Walter Gieseking

8.99 €

Walter Gieseking was a master of complicated sound effects. If the pedal is the soul of the piano, as Rachmaninoff said it was, then Gieseking was the pianist who raised it to the most ethereal heights. His spectacular playing shines through Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto. This German radio broadcast from 1953 is an electrifying and passionate performance, and shows Gieseking's outstanding musicianship. He gave a stirring performance of the Grieg piano concerto in 1951 with Kurt Schröder conducting Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessichen Rundfunks (RSO Frankfurt). These rare performances have never been issued before and have an historical importance.


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WALTER GIESEKING plays Grieg and Rachmaninoff

1-3. GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16 [29:06]
Recorded ∙ 13 October 1951 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

4-6. RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op. 18 [30:45]
Recorded ∙ 20 July 1953 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Walter Gieseking ∙ piano
Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks
Kurt Schröder ∙ conductor

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1000
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 791154050002
Total time: 59:51

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Musikhochschule Saarbrücken
With special thanks to Allan Evans
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2014 Meloclassic

For Walter Gieseking, Rachmaninoff was simply “the greatest pianist of his time” and Artur Schnabel, in a posthumous tribute wrote: “I shall never forget the admiration I felt when I first heard Rachmaninoff play. His sovereign style, a combination of grandeur and daring, his naturalness and the giving of his whole self-all this was absolutely inimitable.“ Rachmaninoff admired Gieseking more than any others for Gieseking’s amazing performances of his 2nd and 3rd concerto in New York City.

Walter Gieseking 1

Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote in his book “From a Lifetime of Music” interesting aspects about Gieseking’s skills as an incredible sight-reader and his photographic memory. In old program notes it was stated Gieseking had in his memory over 300 concerti and over 5000 solo works! – Gieseking, the great German pianist, was the most authoritative performer of my piano music [during the 1920’s]. He had given his first Italian recital in Milan (in 1921, I believe), where he had been proclaimed a magisterial performer of impressionist music; and it was then that Maria Rota [a friend of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s] made him a gift of some of my youthful pieces (Cipressi, the Cantico, and Vitalba e Biancospino), which he immediately began to play. I myself then sent him my Alt Wien, which also became part of his repertoire; and this was the piece he put on his program when he came to Florence in 1925 – the first time we met. He was a sort of Teutonic giant, with a thickset, massive body that contrasted with his mild, pale blue eyes, his blond, straight, flowing hair, and his gaping, somewhat fish-like mouth. He would throw himself, growling, at the keyboard, as if attacking it, but he was capable of such unexpected sweetness, such sonic ecstasy, such almost child like tenderness! I was not surprised to learn that this athlete had only one passion, apart from music: ethereal, multi-colored butterflies.

During his concert tours, he left his hotel rooms only to secure new, rarer specimens. No sooner had he arrived than he came to our house (I remember that it was a Wednesday evening, and the concert was to take place on Saturday), and he immediately asked me whether I had written any new piano pieces since Alt Wien. I told him that I had composed the Neapolitan Rhapsody Piedigrotta 1924 and a series of short pieces, Le Stagioni, which I showed him in manuscript. He said that he found it difficult to sight-read from manuscripts (mine are particularly cramped) and excused himself in advance for any mistakes he might make-whereupon he launched into the Neapolitan Rhapsody (which begins with an exceedingly difficult tarantella) with incredible impetuousness and at breakneck speed, without missing a note all the way to the end. We were all left open-mouthed (I recall that [the pianist Ernesto] Consolo and other friends were there): never had we seen such quickness and infallibility in a sight-reader. With great modesty, he asked me whether I preferred that he play Piedigrotta instead of Alt Wien at the forthcoming recital, three days later. Listen, Gieseking,” I replied, “I don’t doubt that you and you alone could manage it. But this is your first visit to Florence. Don’t you think it would be better if you were to wander around and see the beauties of my city instead of memorizing my piece?” He agreed, though half unwillingly; but he promised me that he would play Piedigrotta in Berlin the following Monday-and so he did! Thus, when Le Danze del Re David were chosen [to represent Italy at the 1926 International Music Festival in Frankfurt, the composer Alfredo] Casella (who was among the organizers) asked Gieseking if he would agree to play them; and he enthusiastically accepted the invitation. It was a prodigious performance and a wild success. Never have I experienced such a capacity for contrast! I remember that he began the last dance with an almost “subterranean” pianissimo, like a far-off drum-roll, and proceeded with a continuous, gradual, prodigious crescendo that seemed as if it would never end (the only thing I have ever heard to equal it was Ravel’s Bolero conducted by Toscanini).

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And Gieseking was one of the very few performers who sometimes know better than the composer: his interpretations were sometimes different than I had expected, but they were so logical and coherent, so perfectly realized, that I myself asked him not to change what he had done! And so he continued to play virtually all my piano music, or at least my best works, up to and including the Sonata, which I composed for him in 1928, and which he performed the following season at the end of a cycle of concerts built around the “history of the sonata,” which he gave in various European capitals. Then came Hitler, Nazi doctrine, and the anti-Semitic campaign; and Gieseking, faithful to the party line, stopped playing “Jewish music,” including mine, of course. I was sorry about it, but I didn’t want to argue the matter, and I broke off all correspondence. Only in 1937, after having published a new group of piano pieces, I sent them to him with a brief letter that said, in essence: “I know that you will never again play my music, and I know perfectly well why. Nevertheless, you have played it so well, and for so long, that I want you to get to know my most recent piano pieces.” I thought he would not reply; but a few days later, I received the following note: ‘My dear Mario. When the mailman brought me your most recent pieces, I was just in the midst of playing, for my own pleasure, your three Hebrew Chorales, which I still find magnificent.’ It was an act of sincerity and courage, since correspondence was censored at that time in Germany, and Gieseking could have gotten into serious trouble. It gave me much to think about.

After the war, when Gieseking was accused of “collaboration” and was criticized for not having left Germany, like other German intellectuals and was even denied entry to America – I refused to join his accusers. I knew how difficult it is to leave one’s country! I even wrote to a Los Angeles newspaper about this strange episode, but my letter was not published. Gieseking did, however, eventually return to the United States. I had not seen him for about twenty-five years, but I knew that he had begun to play my Cipressi again. When he came to Los Angeles, I went to his concert. He seemed very happy to see me again, and even said that he would visit me the following day. I doubted that he would keep his promise (knowing how busy he was); but not only did he come, he arrived before the time we had set. I was giving a lesson, and I asked him to wait for me in the garden for half an hour. I gave him an armchair and a book to read.When the lesson was done, I went into the garden and had a terrible fright! Gieseking was lying face down on the grass, and I was afraid that he wasn’t well.

But he was simply sleeping deeply. When he woke up, we went into the house, and there we had a long conversation during which we explained many things to each other, in turn. He even stayed for dinner and then late into the evening, in order to read all my recent piano music, which he didn’t know. I was happy to have “rediscovered” Gieseking and, as a souvenir, I wrote a piece based on his name. I called it Mirages because, as everyone knows, Gieseking is a wonderful interpreter of French impressionist music; and from Ravel’s Miroirs and Debussy’s Images, I came up with the name Mirages.

From a Lifetime of Music – Puccini, Schoenberg, Stravinsky & Others Author(s): Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Harvey Sachs. Source: Grand Street, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 150-165


Marian Filar studied with Walter Gieseking in Wiesbaden between 1945 and 1950. In his memoir “From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall”, Filar had written about Gieseking: Gieseking was known as an incredible sight-reader, phenomenal, but my first experience of seeing him demonstrate this skill left me totally speechless. I was in the middle of a lesson when Mr. Gieseking told me that a young composer from Hamburg was stopping by. “He composed some sonata and he begged me just to read it and give him an opinion, and I couldn’t refuse. He’ll be here any minute. Do you mind?” That’s how nice and polite Mr. Gieseking always was. So this young fellow, a little older than I, came in and put his music on the stand. I was standing back from the piano a little bit, but I could see that the manuscript was handwritten and hard to read. “What the hell is that,” I wondered? “Is it supposed to be music?” I couldn’t make out the difference between a note and a rest, or whether something was a half note or a quarter note or what it was. Was someone supposed to play this? I couldn’t figure it out at all. Mr. Gieseking sat down, and he didn’t just read it, he played it- as if he had known it for ten years. I thought, I’don’t believe this. Who’s trying to kid me? It isn’t human. This can’t be real. He’s playing a joke on me.” I actually got mad, and when the composer left I stuttered and finally blurted out, “Professor, you mean you never saw that music before?” “No, I never saw it before. He just finished it a couple of days ago.”

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