Russian born piano virtuoso Benno Moiseiwitsch was perhaps the most successful student of the legendary teacherTheodor Leschetizky. Moiseiwitsch recorded numerous records throughout various recording eras. He was most appreciated for his performances of the Romantic works, especially ofRachmaninov’s compositions. Moiseiwitsch toured the world extensively throughout his career as a concert pianist. He is considered to be one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.
Moiseiwitsch was born in Odessa in February of 1890, one of seven children born to a farmer and his musically gifted wife. Moiseiwitsch’s first piano teach was Dmitri Klimov, with whom he began at the age of seven at the Imperial School of Music in Odessa. At the age of nine, Moiseiwitsch won the prestigious Anton Rubinstein Prize.
When his family moved to England, Moiseiwitsch played at the Royal Academy of Music where he was turned away because he was told that they could teach him nothing more. Benno Moiseiwitsch and his brother John then travelled to Vienna, where Benno played for the well-known piano pedagogueTheodor Leschetizky, who initially rejected him. Leschetizky instructed Benno that he need to practice more control before returning. A few months later, Benno returned to Leschetizky, where he was accepted and studied until the age of 18. Leschetizky helped him develop his musicality and individuality at the piano.
In 1908, Moiseiwitsch made his official debut in Reading and the next year in London. His concerts were successful and resulted in the launch of his spectacular career as a concert pianist.
Moiseiwitsch married in 1914 with the violinist Daisy Kennedy, with whom he had two daughters. He remarried in 1929 to Anita Gensburger, who died in 1956. Together they had one son.
In 1916 Moiseiwitsch began his recording career, at the age of 26 with the HMV record label, which he continued to record for until 1960, at the age of 70.
Moiseiwitsch was soon heard in the United States in Carnegie Hall in New York, where he won over the American public with his passionate performance. Pianist Abram Chasins proclaimed toJosef Hofmann in the 1926-7 season, ‘I think I have just heard your heir apparent’. Hofmann knew immediately who Chasins was referring to and replied, ‘Ah so you have heard Moiseiwitsch. Now there’s a natural pianist in the Romantic tradition’.
Moiseiwitsch’s popularity was also established in England and he soon took on the British nationality, just before the outbreak of World War II. From this moment, he never returned to his home country.
Throughout his entire life, Moiseiwitsch toured extensively. He toured North America 20 times or more, in addition to three tours of Asia, four of South America, six of Australia and New Zealand and at least once in South Africa. Moiseiwitsch was very active during World War II, raising money for the war effort and Mrs Churchill’s Aid to Russia Fund. To this end, he performed more than 800 concerts in Britain alone. So many in fact that he suffered fibrositis of his arms. In March of 1943, Moiseiwitsch was scheduled to perform on the 6th , 7th, 8th, 11th, 12th, 14th and 15th. He cancelled his performance on the 15th , most likely due to extreme exhaustion and was brought to court in 1946, after the war, by his manager for failing to appear at his 15 March 1943 concert.
In the acoustic recording period, Moiseiwitsch recorded music ranging from Daquin to Debussy, including works by Chopin, Debussy, Ravel and Mendelssohn.
At the beginning of the electrical recording era, Moiseiwitsch happily re-recorded many of his previously recorded works. Some of the re-recorded works are from composers such as Godowsky, Liszt/Wagner, Tausig/Weber, Rachmaninov/Liszt. He recorded major works such as Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel Op. 24 andSchumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15. All of these recordings appeared on HMV’s top label, the Black Label until 1930. At this time, Moiseiwitsch took a much needed seven-year break from recording.
He returned to the recording studio in 1937, but his recordings were then issued on HMV’s cheaper, but more popular label the Plum Label. Moiseiwitsch was satisfied with this change, as it indicated his popularity among the public, and not his lack of talent. During this period, he recorded many concertos, especially those of Rachmaninov, including the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18 with theLiverpool Philharmonic, the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini Op. 43, Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp Op. 1 and also concertos by Beethoven, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Saint- Saëns, Medtner, Delius and theHungarian Fantasyby Liszt. He also recorded works by Schumann, Kabalevsky and Prokofiev. Rachmaninov stated that Moiseiwitsch’s recording of his Piano Concerto No. 2 was better than his own recording and was often heard complaining with an exaggerated sense of jealousy and envy that Moiseiwitsch performed his works better than he did. Moiseiwitsch’s late recordings were recorded in stereo for the EMI label. His final recordings were made for American Decca in 1961.
In collaboration with the virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz, Moiseiwitsch made his only chamber music recording.
Moiseiwitsch is remembered for his playing which has been described as “essentially fiery, effortlessly brilliant and powerful, with singing tone, firmly controlled yet subtle rhythm, and a strong vein of elegant poetic expression’.