Posted by: rbbadger | October 24, 2010

Robert Levin on period pianos

Robert Levin is one of the most prominent Mozart scholars and performers in America today.  I once had the great pleasure of attending a concert he gave in Salt Lake City with the Utah Symphony.  He is very skilled as an improviser, something which is totally a lost art among classical pianists.  When it comes to the cadenza, that final chance for the performer to show off right before the final cadence of the first movement, most performers use cadenzas they either have previously composed beforehand or by other pianists.  Unlike most other performers, Levin improvises his candenzas right on the spot.  At that same concert, he improvised a fantasia in the style of Mozart based on themes submitted by the audience and not known to him beforehand.  Like his playing, it was brilliant. 

He has also garnered some acclaim for his completion of the Mozart Requiem, K. 626.  Mozart died before completing it.  His widow, Constanze, who certainly needed the money that Count Walsegg’s commission would give, hired one of Mozart’s copyists, Franz Xaver Süßmayr to complete it.  Süßmayr’s completion has its flaws, given that he was not on the same level musically speaking as Mozart was.  Most conductors perfer to use the Süßmayr version, but the Levin completion is not without its supporters. 

The piano which Mozart knew was very, very different from today’s Steinways, Yamahas, Bösendorfers, and Grotrians.  In this short video, Robert Levin gives an explanation of the differences between pianos of today and those of Mozart’s time.


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