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.