|No. 266 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast266|
This week’s podcast features a pianist I find has been much overlooked in recent years. Edwin Fischer (1886 –1960) was a Swiss classical pianist and conductor who is regarded as one of the great interpreters of J.S. Bach and Mozart of his generation, if not of the twentieth century.
Precocious, Edwin Fischer entered the Basle Conservatory at age ten where he studied with the composer Hans Huber. When Fischer was eighteen he moved to Berlin to study at the Stern Conservatory with Liszt pupil Martin Krause (who would later teach Claudio Arrau).
After a period of teaching at the Stern Conservatory, Fischer gave recitals and at this time appeared with such eminent conductors as Willem Mengelberg, Arthur Nikisch, and Bruno Walter. He toured in Europe and Britain, but gave only a limited number of concerts.
In 1931 Fischer succeeded Artur Schnabel as director of the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, a post he held for four years. During World War II Fischer returned to his native Switzerland from where he gave master-classes for a number of later prominent pianists (such as Alfred Brendel, Helena Sá e Costa, Mario Feninger, Paul Badura-Skoda and Daniel Barenboim). He continued to tour until 1954 when he stopped performing in public as he was suffering from a paralysis of his hands.
Fischer’s repertoire was dominated by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert. He also played Chopin and Schumann, but had a wide knowledge of the piano repertoire. Describing Fischer’s pianistic personality is not easy. He was a genuinely honest and kind person whose humanity shone through his music in performances that contained a beautiful, seamless legato, and a pellucid tone quality that is unique to Fischer. He found all things spiritual extremely important to his life as a musician, always searching for the true inner spirit of the music he was interpreting.
Edwin Fischer was the first pianist to make a complete recording of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier which he commenced in 1933. Perhaps the best adumbration of Fischer’s musical outlook is his recording of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue recorded in 1931. The Fantasy sounds more like an improvisation with Fischer not fearing to double notes and use extremes of dynamic, his pianissimo being almost hypnotic as it draws the listener in. He makes this Fantasy into an improvisational poem, at times creating moments of aching beauty. He brings the same qualities to Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Ich ruf’zu dir.
In 1930 Fischer formed his own chamber orchestra of Berlin musicians, which he conducted from the keyboard. In 1950 Fischer gave a series of concerts in London and other European cities to commemorate the bicentenary of Bach’s death. In these concerts he played all the concertos for keyboard. Today’s podcast features his recording of three of these concerti with his Chamber Orchestra.
I think you will love this music too.