clara and arthur . . .

by mulberryshoots

Xmas 2005-Spring 2006 583_2_2As some of you know, I’m a pianist and also slightly OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) when I come across a pianist that I haven’t listened to before but love their way of playing. One of the ones I wrote about before was Paul Lewis, an English pianist whose Schubert and Beethoven recordings are beautifully musical and sensitively played. His recording of the Beethoven Rondo from Opus 4 in E-flat major is one of my favorites and I’ve started to study it myself recently.

Another pianist I came across the other day while searching for renditions of Scarlatti on I-tunes is Clara Haskil. Many contemporary pianists play Scarlatti as though they were finger exercises, rushing up and down the keyboard as though the metronome and speed were what they were aiming for rather than making music. They either play too fast or take too much liberty with rubato that drives me crazy when I listen to them.

So, when I happened upon Clara Haskil’s Scarlatti recordings, I stopped and savored listening to them because they are so musical, the tempi reasonable and most of all, the melodies were so beautiful. So I looked her up on Wiki (where else?) and found she lived in the last mid-century, born in Romania and of Swiss origins. She won a Premier first in piano at the age of fifteen and she also won a Premier first in violin at the same time! Beset by physical problems and living in poverty (Wiki says) she nevertheless performed with many of the premier musicians of the time: Pablo Casals, the conductor Ernest Ansermet and most of all, as a pianist playing with the French violinist, Arthur Grumiaux.

At first, I was tempted to purchase a 10 Scarlatti sonata recording by Clara Haskil for $9.99 on I-tunes. But on further exploration, I discovered a compendium of recordings by her for only $11.99 that included the Scarlatti sonatas. Imagine my astonishment when I scrolled down to see that there were 105 (one-hundred-five) tracks on this single recording! A click and a download quickly filled my I-tunes library with concerti recordings, Bach Busoni numbers, Beethoven and the lode of Scarlatti. I listened to it while I made some maple oatmeal scones this morning.

maple oatmeal scones

maple oatmeal scones

So, why is this post also about Arthur Grumiaux? Apparently, even though Clara was about twenty years older than Arthur, they had a very close musical partnership. One of the most touching and humorous observations about their relationship was that Grumiaux, the violinist, was also a fine pianist. So the two of them would sometimes swap instruments and play each other’s parts when they rehearsed together! I thought this was so charming and such a rarity of musicianship at their level that I wanted to write about it in this post.

Sadly, Clara died at the age of sixty-five as a result of a fall that she suffered at the Brussels train station on her way to a concert that she and Arthur Grumiaux were scheduled to play together the next day. Apparently, her death was a huge and personal loss for him when she died. Although he had diabetes, he continued to concertize and died almost twenty years later from a stroke when he was sixty-five.

So, there you have a story about Clara and Arthur. Her recordings are playing in the background while I read and cook. And their story serves as such a tender example of human relationship and music making, at least for me. (Sigh.)

Postscript: If you would like to read a personal essay about Clara Haskill published in the journal, “Clavier,” please click here.