Author Topic: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI  (Read 250 times)

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Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« on: November 16, 2020, 04:35:07 AM »
I ran across this interesting article today on the BBC's website.  Besides telling Paul Wittgenstein's amazing and triumphant story, there are a number of interesting related stories there:  the contemporary pianist Nicholas McCarthy who was born without a right hand

"Born without a right hand in 1989, Nicholas McCarthy made history when he became the only one-handed pianist ever to graduate from London's Royal College of Music, in July 2012...."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3WX6QVVc7wtQRCCKJzNHPJ0/paul-wittgenstein-the-one-armed-piano-maestro-of-ww1

Also, challenges confronted in playing works for left-hand only.  Various music excerpts (including Wittgenstein himself playing Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand) and more.

It's part of a new BBC Radio 3 focus this month on disability.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000p6db

PD

Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2020, 05:06:42 AM »
I ran across this interesting article today on the BBC's website.  Besides telling Paul Wittgenstein's amazing and triumphant story, there are a number of interesting related stories there:  the contemporary pianist Nicholas McCarthy who was born without a right hand

"Born without a right hand in 1989, Nicholas McCarthy made history when he became the only one-handed pianist ever to graduate from London's Royal College of Music, in July 2012...."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3WX6QVVc7wtQRCCKJzNHPJ0/paul-wittgenstein-the-one-armed-piano-maestro-of-ww1

Also, challenges confronted in playing works for left-hand only.  Various music excerpts (including Wittgenstein himself playing Ravel's Concerto for Left Hand) and more.

It's part of a new BBC Radio 3 focus this month on disability.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000p6db

PD

I have not read the article you link to.  However, I seem to remember an alternative narrative which is less flattering to Wittgenstein.  Obviously putting the awful tragedy of his injury to one side - I seem to remember reading that in his dealings with the various composers he commissioned he was not the nicest of people. 

There is an extended article about Wittgenstein at http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/375711,paul-wittgenstein-the-man-with-the-golden-arm.aspx which I recommend as an interesting and informative read - the Prokofiev quotes below are taken from this article.  The sad truth is that Wittgenstein seems not to have liked much if any of the music he commissioned and likewise he engendered little affection or respect from the composers either.  He wrote to Prokofiev regarding his 4th Concerto; "Thankyou for the concerto but I do not understand a single note in it, and I will not play it" Prokofiev countered "I don't see any special talent in his left hand" even cynically wondering if his injury might be construed as "a stroke of good luck" since as a two-handed performer "he would not have stood out from a crowd of mediocre pianists".

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2020, 07:19:44 AM »
I have not read the article you link to.  However, I seem to remember an alternative narrative which is less flattering to Wittgenstein.  Obviously putting the awful tragedy of his injury to one side - I seem to remember reading that in his dealings with the various composers he commissioned he was not the nicest of people. 

There is an extended article about Wittgenstein at http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/375711,paul-wittgenstein-the-man-with-the-golden-arm.aspx which I recommend as an interesting and informative read - the Prokofiev quotes below are taken from this article.  The sad truth is that Wittgenstein seems not to have liked much if any of the music he commissioned and likewise he engendered little affection or respect from the composers either.  He wrote to Prokofiev regarding his 4th Concerto; "Thankyou for the concerto but I do not understand a single note in it, and I will not play it" Prokofiev countered "I don't see any special talent in his left hand" even cynically wondering if his injury might be construed as "a stroke of good luck" since as a two-handed performer "he would not have stood out from a crowd of mediocre pianists".
Hi RS,

No, I think that also covered at least some of 'the bad' there too.  They did go into (at least touched on) his changing around Ravel's piano concerto and rewriting some of both the piano parts as well as the orchestral parts.

"Using his family wealth, Wittgenstein spent the next 30 years commissioning 17 piano concertos from composers regarded as the very best in the world.

Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and Benjamin Britten all created works for left hand following requests from an increasingly demanding Wittgenstein. But there were often clashes between patron and composer."

and...."The most notable quarrel took place between Wittgenstein and Maurice Ravel. After receiving the score for Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in 1930, Wittgenstein immediately began to introduce changes into the Frenchman's work, reversioning not just the piano parts, but also the orchestral arrangement.

I wouldn't have a career without him, but I could have throttled him because of the way he was
Nicholas McCarthy
In a world where the composer's vision was sacrosanct - especially one so revered as Ravel - this was heresy. But as the commissioner of the work, Wittgenstein had the right to change it.

"For me, Paul Wittgenstein is a double-edged sword - I wouldn't have a career without him, but I could have throttled him because of the way he was," says Nicholas McCarthy who, like several other one-armed pianists over the years, has benefitted from the legacy of Wittgenstein's commissions and transcriptions.

"I have the greatest respect for him, the greatest thanks, but at the same time I feel very disheartened by his personality."

So, no I don't think that they glossed over it (particularly as regard to the length of that story).

As concerns myself, I didn't know that much about him and was happy to see the story--which I just finally finished reading now.  I have also just watched the imbedded video of Stephen Johnson analyzing Ravel's work (complete with the BBC orchestra and a wonderful pianist).  A really well-spent half an hour for me.  :)

Personally, I was amazed that he commissioned 17 piano concertos too!

Hope to listen to Nicholas McCarthy's story later on today.

Best wishes,

PD
« Last Edit: November 16, 2020, 08:47:01 AM by Pohjolas Daughter »

Offline Jo498

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2020, 08:27:05 AM »
Here is a list of pieces written for Wittgenstein taken from the German wikipedia article and slightly edited (if no other pianist is mentioned, Wittgenstein played the premiere):

Sergei Eduardowitsch Bortkiewicz: Klavierkonzert e-Moll Nr. 2 für die linke Hand, op. 28; UA in Wien am 29. November 1923, Dirigent: Eugen Pabst.

Rudolf Braun: Konzert a-Moll (1927/28).

Walter Bricht: Variations on an Old German Children Song for piano (left hand), flute and cello, op. 40 (1942).

Benjamin Britten: Diversions für Klavier (linke Hand) und Orchester, op. 21 (1940, rev. Fassung 1954); UA: 16. Januar 1942 in Philadelphia, Academy of Music, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy.

Hans Gál: Klavierquartett A-Dur (1926/27); UA: 1928.

Leopold Godowsky: Symphonische Metamorphosen über den „Schatz-Walzer“ aus „Der Zigeunerbaron“ von Johann Strauß (Mai 1928); not played by Wittgenstein

Paul Hindemith: Klaviermusik mit Orchester, op. 29 (1923); UA: 9. Dezember 2004 in Berlin; Leon Fleisher, Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold:
Klavierkonzert für die linke Hand, op. 17; UA: 22. September 1924 in Wien, Wiener Symphoniker, Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Suite für 2 Violinen, Violoncello und Klavier (linke Hand), op. 23 (1930); UA: 21. Oktober 1930 in Wien, Mittlerer Konzerthaussaal mit Paul Wittgenstein und dem Rosé-Quartett.

Josef Labor:
Variationen in D-Dur für Klavier linke Hand (1915)
Konzertstück für Klavier und Orchester Es-Dur (1923); UA: 10. November 1923 im Wiener Konzerthaus mit dem Wiener Sinfonie-Orchester unter Rudolf Nilius.

Sergei Prokofjew: Klavierkonzert Nr. 4 B-Dur, op. 53 für die linke Hand (1931); not played by Wittgenstein.

Maurice Ravel: Konzert D-Dur für die linke Hand (1929/30); UA: 5. Januar 1932 in Wien.

Felix Rosenthal: Romanze und Impromptu für die linke Hand. Keine Aufführung zu Lebzeiten Wittgensteins bekannt.

Moriz Rosenthal:
Neuer Wiener Carneval nach Themen von Johann Strauß für die linke Hand allein (vor 1935).
Fantasie über Gounods Faust (undatiertes Manuskript: „Paul Wittgenstein in Bewunderung zugeeignet von Moritz Rosenthal“).
Un poco serioso (undatiertes Manuskript mit Anmerkungen von Wittgenstein).
Air de Ballet, Pizzicato-Polka von Léo Delibes in der Bearbeitung für die linke Hand.

Franz Schmidt:
Konzertante Variationen über ein Thema von Beethoven (1923); UA: 2. Februar 1924 im Wiener Konzerthaus mit dem Wiener Sinfonie-Orchester unter Julius Prüwer.
Quintett für Klavier und Streichquartett G-Dur (1926).
Quintett für Klavier, Klarinette und Streichtrio B-Dur (1932); UA: 16. März 1933 im Wiener Konzerthaus, Schubert-Saal, mit dem Sedlak-Winkler-Quartett, Leopold Wlach, Klarinette, und Herbert Magg, Violoncello.
Klavierkonzert Es-Dur (1934).
Quintett für Klavier, Klarinette und Streichtrio A-Dur (1938).
Toccata d-Moll für Klavier linke Hand alleine (1938).
[NB at least the G major quintet but probably the other quintets as well were later also arranged for two handed piano]

Eduard Schütt: Paraphrase für Klavier und Orchester (1929); UA am 27. Juni 1929 in Wien.

Henry Selbing: Acht leichte und mittelschwere, instruktive und melodische Vortragsstücke für Klavier linke Hand allein.

Richard Strauss:
Parergon zur Sinfonia domestica (1924/25); UA: 6. Oktober 1925 in Dresden.
Panathenäenzug. Sinfonische Etüden in Form einer Passacaglia für Klavier (linke Hand) und Orchester, op. 74 bzw. TrV 254 (1927); UA: 16. Januar 1928 in Berlin.
Übungen für die linke Hand (1926).

Jenő Takács: Toccata und Fuge, op. 56 (1951); von Wittgenstein unaufgeführt zurückgesandt.

Alexandre Tansman: Konzertstück für die linke Hand (1943).

Ernest Walker:
Variations on an Original Theme for piano, clarinet and string trio, o. op. (1933).
Study for the Left Hand op. 47 (1931).
Prelude (Larghetto), op. 61 (1935).

Karl Weigl: Konzert für Klavier linke Hand und Orchester (1924).

Juliusz Wolfsohn: Bearbeitung des Donauwalzers (Blue Danube) für die linke Hand (um 1930)
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2020, 08:50:13 AM »
Here is a list of pieces written for Wittgenstein taken from the German wikipedia article and slightly edited (if no other pianist is mentioned, Wittgenstein played the premiere):

Thanks for the list Jo.  I did edit one of my earlier postings as I had typed that he had commissioned 17 works; I should have typed 17 piano concertos.

PD

Offline Handelian

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2020, 11:44:23 PM »
Whatever Wittgenstein was as a man or a pianist, we can certainly be grateful to him for commissioning the number of works he did for the left-hand, including one of the greatest concertos ever written, which is the Ravel concerto for the left hand. An astonishing piece of genius. Whether he liked it or not, music lovers of falling over themselves to like it ever since and pianists have queued to play it.

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2020, 12:47:08 AM »
Whatever Wittgenstein was as a man or a pianist, we can certainly be grateful to him for commissioning the number of works he did for the left-hand, including one of the greatest concertos ever written, which is the Ravel concerto for the left hand. An astonishing piece of genius. Whether he liked it or not, music lovers of falling over themselves to like it ever since and pianists have queued to play it.

+1
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Online ritter

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2020, 12:55:53 AM »
Whatever Wittgenstein was as a man or a pianist, we can certainly be grateful to him for commissioning the number of works he did for the left-hand, including one of the greatest concertos ever written, which is the Ravel concerto for the left hand. An astonishing piece of genius. Whether he liked it or not, music lovers of falling over themselves to like it ever since and pianists have queued to play it.
Indeed. It's a bit like Ida Rubinstein, who is supposed not to have been such a great dancer and diseuse, and yet her patronage and initiative led to some wonderful works, such as Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, Perséphone, Boléro, Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher...
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2020, 01:05:39 AM »
I am also surprised how long the list is with quite a few prominent works, especially considering the apparently arrogant and cantankerous behavior of the pianist (he came from a really troubled family, whose great genius Ludwig W. was also a very difficult character although most of the time too shy to be as annoying as Paul).
Admittedly, there are also a lot of works/composers I have never heard of...
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
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Offline Handelian

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2020, 01:31:07 AM »
Did anyone mention Britten’sDiversions for Left Hand and Orchestra?

Offline pjme

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2020, 01:46:17 AM »
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/0wBjBJAR5wk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/0wBjBJAR5wk</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/q5d_ey4-xRY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/q5d_ey4-xRY</a>

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/cZGt_pZlrrA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/cZGt_pZlrrA</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/0mhsviyh99A" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/0mhsviyh99A</a>

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/oM4b4ujI_H0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/oM4b4ujI_H0</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/6eZaq6cLDKI" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/6eZaq6cLDKI</a>

Dutch pianist Folke Nauta and cellist Michiel Weidner started the Wittgenstein project in 2019 and will offer more works in the future.
http://wittgensteinproject.com/

Leon Fleisher recorded several works from the Wittgenstein list for Sony, including the wonderful Diversions by Britten.
He premiered Hindemiths Klaviermusik (1924) in 2005.

Several other works have been recorded:
Bortkiewicz, concerto nr. 2 : Piano Classics PCL10146
Korngold & Schmidt: chamber music  Sony SK48253
Schmidt, concerti: Pan Classics PC10309
Strauss, Parergon & Panatheäenzug :Koch 365712

Imho, Ravel, Prokofiev and Britten wrote left hand concerti that stick and endure.




« Last Edit: November 18, 2020, 03:34:54 AM by pjme »

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2020, 05:44:22 AM »
One of the things that I enjoyed from that whole article/page, was Stephen Johnson's analysis of the piano concerto (as mentioned complete with orchestra and pianist) about how Ravel could write for the orchestra to seemingly make the piano sound larger/fuller/like there were two hands playing for example and why it is easier to play works for the left hand vs. the right hand.  Are there any piano concertos for right-hand only?  I've also never seen anyone play the work before so it was quite astonishing to watch.

Whatever Wittgenstein was as a man or a pianist, we can certainly be grateful to him for commissioning the number of works he did for the left-hand, including one of the greatest concertos ever written, which is the Ravel concerto for the left hand. An astonishing piece of genius. Whether he liked it or not, music lovers of falling over themselves to like it ever since and pianists have queued to play it.
+2

I think that his story of finally getting to live his dream of playing the piano professionally (once his father passed away), then getting shot after enlisting in the army during WWI, losing his right arm, practicing for hours on a wooden crate that he had devised whilst a POW, then getting a bit of a break when a visiting dignitary saw his dedication and he was moved to another place which had an old piano and so on (I'll let you read the article for yourselves), says a lot of good things about his character (to be fair) and eventually emerging triumphant--overcoming the odds that he would ever be able to perform again.  That was what I had meant in my original posting:  that he had defied the odds and fought back.  Not that he was a perfect person (which reading further), I saw later that he was far from that.


<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/0wBjBJAR5wk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/0wBjBJAR5wk</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/q5d_ey4-xRY" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/q5d_ey4-xRY</a>

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/cZGt_pZlrrA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/cZGt_pZlrrA</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/0mhsviyh99A" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/0mhsviyh99A</a>

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/oM4b4ujI_H0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/oM4b4ujI_H0</a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/6eZaq6cLDKI" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/6eZaq6cLDKI</a>

Dutch pianist Folke Nauta and cellist Michiel Weidner started the Wittgenstein project in 2019 and will offer more works in the future.
http://wittgensteinproject.com/

Leon Fleisher recorded several works from the Wittgenstein list for Sony, including the wonderful Diversions by Britten.
He premiered Hindemiths Klaviermusik (1924) in 2005.

Several other works have been recorded:
Bortkiewicz, concerto nr. 2 : Piano Classics PCL10146
Korngold & Schmidt: chamber music  Sony SK48253
Schmidt, concerti: Pan Classics PC10309
Strauss, Parergon & Panatheäenzug :Koch 365712

Imho, Ravel, Prokofiev and Britten wrote left hand concerti that stick and endure.

Thanks for those links!  I look forward to listening to them.  I'll have to check out the Britten work too.  :)  And the Prokofiev!

PD

Offline Jo498

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2020, 08:31:38 AM »
The Strauss works with orchestra are also included in the famous Kempe-Box (Admittedly I had not been aware that they were left hand only). The Korngold suite/quintet has also been recorded several times, it is a very good piece (if one generally likes Korngold's somewhat overripe "too late romantic" style).
I also like the Schmidt quintets (on Orfeo and Marco Polo) but several recordings use versions that were re-done for two hands. I also have the concertante pieces on cpo with Markus Becker. Like the quintets they are on a rather large scale (30 min variations and 43 min concerto) but I don't remember enough to comment (again, I had forgotten that they were left hand only).

The most famous solo piece for left hand  predates Wittgenstein, it must be Brahms' transcription of the Bach violin chaconne.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Biffo

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2020, 09:31:47 AM »
Janacek wrote his Capriccio for piano (left hand) and chamber ensemble for the Czech pianist Otakar Hollman. At first Janacek refused to write a work for Hollman and ignored his letters. He later wrote the piece without telling Hollman but eventually allowed him to give the first performance. The unusual ensemble consists of flute/piccolo, two trumpets, three trombones and tenor tuba.

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2020, 10:03:11 AM »
The Strauss works with orchestra are also included in the famous Kempe-Box (Admittedly I had not been aware that they were left hand only). The Korngold suite/quintet has also been recorded several times, it is a very good piece (if one generally likes Korngold's somewhat overripe "too late romantic" style).
I also like the Schmidt quintets (on Orfeo and Marco Polo) but several recordings use versions that were re-done for two hands. I also have the concertante pieces on cpo with Markus Becker. Like the quintets they are on a rather large scale (30 min variations and 43 min concerto) but I don't remember enough to comment (again, I had forgotten that they were left hand only).

The most famous solo piece for left hand  predates Wittgenstein, it must be Brahms' transcription of the Bach violin chaconne.
Hi Jo.

Sorry, but I don't know 'the famous Kempe-Box'?  Interesting to read about your other suggestions.  I'll look into them at some point.  :)

By the way, I did find out that there are a number of works for right hand only:

https://www.pianoeducation.org/pnoonhnd.html

PD
Janacek wrote his Capriccio for piano (left hand) and chamber ensemble for the Czech pianist Otakar Hollman. At first Janacek refused to write a work for Hollman and ignored his letters. He later wrote the piece without telling Hollman but eventually allowed him to give the first performance. The unusual ensemble consists of flute/piccolo, two trumpets, three trombones and tenor tuba.
Thanks for the info Biffo.  I didn't know that story about Janacek and Hollman.

PD

Offline pjme

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #15 on: November 18, 2020, 10:14:12 AM »
And for sheer rollicking fun: Malcolm Arnold's concerto for two pianos three hands. :laugh:

https://youtu.be/zMI5WDjvY1c

Offline Jo498

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #16 on: November 18, 2020, 10:19:01 AM »
Kempe conducting Staatskapelle Dresden in virtually all of R. Strauss orchestral works. Several issues on EMI (now Warner) and also Brilliant, I think. Frager and Rösel are listed as pianists. The best Strauss piano + orchestra piece is the Burleske, though, for two hands.



The Korngold suite can be found as "filler" on Schmid/Ozawa's (Arte Nova/Oehms) disc with the violin concerto.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Paul Wittgenstein: The one-armed piano maestro of WWI
« Reply #17 on: November 18, 2020, 10:23:31 AM »
Thanks for elaborating Jo.

And Peter, yes, that Malcolm Arnold work title caught my eye!

PD