He had a brother Stanley and a sister Edith. His aunt, Alice Frisca , was a former concert pianist, and would become his first music teacher. He had hoped to enlist as a pilot, but was declared pastel-blind he could distinguish colors but not shadings and subtleties and was sent to London, where he was a code breaker and later a parachutist. He broke his leg on a training jump before D-Day and could not participate in the Normandy invasion; every member of his platoon who jumped into France was ultimately killed. He remained in the Army until Schonberg joined The New York Times in
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Share via Email The most important lesson to be drawn from the life of Harold Schonberg is that he was great not because he was right. In hindsight, the long-serving chief classical music critic of the New York Times NYT , who has died aged 87, was wrong on some fairly significant matters - such as the technical prowess of pianist Glenn Gould and the artistic viability of his serialist namesake, the composer Arnold Schoenberg.
The clarity of his writing allowed his readers to think for themselves. Born and brought up in New York, Schonberg studied the piano with an aunt who had been a pupil of the great Leopold Godowsky. He soon found, however, that his talent lay not in performing, but in remembering a given piece or performance.
Nine years later, his first reviews were published, while he was still a student at Brooklyn College, from which he graduated in War service in the US army airborne signal corps, from to , took him to London, where he was a codebreaker and parachutist, and reached the rank of first lieutenant.
Within 10 years, he was its chief classical music critic, and worked behind the scenes to expand music coverage, both in terms of space and staff. His facility was remarkable: he could write letter-perfect reviews in less than 45 minutes - and they were not the typical laundry-list account of a concert programme. He sometimes wrote in the form of chatty letters to an imaginary friend - known as the "Dear Ossip" reviews - that were full of humour amid the barbs.
Above all, he was fascinated by the Russians, and it was through his writing that America learned what was so remarkable about figures such as Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, who transformed the piano repertoire in the s and 60s. Though he travelled widely, his attention was concentrated on those performers with substantial New York careers, particularly those whose interpretations of the heroic 19th-and 20th-century piano literature grew from a bedrock of equally heroic technique.
More fallible keyboard philosophers, such as Edwin Fischer, for example, received only passing mention in The Great Pianists.
His language became far richer; his thoughts more considered. He also had time to pursue other interests. Besides reviewing mysteries under a pseudonym, he enjoyed a lifelong fascination with chess, and, among other things, covered the match between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.
The formality and longterm logic of chess spoke to a part of Schonberg that was sometimes bent on investigating highly elusive matters. He kept meticulous timings of the movement lengths of standard repertoire works and, near the end of his life, attempted to demonstrate how much tempos have slowed in recent years. But his sense of logic did not carry over into an appreciation of highly systematised composition.
He railed against serialism, and at the time of his retirement, when that method of composition was on the wane, declared that this was one case in which he had been right. As much by example as by pronouncement, Schonberg defined what a critic is, and what he is not.
Ergo, a critic is not a professor or coach in disguise. Schonberg pointed to problems in a performance, but stopped short of suggesting solutions, which are up to the performer. Though he had his biases, he did not have agendas. He was pure critic: he wrote for himself, not for greater professional gain outside his field. His ideas about professional distance were also strict: he did not hobnob or fraternise, though in later years he relaxed that policy, and was sought out by emigrating pianists, such as Vladimir Feltsman, and emerging ones, such as Evgeny Kissin.
In retirement, he took part in young artist competitions, including one in Rochester, New York, that gave first prize to the year-old violinist Joshua Bell. Above all, Schonberg loved music, not as common an attribute among critics as one might think. Even in recent years, as his eyesight was faltering, he could be seen struggling to read the letters of Berlioz with a magnifying glass, while commuting by bus between Manhattan and his weekend home on Long Island.
To disagree with him was to achieve a better understanding of music. Inevitably, casual conversations turned to his favourite topic, pianists, and even when he damned one of your favourites, his reasoned clarity left you with a more crystallised idea of why you loved what he did not. He was married to his first wife, Rosalyn, from till her death in , and to his second wife, Helen, from till her death earlier this year.
He leaves a sister.
HAROLD C SCHONBERG THE GREAT PIANISTS PDF
Share via Email The most important lesson to be drawn from the life of Harold Schonberg is that he was great not because he was right. In hindsight, the long-serving chief classical music critic of the New York Times NYT , who has died aged 87, was wrong on some fairly significant matters - such as the technical prowess of pianist Glenn Gould and the artistic viability of his serialist namesake, the composer Arnold Schoenberg. The clarity of his writing allowed his readers to think for themselves. Born and brought up in New York, Schonberg studied the piano with an aunt who had been a pupil of the great Leopold Godowsky.
The Great Pianists Brilliant book for anyone who loves the piano. Sometimes there was a translation, and I think maybe it was supposed to be pianisfs what was being said. From Mozart to the Present Fourth Printing. Amazon Rapids Fun stories for kids on the go. It is enjoyable even as a re-read.