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This eye-opening analysis of the teaching of a master pianist, including transcriptions of classes, suggests that lessons can bring out unsuspected facets in a supposedly well-known artist. The Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) has long been admired for his genial, benevolent personality expressed in performances that in later years could be statesmanlike in their humanistic decorum. Yet in this book we learn how, in 1967, when teaching Richard Strauss’s Burleske to the young American pianist Bennett Lerner, Arrau said, ‘Just play it really wildly. Go all the way. I mean, attack the piano and rape it!’ Elsewhere, discussing Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Variations, we learn that Arrau described the composer as ‘crazy’. When the student demurred that crazy might not be the correct word in English, Arrau insisted: ‘Oh, yes, exactly! It’s crazy! Crazy in the good sense! Insane, if you want it, insane.’ The book also includes Arrau’s views on some legendary historical performances, such as when Strauss himself conducted Burleske, which Arrau found ‘extremely fast, much too fast, in whole bars all the time. It was not very pleasant. You had the feeling that he wanted to get through it fast, but anyway it was interesting.’ Much space is devoted here, and on a companion website, to the nuts and bolts of Arrau’s teaching approach, with such credos as, ‘I never let pupils use the fingers alone. I always ask them to use the whole arm with the fingers.’ Occasionally ponderous, like some super-serious late Arrau recordings, Piano Lessons with Claudio Arrau is a much- deserved, revealing tribute.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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