Ignaz Friedman

1882 1948

Ignaz Friedman



The Polish musician, Ignaz Friedman was among the top pianist-composers of the first half of the 20th century. As a pianist, he stands in stature among some of the great talents includingJosef Hofmann, Sergei Rachmaninov, Leopold Godowsky and Josef Lhevinne. His contemporaries were among his greatest admirers, includingHorowitz who believed Friedman’s technique to be greater than his own.

Friedman grew up in Kraków, Poland in a musical family. His father played violin in the local theatre orchestra and gave Ignaz his first music lessons before arranging lessons from local pianist Flora Grzywinska, with whom he studied for nearly ten years.

In 1900, Ignaz Friedman left his hometown to study composition (alongside Max Reger) with Hugo Riemann at the Leipzig Conservatory and history with Adler. Just one year later, at the age of 19, Friedman continued on to Vienna to have lessons with Theodor Leschetizky, who claimed that virtuosos needed ‘three indispensables’: to be Slavic, Jewish and a child prodigy. Despite an unpromising beginning, he was able to study with Leschetizky for three years, in which he improved tremendously and even became his teacher’s assistant. Before embarking on his studies with Leschetizky, Friedman was approached by a Viennese nobleman who was willing to pay for his studies under the condition that he convert to Catholicism. Friedman’s mother was outraged by the offer and responded, ‘My son is not for sale’.

Friedman made his Viennese concert debut in the winter of 1904. His recital featured a romantic program consisting of concertos byBrahms, Tchaikovsky andLiszt. His successful debut launched his career as a concert pianist, leading him to tour the world for forty years. During is concert tours, Friedman collaborated with virtuoso musicians including Emanuel Feuermann, Erica Morini, Mischa Elman, Leopold Auer, Antal Dorati,Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Willem Mengelberg, Arthur Nikisch andEugène Ysaÿe.

Friedman was based in Berlin until 1914, but left during World War I for Copenhagen and after the war he moved to Italy. He was presented with many opportunities in America in the 1920s, including a number of recordings with the American record label Columbia. Enamoured with America, Friedman attempted to obtain a teaching position there in 1938, as the onset of World War II was eminent, through the help of fellow Polish Jewish pianist Josef Hofmann, who was already established in America.  

He was unsuccessful in this venture, but was instead able to step in at the last moment for a concert tour of Australia in 1940, as the result of cancellations by other musicians. He settled in Australia, where he remained for the rest of his life. There, he led a short but successful performing, teaching and broadcasting career. Just three years after moving to Australia, Friedman’s health began to deteriorate as a result of his chain-smoking habit which he had begun at the young age of 10. He died in Sydney in 1948.

Though Friedman is not well-known today, he has been heralded as a pianist ‘of urgent interest to anyone who loves piano music’. His popularity is increasing due to a recent biography, Ignaz Friedman: Romantic Master Pianist, written by Allan Evans. His performances are very representative of the golden age of piano, as he was a very interpretive performer who played based on his own interpretations and feelings rather than focusing on what the composer was striving to convey, a trait common in pianists of his time.

As a teacher, Friedman could be quite critical. After assisting his own teacher for five years, he taught independently for another five years. As a teacher of non-traditional methods and obscure commentary, he famously said of a Jewish child prodigy, ‘As a Jewish boy, he should have played better’. Another memorable moment occurred in a lesson in which Friedman requested that a student recite the Kaddish to him, despite the fact that he himself was not particularly religious.

Though Friedman is primarily remembered as a pianist, he was also a gifted composer with a compositional output that includes nearly 100 published works in the categories of piano pieces and chamber works involving the piano, string quartets and songs. His compositions are very melodic, yet modern and his Piano Quintet (1918) is of particular interest. Recordings of his own compositions have been praised as some of his best albums. Friedman’s transcriptions include many 18th century keyboard works.

His works and transcriptions can be discovered together with those of pianist-composers Mischa Levitzki and Ossip Gabrilowitsh on a 2016 compilation by pianist Margarita Glebov on the Toccata Classics label. Glebov performs Friedman’s transcriptions of works by César Franck, Giovanni Battista Grazioli, Carl Stamitz and François Couperin in addition to two of Friedman’s original works, 4 Preludes, Op 61 and Etudes, Op 63. His work is also featured on Roberto Cominati’s 2016 album of Bach and Handel transcriptions for piano on the Acousence Classics label.

Friedman was also an active music editor and edited all of Chopin’s works for Breitkopf and Härtel, Liszt’s compositions for Universal Edition and Bach’s pianoforte works for the Hansen edition. He also edited many works of Beethoven and Schumann.

With the rediscovery of brilliant pianist Ignaz Friedman, it is likely that his works will appear with increasing popularity in the future.