house on Long Island, which he visited at weekends from his apartment on Riverside Drive. [1] Wittgenstein became an American citizen in 1946 and spent the rest of his life in the United States, where he did much teaching as well as playing. He died in New York City in 1961 and is buried in Pinegrove Cemetery, South Sterling, Pike County, Pennsylvania. [9]

John Barchilon wrote a novel based on Wittgenstein's life, called The Crown Prince (1984). [10]

An episode of the long-running American television series M*A*S*H, "Morale Victory", featured James Stephens as a drafted concert pianist who suffers debilitating nerve damage in his right hand after being wounded in combat. Charles Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) provides him with the music for Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand, tells him Wittgenstein's story and encourages him not to abandon his musical gift.

Wittgenstein appears as a character in Derek Jarman's 1993 film Wittgenstein , about his brother Ludwig.

Wittgenstein is referenced extensively in the latter half of Brian Evenson's novel Last Days . [11]

Wittgenstein's life is the basis for the Neil Halstead song "Wittgenstein's Arm" on his 2012 album Palindrome Hunches.

Related Research Articles

Maurice Ravel French composer (1875–1937)

Joseph Maurice Ravel was a French composer, pianist and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. In the 1920s and 1930s Ravel was internationally regarded as France's greatest living composer.

Piano concerto

A piano concerto is a type of concerto, a solo composition in the classical music genre which is composed for a piano player, which is typically accompanied by an orchestra or other large ensemble. Piano concertos are typically virtuoso showpieces which require an advanced level of technique on the instrument, including melodic lines interspersed with rapid scales, arpeggios, chords, complex contrapuntal parts and other challenging material. When piano concertos are performed by a professional concert pianist, a large grand piano is almost always used, as the grand piano has a fuller tone and more projection than an upright piano. Piano concertos are typically written out in music notation, including sheet music for the pianist, orchestra parts for the orchestra members, and a full score for the conductor, who leads the orchestra in the accompaniment of the soloist.

Josef Labor Austrian composer, pianist and organist

Josef Labor was an Austrian pianist, organist, and composer of the late Romantic era. Labor was an influential music teacher. As a friend of some key figures in Vienna, his importance was enhanced.

Leon Fleisher American pianist and conductor

Leon Fleisher was an American classical pianist, conductor and pedagogue. He was one of the most renowned pianists and pedagogues in the world. Music correspondent Elijah Ho called him "one of the most refined and transcendent musicians the United States has ever produced".

Gary Graffman is an American classical pianist, teacher and administrator.

Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (Ravel)

The Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major was composed by Maurice Ravel between 1929 and 1930, concurrently with his Piano Concerto in G major. It was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I. The Concerto had its premiere on 5 January 1932, with Wittgenstein as soloist performing with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

Andrei Gavrilov Swiss pianist of Russian background (born 1955)

Andrei Gavrilov is a Swiss pianist of Russian background.

Jacques Février

Jacques Février was a French pianist and teacher.

Diversions for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra, Op. 21, is a concertante music composition by Benjamin Britten.

Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4 in B-flat major for the left hand, Op. 53, was commissioned by the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein and completed in 1931.

Friedrich Wührer was an Austrian-German pianist and piano pedagogue. He was a close associate and advocate of composer Franz Schmidt, whose music he edited and, in the case of the works for left hand alone, revised for performance with two hands; he was also a champion of the Second Viennese School and other composers of the early 20th century. His recorded legacy, however, centers on German romantic literature, particularly the music of Franz Schubert.

Kun-Woo Paik

Kun-woo Paik is a South Korean pianist. He has performed with multiple orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic.

Olli Mustonen is a Finnish pianist, conductor, and composer.

The Piano Concerto in E-flat was John Ireland’s only concerto. It was composed in 1930 and given its first performance on 2 October of that year by its dedicatee, Helen Perkin (1909–1996), at a Promenade Concert in the Queen's Hall. The work was an immediate success and was frequently performed by pianists such as Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany, Eileen Joyce, Gina Bachauer and Arthur Rubinstein. While it is considered one of the best piano concertos ever written by an Englishman, it is not often heard nowadays and is not part of the standard repertoire.

This is a list of works associated with the left-handed Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in C-sharp major, Op. 17, was written on commission from Paul Wittgenstein in 1923, and published in 1926. It was only the second such concerto ever written, after the Concerto in E-flat by Géza Zichy, published in 1895.

Siegfried Rapp was a German pianist who lost his right arm during World War II and then focused on the left-hand repertoire. He is now mainly remembered for being the first to perform Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4 for the Left Hand, Op.53.

Left, alone is a piano concerto for the left hand and orchestra by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen. The work was commissioned by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk and co-commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Its world premiere was given by the pianist Alexandre Tharaud and the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester under the direction of Ilan Volkov on January 29, 2016. The piece is dedicated to Alexandre Tharaud.

<i>Klaviermusik mit Orchester</i> 1923 piano concerto by Paul Hindemith

Klaviermusik mit Orchester, Op. 29, is a 1923 piano concerto by Paul Hindemith. Subtitled Klavier nur linke Hand, it is a piano concerto for the left hand alone. It was commissioned by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the World War. He never played the piece, and when he died, his widow refused access to the score. The premiere, after her death, was played in Berlin in 2004, with Leon Fleisher as the soloist and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle. It was published by Schott.

References

Citations

  1. 1 2 "A Nervous Splendor". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  2. Covell 2004.
  3. 1 2 Reich 2002. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFReich2002 (help)
  4. 1 2 Brofeldt 2012.
  5. Ilić 2011.
  6. Rowe 2005.
  7. Kalkman 2012.
  8. Waugh, Alexander
  9. Pine Grove.
  10. Barchilon 1986.
  11. Barron, Zach (April 3, 2009). "Brian Evenson Soundtracks Last Days". Village Voice. Village Voice. Retrieved May 20, 2020.

Sources

Books

News

Online sources