P1171. EMIL VON SAUER: Liszt, Chopin & von Sauer; w.Weingartner Cond.Paris Conservatoire Orch.: Concerto #1 in B-flat; Concerto #2 in A (both Liszt). Yves St Laurent YSL 78-258, recorded 1928-40. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"Although Emil von Sauer is viewed by many as the greatest of Liszt’s pupils who made recordings, those who met him were struck by his simple, direct, unaffected manner. His humility and lack of flamboyance may in part be responsible for his now being overshadowed by other Liszt pupils, but no less a figure than Josef Hofmann singled out Sauer alone among the Liszt pupils in a letter he wrote to critic Harold C. Schonberg stating, ‘Sauer was a truly great virtuoso; Lamond did not impress me, and Friedheim was: so-so-la-la’.
…while attending a recital by Anton Rubinstein, an awakening took place that was to forever alter the course of Sauer’s life: ‘As the great man played, something seemed to break within me; everything took on a new meaning. The bonds of my soul were loosened and I knew that henceforth, good or ill, music was to claim me for her own’. Soon after this, he had the opportunity to play for Rubinstein, upon whom he made a very favorable impression. Rubinstein recommended that he go to Moscow and study with his brother Nicholas Rubinstein.
Sauer was already a finished artist in 1884 when he arrived in Weimar to study with Liszt….Sauer studied with Liszt for two summers and quickly became aware of the master’s shortcomings. While studying with Liszt, Sauer did not hide his appreciation of music by Brahms - a composer not in favor with the master - nor did he conceal his opinion that the works of Anton Rubinstein were more original and melodious than those of Liszt. In spite of all this, Liszt expressed great fondness for Sauer and their relationship was of the most friendly character.
Sauer’s Berlin début in January 1885 had been enthusiastically received, with one critic even calling him a second Tausig. Tours of Russia, Denmark, and Sweden preceded his return to Berlin in 1889, where he performed all three Tchaikovsky Piano Concerti with the composer himself conducting. Performances in nearly all of the major European countries as well as Turkey and Bulgaria followed. Somehow, he found time in 1887 to marry his sweetheart, Alice Elb, who was to bear him nine children. In 1899, Sauer made his first tour of America under the sponsorship of the Knabe Piano company. Of his début at the Metropolitan Opera House one critic wrote that ‘his imposing pianistic attainments took the audience completely by surprise’. His return to America in 1908 to play forty concerts was also a huge success; one critic raved about his ‘poetic imagination that invests all his interpretations with individual charm’.
Many of his pupils built up successful concert careers including Webster Aitken, Stefan Askenase, Ignace Hilsberg, Maryla Jonas, Lubka Kolessa, Elly Ney, Dario Raucea, and Marie Aimée Varro. Esther Jonsson, another of Sauer’s students, said of Sauer’s teaching that ‘his whole interest seemed to be centered in passing on his secrets to his students’.
Sauer’s recordings were all made during the last 20 years of his life. His earliest recordings, for Spanish Regal in the early 1920s, are among the rarest piano records in existence. These were shortly followed by seven acoustic records for Vox. Between 1928 and 1930 three records of Sauer were issued by Pathé and four by Odeon, and at the end of his career twenty sides were recorded for Columbia, including the two Liszt Concerti.
Although Sauer’s technique was almost limitless, he was first and foremost a poet, and this is evident throughout his recordings….it is the shaping and attention to musical detail that impress most of all. Certain aspects of Sauer’s technique, however, are at such an exalted level that they cannot help but be noticed. His ability to play rapid staccato or non legato passages has rarely been equaled; one need only listen to him in his composition ‘Meeresleuchten’ to experience the wondrous crispness and clarity he could obtain in such passages. Sauer also had one of the greatest left hands in the history of piano playing. Time and again difficult left hands runs are tossed off with an aplomb that arouses awe even in today’s age of digitally edited miracles.
Beautiful tone was an essential part of Sauer’s artistry, and here Sauer stands apart from many of the other Liszt pupils in that he never banged or created a harsh sound, not even in the biggest chordal passages or the loudest fortissimos. The beauty of his tone is evident in all his recordings….Sauer’s myriad of nuance and shadings, and his ability to seemingly make one note melt into the next create almost hypnotic readings.
Chopin’s piano works are well suited to Sauer’s pianism. One of Sauer’s specialties was the Waltz in A-flat, Op. 34, and his recording of it is the perfect combination of aristocratic refinement and individualism, right down to the unexpected, tongue-in-cheek diminuendo he employs to end the work. The c-sharp minor Etude, op. 25, #7 has been singled out by James Methuen-Campbell in his book CHOPIN PLAYING as ‘one of the greatest recordings of this piece, showing a real grasp of the contrapuntal writing and a variety of dynamics which few are able to achieve’. The recording is startlingly vivid with its quicker than average tempo and sparse use of pedal. In the c-sharp minor Waltz, op. 64, #2, Sauer’s rubato in the central section is particularly alluring, and his creation of an inner melodic line by emphasizing the notes played in the preceding section by the right hand thumb is a refreshing throwback to the nineteenth century.
Sauer’s recording of ‘Ricordanza’, made at the ripe age of 79, belongs on any short list of the greatest Liszt recordings ever made. Sauer was one of those rare pianists whose technique diminished little with age, and his artistry comes across even in his very last recordings. The two Liszt Concerti, also made very late in life, are unusual in their moderate tempos and lack of overt virtuosity. Some find his approach to the Concerti noble and majestic while others are less convinced. Whatever one’s stance, there is no denying the beauty of the Sauer’s playing in the ‘Quasi Adagio’ section of the E-flat Concerto or the tremendous burst of energy with which Sauer concludes the A Major Concerto.
Sauer is virtually unknown as a composer although his output is not small….Sauer’s recordings of his own works are particularly impressive; his Vox recording of the ‘Concert Polka’ ranks among his greatest efforts, and the ease with which he tosses off his Etudes is impressive.
Ultimately, Sauer is remembered as one of the great Liszt pupils although his feelings towards Liszt were complex and changed throughout his life. Sauer refused to capitalize on his association with Liszt in order to advance his career, yet later in life he became one of the most ardent champions of Liszt’s music.
Sauer felt that upon him fell ‘the duty of transmitting my impressions and my experiences as best I may to all those who would care to profit thereby before taking final leave of this world’. In that aim he succeeded admirably. Emil von Sauer died in Vienna on 27 April 1942.”
- Farhan Malik, Marston Program Notes