Wilhelm Kempff

8.99 €

Wilhelm Kempff requires no introduction – he was one of the greatest and most distinguished pianists of the 20th century with a large discography. Kempff approaches each piece as a masterwork in its own right and he was a master at finding the poetry and lyricism inside any work. This is gorgeous piano recital, recorded in Aix-en-Provence in 1955, evocatively capturing the shifting moods of this often elusive composers. None of these French radio performances have been published before.

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WILHELM KEMPFF plays Mozart, Rameau, Couperin, Beethoven and Schubert

1. MOZART: Fantasia in D minor, K.397 [05:56]
2. RAMEAU: Les trois mains [05:51]
3. COUPERIN: Le carillon de Cythère [04:54]
4-7. BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No.15 in D Major, Op.28 [21:37]

Recorded ∙ 12 July 1955 ∙ Aix-en-Provence ∙ Théâtre de l’Archevêché ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Live Recording

8-11. SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in G Major, D.894 [32:33]
Recorded ∙ 11 February 1960 ∙ Paris ∙ Studio 107 ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1001
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050019
Total time: 70:54

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Klaus Linsenmeyer
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2014 Meloclassic

Wilhelm Kempff was born on November 25, 1895, in Jüterbog. He came from a very distinguished family of Lutheran church musicians. His father was a royal music director and organist of the St. Nicolai Church in Potsdam, his grandfather a certified church musician, “Kantor”, and his brother, Georg, was the director of church. In his autobiography: “Unter dem Zimbelstern: Das Werden eines Musikers” Kempff describes the environment in which he grew up as an environment steeped in music and Protestantism. Within this strong family tradition of church organists, he heard Bach’s organ repertoire daily, as well as the conversations among family members about Bach’s organ chorales and the Lutheran faith. His family background was strongly linked to Kempff’s musical life. Furthermore, the educational reform that occurred in the State of Prussia at the beginning of the nineteenth century had an impact on Kempff’s family. As a part of the new education system, music was emphasized as a core and mandatory subject for preparation of the sacred service. With this educational reform system, church music and public school education were closely connected. His first teacher was his father, also named Wilhelm Kempff. After subsequent lessons with Ida Schmidt-Schlesicke, he entered the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik at the age of 9, In 1906 Kempff began to study composition with Robert Kahn and in 1909 he began to study piano with Heinrich Barth who was the premier piano and organ pedagogue in Prussia at that time. He played to Busoni, heard Eugen d’Albert, one of Liszt’s greatest pupils, and his own teacher, Heinrich Barth, and had been a prize pupil of Hans von Bülow, Liszt’s son-in-law. Kempff wrote about d’Albert and Busoni in detail in his autobiography. These two great pianists, both of whom transcribed Bach’s organ chorale preludes for solo piano, were important musical influences for Kempff. Eugen d’Albert was the first pianist about whom Kempff wrote in his autobiography.

Wilhelm Kempff

Kempff attended a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, where d’Albert played Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1. Kempff wrote about the night he listened to d’Albert’s performance “For this was no mere piano playing, but rather a creator who seemed to be creating a whole new world, a world built of tones.” After the concert Kempff encountered d’Albert and had a personal conversation with him about piano technique. D’Albert told Kempff that the piano technique must “be joined with the soul and fused into an inseparable union.” The second musical figure that Kempff identifies in his autobiography as an important influence is Ferruccio Busoni. Kempff wrote that the reason why Busoni was a great Bach transcriber was because of Busoni’s sublime spirituality. In Kempff’s private lessons with Busoni, Busoni discussed many aspects of performing piano transcriptions of Bach’s organ works, such as the voicing of the cantus firmus and the various ways of handling texture. Kempff wrote about this experience: [Busoni says] our organ [piano] has only one keyboard, but it can sound like it has many manuals! I am even such a heretic that I believe that most of Bach’s chorale preludes sound better on our contemporary piano than they do on the organ… he [Busoni] brought the chorale “Now, Good Christian Men Rejoice” to life. I [Kempff] don’t say that he “played,” because it was much more than that. I was hearing three voices becoming a unified whole,… As Busoni ended the chorale, the boy [Kempff] nodded very quietly. He had understood…”

In 1924 when Kempff was twenty-nine years old, he was appointed the director of the Württembergische Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart. He also taught piano classes and conducted his own compositions from 1924-1929. In addition, Kempff also implemented a new department for church music. Kempff’s work with his piano class at the Wurttemberg Conservatory was highly successful from the very beginning. The friendly and relaxed relationship with his students was a precursor for the way he would later conduct his summer courses, first in Potsdam, and after World War II, in Positano. After his directorship at the conservatory in Stuttgart, Kempff began teaching and directing the summer courses for piano in Potsdam, Deutsches Musikinstitut für Ausländer-Sommerkurse in Potsdam, The summer courses allowed him to teach advanced students from around the world. In the summer course Kempff worked with colleagues such as Edwin Fischer, Eugen D’Albert, Leonid Kreutzer, and Walter Gieseking as well as other musicians.


During the next decades Mr. Kempff made concert tours of Germany, Scandinavia, South America and Japan. He rode on the Graf Zeppelin to Buenos Aires in 1934 for a tour; the dirigible received extensive press coverage and was met by a crowd estimated in the millions. Kempff’s debut in England was in June 17, 1935 at the Aeolian Hal in London performing a recital with the violinist Cecilia Hansen. During World War II, he mostly performed in Germany and occupied countries by the Germans. He returned to the Paris concert stage in November 22, 1948 and to London in October 27, 1951 at Wigmore Hall. His America debut happened during the later years of his life when he gave a recital in New York, Carnegie Hall in October 15, 1964. His appearances in the United States received mixed reviews. “Mr. Kempff’s playing was always authoritative but sometimes a little puzzling,” Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The New York Times after the pianist’s debut at Carnegie Hall. “His vast experience was always in evidence. His attitude toward the music was unruffled; he had quite a few original ideas, and he went through the works as one who had played them hundreds of times before. But for a pianist of his reputation, some of his finger work was curiously uneven. All the indications are that Mr. Kempff is not a very strong technician.”

In 1957 he began to direct Beethoven courses at Positano, Italy, and maintained a home there since then. Until late in life, he regularly offered informal advice to young musicians, who would visit him at his home. His last recital was given in Holzhausen, Germany in July 31, 1982. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease in his last years and died on May 23, 1991 at his home in Positano, Italy. He was 95 years old.

The most unusual thing about Kempff is that there is, indeed, nothing usual about him. He was a sort of pianist – no rush, no banging, no cheap show-off, music always comes first – and it is not surprising that more or less all our encounters with his recordings have consistently range from delightful to unforgettable. Innocence, we suspect, was not the clue to Kempff’s success. He did not achieve these small miracles just by riding around on the winds of inspiration. Or if indeed innocence is the answer, it is innocence hard won.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

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