Clara Haskil (7
January, 1895 - 7 December, 1960) was a Jewish Romanian classical pianist,
renowned as an interpreter of the classical and early romantic repertoire.
Haskil was particularly noted for her
performances and recordings of Mozart. Many considered her the foremost
interpreter of Mozart in her time. She was also noted as a superb interpreter
of Beethoven, Schumann, and Scarlatti.
Haskil was born into a Sephardic Jewish family
in Bucharest, Romania and studied in Vienna under Richard Robert (whose
memorable pupils also included Rudolf Serkin and George Szell) and briefly with
Ferruccio Busoni. She later moved to Paris, where she started studying with Gabriel
Fauré's pupil Joseph Morpain, whom she always credited as one of her greatest
influences. The same year she entered the Paris Conservatoire, officially to
study with Alfred Cortot although most of her instruction came from Lazare Lévy
and Mme Giraud-Letarse, and graduated at age 15 with a Premier Prix. She
also graduated with a Premier Prix in violin. Upon graduating, Haskil
began to tour Europe, though her career was cut short by one of the numerous
physical ailments she suffered throughout her life. In 1913 she was fitted with
a plaster cast in an attempt to halt the progression of scoliosis. Frequent
illnesses, combined with extreme stage fright that appeared in 1920, kept her
from critical or financial success. Most of her life was spent in abject
poverty. It was not until after World War II, during a series of concerts in
the Netherlands in 1949, that she began to win acclaim.
As a pianist, her playing was marked by a
purity of tone and phrasing that may have come from her skill as a violinist.
Transparency and sensitive inspiration were other hallmarks of her style.
Well regarded as a chamber musician, Haskil
collaborated with such famed musicians as George Enescu, Eugène Ysaÿe, Pablo
Casals, Joseph Szigeti, Géza Anda, Isaac Stern and Arthur Grumiaux, with whom
she played her last concert. While renowned primarily as a violinist, Grumiaux
was also a fine pianist, and he and Haskil would sometimes swap instruments.
She played as a soloist under the baton of
such conductors as Ansermet, Barbirolli, Beecham, Boult, Celibidache, Cluytens,
Fricsay, Giulini, Inghelbrecht, Jochum, Karajan, Kempe, Klemperer, Kubelík, Markevitch,
Monteux, Munch, Paray, Rosbaud, Sawallisch, Solti, Stokowski, Szell, among many
others. One of her most prominent performances as a soloist with an orchestra
is recording of Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 24 in November 1960 with
Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux conducted by Igor Markevich (issued on CD by
Philips Classics under No. 464 718-2); this recording features an unusually
slow, pensive performance of K466's part III and a very subtle, highly lyrical
and yet, in some way, vigorous playing of K491's part II.
Haskil died from injuries received through a
fall at a Brussels train station. She was to play a concert with Arthur
Grumiaux the following day.
An esteemed friend of Haskil, Charles Chaplin,
described her talent by saying "In my lifetime I have met three geniuses;
Professor Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Clara Haskil. I am not a trained
musician but I can only say that her touch was exquisite, her expression
wonderful, and her technique extraordinary." (Swiss Radio interview, 19
The Clara Haskil International Piano Competition is held biannually in
her memory. The brochure reads: "The Clara Haskil Competition was founded
in 1963 to honour and perpetuate the memory of the incomparable Swiss pianist,
of Romanian origin, who was born in Bucharest in 1895. It takes place every two
years in Vevey, Switzerland, where Clara Haskil resided from 1942 until her
death in Brussels in 1960. A street in Vevey bears her name. The Competition
welcomes young pianists from all over the world, who pursue the musical ideal
that is inspired by Clara Haskil and which will always remain exemplary."
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Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.3, Op. 37
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra
Clara Haskil, piano