Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alfred Cortot - Ravel's Piano Concerto for Left Hand

Alfred Cortot, born September 26, 1877, was a Franco-Swiss pianist and conductor. So saith Wikipedia:

Controversially, he supported the German occupation in France during the Second World War (he played in Nazi-sponsored concerts, for example), serving as High Commissioner of the Fine Arts for the Vichy regime[1], and befriending Hitler's friend, architect, and (after 1942) Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer[citation needed]. His Vichy connections, in particular, led to him being declared persona non grata after the Liberation. The motives for his wartime activities have been disputed; they may have arisen from nothing more than his lifelong championship of Teutonic musical culture. Moreover his wife, Clothilde Breal, daughter of the linguist, Michel Breal, was of Jewish origin and Clothilde Breal's cousin, Lise Bloch, was married to Léon Blum, the first Jew to become President du Conseil or Prime Minister in France. Cortot and the Blums maintained a close friendship. At any rate, he was banned from performing publicly for a year and his public image in France suffered greatly (though he continued to be well received as a recitalist in other countries, notably Italy and England).

Wikipedia also goes on to say: "In his early years (approx. 1920–1930) Cortot recorded a number of piano rolls for the Aeolian/ Duo-Art company, since 78rpm discs were not always satisfactory in quality or maximum duration of the recording. Once he performed a Liszt Rhapsody weaving his own playing live at the piano with its mechanical reproduction. With eyes closed some critics could not distinguish between the two." I find this idea fascinating.

This selection, Maurice Ravel's "Piano Concerto for Left Hand", was recorded May 12, 1939. Victor 78rpm Album M-629 (15749-15750). Paris Conservatory Orchestra. Charles Munch, conductor. It was expertly digitally remastered for the Internet Archive by F. Reeder.

According to a comment posted on archive-org's entry for it: "I'm interested in Cortot's playing, which sounds at once rich and rough to point of carlessness. I knew someone who met him after a concert. My acquaintance thought it was great, but Cortot was actually weeping, he was so conscious of his short-comings. I guess he blew it politically, too."

Ravel's Piano Concerto for Left Hand came about when specially commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I. He nevertheless continued a stellar musical career, and devised many novel techniques, such as pedal and hand-movement combinations, that allowed him to play music that had been previously thought impossible for a one-armed pianist. Ravel, inspired by the technical challenges of the idea, said "In a work of this kind, it is essential to give the impression of a texture no thinner than that of a part written for both hands." Wittgenstein was originally not thrilled by it upon first listen, but after studying it and playing it himself, came to be obsessed by the piece.

Alfred Cortot - Ravel's Piano Concerto for Left Hand

1 comment:

  1. The pianist Lise Bloch was NOT married to Leon Blum, but was a wife of Francois Jacob. Leon Blum was a whole generation older than Lise Bloch!