Casus Petri – as seen in a little bit newer perspective.


Thinking about the contribution of Egon Petri in a course of all-World pianism of the 20th Century, one should remember the abundant circle of musicians, which in one or the other way have been formed under firmament of generous influence of the so called Petri School...



 Egon Petri (1881-1962)


Egon Petri's figure, a short time ago discussed by Mr. Piotr Lachert on pages of the "Musical Move" (Polish Musical Magazine; No 23/2005), actually deserves in my opinion a clearly wider and more vigilant attention. Any genuine art never becomes outdated, and that is why in spite of the course of time, recordings done by Egon Petri are not revealed as "out of date", indeed, and his views which also have been proved in the article of Mr. Lachert are still deserving attention of the piano teachers worldwide. Among many of the full of charm thoughts of Petri, quoted by Mr. Lachert [as a source: this or that file, maybe...?], however, one can find some of such kind, which if uncritically applied in the piano practice, they could lead to unexpected and probably not very pleasant results. Petri's vivid mind and his specific predilection to intellectually sharp jokes, sometimes provoked him to likely ambiguous wordy expressions, as for the sample this one: weight is our enemy; or that one: Think primarily in terms of fingers and keys rather than arm. Such kind of thinking of the piano technical fundaments could cause the very harmful consequences – while, factually, the hand's weight should be seen as our the most honorable "sponsor and supporter" in any FINGERS' action! The pianist's fingers always must be supported by the power concentrated inside of MASS of the upper parts of the hand. Consequently, the suggested way of primary thinking in terms of fingers and keys, should be understood in such a way, we have to remember, we are equipped by the Nature with the innate possibilities to use all the physical and mental features of our Mind & Body entirety; the question is in the order of thinking, but not in forgetting about all different elements apart from fingers and keys...

On the other hand, among Petri's "thoughts fugitives" one could found as artistically weighty and worthy sentences, as this one, Continuity of movement is one of my obsessions; or that one, Remember that technique is mental rather than physical. Therefore, it is necessary to will a movement before making it.

Thinking about the contribution of Egon Petri in the course of Polish and, generally seen, all-World pianism of the 20th Century, one should firstly remember the abundant circle of musicians, which in one or the other way have been artistically formed under the firmament of influence of the, so named, Petri School. In Poland we see herein Lidia Grychtolˇwna and Piotr Paleczny as well, as Adam Harasiewicz, Adam Makowicz, Barbara Hesse-Bukowska and Wojciech Kilar. Outside Poland, among Petri's pupils the most eminent are John Ogdon (1937-1989) and Earl Wild (b. 1915), who in 2005 performed a Grand Jubilee recital in the Carnegie Hall. It is necessary to more scrupulously examine biographies of luminaries of the all-world musical culture to notice, how many of them in different periods of their artistic formation of course, have studied under teachers who got their artistic cuts under direction of this Master.



  Barbara Hesse-Bukowska studied by Prof. Margerita Trombini-Kazuro, the distinguished piano master, who – in Poland – was the real successor of the Petri's tradition in its best.                                     

Obtaining an
"honor of being" the Petri's pupil exactly as happened to those, who were the former pupils of Paderewski, Rubinstein, Liszt, Chopin, Busoni, etc. was NOT conjoined with an obligation to experience the lessons given by the Master two times a week within 5 or 10 years of studying. In the entire schooling period, he or she was surely allowed to get in touch with many other teachers, too. In times, in which these great Artists were pedagogically active, the musical education looked totally differently alike than today: here were not a lot of schools, but in turn, the students probably have had the greater chance of free choice of such an artistic option, which answered them in full, indeed. They became not "condemned" for several years long "barracking" in a class of the one and sole teacher, to which not only in Poland (today as well, as 30 years ago) the students become assigned by the likely administrative mechanisms. Admittedly, in the times of Petri's activity, full blooming of ones talent, in general, was strictly depended on the financial situation of his family, but it also happened (and probably more often than nowadays) that the most talented person could count on Master's personal patronage and generosity. Old and, after all, the not in everything good system apparently promoted yet, or more precisely said even extorted the individual willing to study. In order to aspire to the name of the Artist it was truly necessary "to start to speak with one's own voice", ergo to be The Real Individuality.


15th International F. Chopin Piano Competition proved that really large artistic individuality must finally become positively noticed and generously awarded, even in the complicated Polish situation, in which laws of the market are just starting to act normally. Within 1939-1945 Poland was occupied by the German Nazis; within years 1945 - 1989 the Poles were forced to live under the nearly communist regime. On the other hand, however, looking at the problem from the different side, at least paradoxically during the 15th F. Chopin Competition have been positively noticed as well the pianists, whom artistic characteristics were, in my understanding of the matter, the light years afar from very elegant and harmonious Chopin-like style of the piano playing. I have a truly strong suspicion that it had happened so probably as the result of too loose connections between Chopin Warsaw Competition and the market powers, for which awarding the product that has rather little chances to become good sold in the future, could most likely be the very bad business. Let us omit the Competition for a while and return to Petri; both of these motifs will become gathered together in the more distant parts of this text.




That is how -  probably -  the Petri's residence in Zakopane could look alike (at this photo you factually see the 'Villa Atma', a residence of Karol Szymanowski); in any case this is the very typical sample of the Zakopane-style...


The Petri's surname I have heard for the first time at the music high school in Kielce from my late, very Dear Teacher, Mrs. Anna Stefanska, who
studied the piano in Warsaw under Prof. Aleksander Michalowski (Prof. Zbigniew Drzewiecki was used to call him The Extra-Superb Master). Mrs. Stefanska sometimes became a witness of a shared music making completed by the both great masters, Prof. Aleksander Michalowski and Egon Petri. Their musical games in the class of Michalowski in Warsaw Conservatoire of Music was topped one day with the simultaneous performance of the G flat Major Etude op. 10 No. 5 of Chopin on the two grand pianos. However Michalowski "gave" Petri a few bars for, yet both men finished it off perfectly together...

Not without reason I am quoting this undoubtedly true relation and not without reason I also would like to share with my Honorable Readers the overwhelming impression of communing with truly
"more than professional approach" toward Music and the instrument, which is embracing my soul when I listen to the recordings done by such Old Masters as Paderewski, Hofmann, Myra Hess, Josif Levin, Ignaz Friedmann, Horowitz, Sofronitsky, Arthur Rubinstein, Edwin Fischer, and exactly by Egon Petri.


I do not have any foggiest idea what is causing so narrow understanding of the piano-professionalism, according to which the organizers sometimes invite to the Jury of the piano competition almost exclusively teachers of this instrument. In my opinion such procedure excludes any chance of success from these Participants, who would like to perform their programs in the more musically vivid way. They, who are mainly focusing their attention on musical creativity, but are less interested in boring quasi-professionalism, so characteristic to many just "well-taught" piano players, become ruthlessly rejected beyond the bracket! Features, which in other Arts are interpreted as the very superior values, including originality of the artistic expression, wealth of imagination and briskness of emotion, in the modern pianism more and more often become replaced by values having very little to do with attributes that should be seen as the most characteristic to any piece of art. The new "superior values" in the piano field remind qualities typical to the industrial production: cleanness and precision of performance, an ability of repeating the taught pattern in any circumstances without harmful effects for a quality of the copy, emotional neutrality and so on, and so forth.

A while ago recalled beautiful, more than professional approach toward music-making,  presented by the Old Masters of the piano, is speaking quite a lot about their creative attitude toward musical interpretation: it probably had been seen by them as a kind of pretext for the personal artistic speaking, mainly; the creative interpretation in great measure yet should be born on the spur of the moment, indeed. Let you understand me well, please: I do not like to disregard any traditional musical
"law" and promote such kind of interpretation, Neuhaus contemptuously was calling as the player's "self-displaying". Here, I am trying to openly speak about a completely different, and at the same time about the considerably more important thing: any piece of music should have the right for its own, likely "independent" living in our own imagination... this is not a slogan at all!


"The music is so beautiful if it is unreeling oneself."

                                   E. Petri





We have no reasons to suspect that the great composers would want their works to eternally be interpreted in exactly the same way, so that up to the end of time, humankind would live being closed off in the cocoon of the ideas dating to Palestrina, Bacon, Newton, Liszt, Goethe or – for instance – Messiaen. For ages, I think that it is at least not necessary to treat all factually changeable moods and likings of the composers as phenomena of an invariable character; it would be interesting to ask contemporary composers for taking a stance on that subject, besides. Bach is the best example of confidence in the performer's competency; but also Chopin, who never contradicted that it is not only possible, but even more he totally agreed that his own works should be played in many different ways. As a matter of fact, "Chopin never played his own compositions identically" (J-J. Eigeldinger, Chopin in eyes of his pupils, MI, Cracow 2000, p. 82). "Chopin, so brilliant as musician, interpreted Mozart and Beethoven with genuinely Chopin-like feelings and it was very beautiful, it was noble." (J-J. Eigeldinger, op.cit., p. 336). Here is the right place to ask whether Chopin could play around with NOT Chopin-like emotions? Also, here arises a question, whether he would not be noiselessly dropped down with his own interpretation of Mozart and Beethoven if he might like to participate in any International Piano Competition today...?


Speaking about
"rights" of the musical work: only some external elements of their structure, as the determined [by the composer] relations between the sounds' height and relations of the time of lasting of the unique sounds, must almost be identical in every performance; this gives a guarantee of identity of the interpreted opus. Hence all the other aspects and elements of the played piece of music should be seen as the sphere of less or more fortunate, still factually very individual search of the performer. Many declarations given by pianists, who are confirming the so-called authenticity of the interpreted musical text, are coming probably only as the result of analysis that had not entirely examined the whole problem; everyone, after all, is seeing the World through the prism of his/her own experience only. One is discerning what is able to discern and this is the actual truth that any human person is able to choice such shape of the text, he actually believes in – and this happens in spite of fact, he/she is an artist or a scientist, indeed. At the last end, the so-called Urtext becomes completed as result of the purely human choices and evaluations and cannot be seen as anything else; errare humanum est...!



 Arthur Rubinstein (at the photo with his Wife, Aniela) was used to recommend Petri as the teacher, who truly KNOW HOW to improve the piano technique, even if "a case" could really be the very complicated one...



One should really possess a lot of courage to say he/she fully understands the meaning of texts of Chopin, Beethoven or Bach in the completely same way, these great composers personally understood the artistic meaning of their works! Furthermore, I would like to very openly say that repeatedly coming arguments concerning exceptional difficulty [and necessity] of preservation of the pure Chopin-Style, which obviously are coming to light at the occasion of each one edition of the International Chopin Piano Competition, are to me truly strange. Superficially seen, such declarations could be found as very deep and meaningful, but examining the playing style of winners of all the former Chopin [Warsaw] Competitions: from Lev Oborin, Alexandre Uninski and Jakov Zak, via Czerny-Stefanska, Harasiewicz, Ashkenazy, Pollini and Argerich, up to Ohlsson, Zimermann, Dang Thai Son, Yundi Li and Blechacz we must very quickly agree with the opinion that each of these pianists interprets Chopin in his/her genuinely personal style. Furthermore, as long as the pianist is alive, his/her approach to the piano performance is NOT stable; the genuine artist evolves all the time, indeed. Sometimes his styles become more mature; sometimes he could get numb, nearly insensitive. Which kind of the Chopin-like style, after all, our Polish Chopin Competitions are intending "to preserve for posterity"? This one that would be closer to the style of Czerny-Stefanska or this one, which is more close to that, represented by the YOUNG Yundi Li? Moreover, maybe this is so, that all such stylistic purism, factually, is an illusion only? To the truth yet, each one time the different aesthetic preferences of the constantly variable personal configuration of the Jury decides, what kind of the Chopin-like style of interpretation in the given edition of this competition, becomes the truly clean Chopin-style. In order to make oneself aware of unreality of this entire quasi-fight for the style, it would be quite enough to compare the artistic characteristics of pianists awarded at the 15th Competition: Blechacz and Yamamoto, Dong Hyek Lim and Colleen Ka-Ling Lee. All are winners of the same Competition, but stylistically seen their interpretations presented at the Competition, are of the desperately different character! I am unable to say I do see even single one shared feature in style of musical interpretation of these young artists. Of course: this is the very positive fact only; of course yet again, up to the point one would like to say: they represent the same point of view on Chopin, and that is this shared, particular playing style that should be preserved for posterity as something of the extraordinary great value. 


Let us have a look at configuration of the Jury of the 15th Chopin Piano Competition: Dang Thai Son and Bernard Ringeissen, Hiroko Nakamura and Arie Vardi, Vladimir Krainev and Dame Fanny Waterman. How large are the cultural differences, life experience and artistic temperaments of these Jury Members; they simply are truly different people. How such a deeply diversified Group of artists unquestionably well-deserved for the piano and music, still selected for various reasons and working together within truly short time only, could create any collegial and solely correct view on the ideally pure Chopin-style? Is this something else than the pure illusion?


If you would like to read the next Part of this text WELCOME!



Actualized: 2007-10-30