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Hans Richter-Haaser

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Hans Richter-Haaser never made it to the ‘big time’. Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Haydn were Richter-Haaser’s bread and butter. He was firmly and unmistakably in that tradition: distinctively Germanic, serious, deeply respectful of the music. Music making was, to him, a matter of discovering the soul in the music. This disc presents pianist Hans Richter-Haaser’s German radio broadcast in 1950s and the performances are of ‘noble simplicity and quiet grandeur’. None of these radio performances have been published before.


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HANS RICHTER-HAASER plays Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn

1-3. MOZART: Piano Sonata No.6 in D Major, K.284 [21:18]
4-6. MOZART: Piano Sonata No.15 in F Major, K.533 [16:48]

Recorded ∙ 30 December 1950 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

7-9. BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No.16 in G Major, Op.31, No.1 [19:38]
10-12. HAYDN: Piano Sonata No.59 in E-flat Major, Hob XVI: 49 [15:51]

Recorded ∙ 07 October 1959 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Raum 3/C ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1002
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050026
Total time: 73:36

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Evelyn Richter
With special thanks to Dr. Inge Schleier
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2014 Meloclassic

Hans Richter-Haaser was born in Dresden on January 6, 1912. He was the son of a carpenter and amateur musician. At age 13, he became a pupil of Hans Schneider at the Dresden Academy of Music, where he won the Bechstein Prize when he was 18. He made his debut in Dresden (1928), and thereafter performed throughout Germany and worked as a freelance pianist, conductor and composer until 1939. During World War II, where he had to serve the German Wehrmacht from the first to the last day of the World War II, he had no opportunity to play for years on end, while fighting with an anti-aircraft unit, and his technique slipped; however, he regained it after the war. Other than Kempff, Gieseking or Rummel, he wasn’t included to the German God-gifted list assembled by Goebbels and Hitler. A prisoner of war at the end, he resumed playing in U.S. military hospitals and later conducted orchestras in several small German towns.

In 1946 he moved to Detmold where he took over the artistic direction of the city orchestra. But by 1947 he had already been entrusted with a piano masterclass and became professor in 1953. This must be seen as a substantial foundation for the rank and renown of the Detmold Music Academy, and he hold this position until 1963. In 1949, he hit the big time concert circuit again and, in the ensuing years, his recitals in London, Paris, The Hague and other European capitals; performances at the Edinburgh Festival; and appearances with orchestras such famous conductors Karajan, Böhm, Paray, Jochum, Fricsay and Sawallisch soon earned a post-war reputation as one of Europe’s foremost pianists in the spectral romantic traditions, preceded by a reputation throughout Europe as the successor of Gieseking and Backhaus and a series of top-flight recordings including one of the Brahms B-flat Major Concerto made with Karajan and the Berliner Philharmonics.


His American debut in 1959 was hailed as “one of the biggest keyboard talents to hit Manhattan in years. The man at the keyboard was a musician, all right—but was he a topflight pianist? The question agitated most Manhattan critics last week, but it failed to disturb the crowd that thronged Town Hall to hear an eagerly awaited debut. Regardless of critical quibbles, Germany’s 47-year-old Hans Richter-Haaser clearly proved to be one of the biggest keyboard talents to hit Manhattan in years.” On the contrary, his recital a year later at Carnegie Hall on December 12, 1960 received a mixed review. Ed Boatner wrote „German-born pianist Hans Richter-Haaser’s amazing control over his instrument was the fuse that touched off the explosive audience applause that demanded six encores from him after a performance at Carnegie Hall Monday night. The audience’s claps and bravos brought him back to the stage for two more encores, but he declined with a gracious smile, as if to say: “Thank you. But I just can’t play anymore. I know you will understand.” In this only New York recital of the season, Herr Richter-Haaser played a program of Schubert. Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy. Three elements of his controlled and sensitive touch were evident in the Schubert C-minor sonata (Opus posthumous): His ability to make Schubert’s melodies sound like Schubert, with sustained tension and at the same time with marked increase and decrease of tension in the melodic lines; his uncanny ability to play pianissimo passages very softly while retaining a solid tone; and his subtle -transitions from one section or key to another. In the Liszt Ballade No. 2 in B minor, the pianist produced a wonderfully clear, pure and sometimes ringing tone. But this piece, similar to “Liebestraum,” which “we all want to hear and sing,” with its sugary melodies and arpeggio accompaniment, was somewhat too romantic for Herr Richter Haaser’s classical touch.

In the impressionistic “L’lsle Joyeuse” by Debussy, he carried off the soaring scale passages with marked clarity of tone and apparent ease. Beethoven’s “Fantasia in G minor” followed. The most distinctive and attractive trait in Herr Richter-Haaser’s tone was brought out in the Beethoven Sonata, in A Flat major, Op. 110: a piercing, sonorous, ringing quality. The main fault in his playing of this work — and this is a minor one—was the great flexibility in his dynamic range. (Surprisingly, he played the other works within a too limited dynamic framework.) The Beethoven sonata certainly demands flexibility and contrast in lone but the pianist made the contrasts too marked in this one respect — he made Beethoven sound as if he wrote 50 years later. But along with his “technical prowess in a rigidly controlled style, one vital musical element was missing in his playing—a sense of spontaneity. Perhaps the lack of this element is the price Herr Richter-Haaser has paid for his unequaled technical mastery.”

He was included in the first edition of Joachim Kaiser’s “Great Pianists of our Time” — but already didn’t make the cut for the second edition and never achieved stardom in his career, but he nevertheless made a good reputation post-war, with Beethoven as the cornerstone of his repertoire. His recordings are however, sadly, few and far between. He also was a composer of 2 piano concertos, chamber music, piano pieces, and songs.

Richter-Haaser died in Braunschweig on December 13, 1980, aged 68.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

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