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Ed Waffle

Conversations with Arrau

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In the thread “New Levels of Fitness” Katharine Kanter mentioned the pianist Claudio Arrau. This caused me to revisit a book that was originally encountered years ago, “Conversations with Arrau” by Joseph Horowitz. It is a series of questions and answers done in 1980 when Arrau was 77 years old and still playing about 50 concerts per year—down from 130 in the mid-fifties.

It is a fascinating book—before long the reader will have a real liking for both Arrau and Horowitz. A few examples: In his early 20s, Arrau prepared the Schumann piano concerto with Wilhelm Furtwagler, Otto Klemperer and Erich Klieber. Both Furwangler and Klieber showed him things in the concerto he had never seen before, while he describes the encounter with Klemperer as “appalling”, “nasty”, and “one of my worst experiences”.

His diligence in preparation for performing was legendary. On the day of a concert and the day before he plays through his entire program, even if he has been playing it regularly on the concert stage. In 1981, for example, Arrau played the Fourth and Fifth Beethoven concertos with Gerard Schwarz and the 92nd Street YHMA Chamber Symphony. The concerts fell on a Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. He played through both concertos Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning—a total of twelve concerto performances in about 68 hours.

He did the same whether he was concretizing in New York City or on the road. This is in contrast to a much younger pianist who has what he calls “time-zone” recitals, programs he can play almost in his sleep after flying in to a for a concert.

“Conversations with Arrau” is as close to a perfect book about music and performing as I have read and I recommend it without reservation.

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