My Life and Music

My Life and Music

Widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s finest pianists, Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) was especially renowned as an interpreter of Beethoven. In the words of his friend Edward Crankshaw, his performance of the Diabelli Variations in his last years was ‘like looking at the sun without dark glasses’. However, Schnabel also earned high praise for his playing of Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms. Indeed, his later concert repertoire was largely devoted to great composers in the Austro-German tradition. In explanation, Schnabel contended that he wished to play only ‘music that was better than it could be performed’.

His uncompromising, passionate commitment to penetrating the mysteries of the greatest music is clearly revealed in this absorbing, highly readable combination of personal reminiscence and musical manifesto. Not a conventional autobiography, it includes a transcript of 12 autobiographical lectures Schnabel gave to music students at the University of Chicago in 1945. The lectures were followed by informal sessions in which the pianist answered questions from the audience on a wide variety of musical topics. These questions and Schnabel’s revealing, unrehearsed replies comprise the second part of this book, offering rich insight into the pianist’s personality and musical philosophy. The final section, ‘Reflections on Music’, is a talk Schnabel gave on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from the University of Manchester.

While his approach to music was highly intellectual, and his demeanour on the concert stage formidably serious (he seldom smiled and never played an encore), Schnabel in person was a warm, animated, and stimulating companion. Much of that personal appeal comes across in this book, as the pianist recalls his experiences as a child prodigy in turn-of-the-century Vienna, his family and social background, pianistic training and preferences in the repertoire, his attitude toward the great conductors and composers of the day, thoughts on the teaching of music, and many more topics.

Enhanced by 20 illustrations, including many photographs from the collection of Schnabel’s son, My Life and Music offers an in-depth portrait — in his own words — of one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. It will especially appeal to music lovers, but offers a rich reading experience to anyone fascinated by the passion, power and insight of a musician of genius.

Unabridged, this slightly corrected republication of My Life and Music and Reflections on Music was first published by Colin Smythe Ltd in 1970. The present edition has the joint imprint of Dover Publications and Colin Smythe Ltd. It has a Foreword by Sir Robert Mayer and an Introduction by Edward Crankshaw. There are 20 black-and-white illustrations. More info →