Marianne Moore: Poetry

July 16, 2010

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing:” Like Gieseking

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing”

“Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti”

The Nation 157 (December 18, 1943) 735

Pianist Walter Gieseking (1896-1956, first performed in New York in 1926. By 1929, Time Magazine had this to say:

“A tall, hulking man walked on to the stage at Carnegie Hall last week, bent himself into an awkward bow at the piano, and played superbly Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C Minor, three Scarlatti sonatas, Schumann’s C Major Fantasia and the first book of Debussy preludes. He was Walter Gieseking, come from Germany for another extended tour,* and he played, as he has always played, music that he himself has tried truly and found good.

“Three seasons have passed since Gieseking made an inconspicuous dé in Æolian Hall, Manhattan (TIME, Feb. 22, 1926). “His European notices were so superlative,” said Manager Charles L. Wagner afterward, “I knew no one would believe them so I decided to let his music speak for itself.”

His music spoke so eloquently that Sunday afternoon that members of the small audience told their friends. No one, according to some, had ever played Bach like Gieseking, and they rhapsodized over an amazing technic, a style that was as fluent and easy as it was immaculate. But his Bach, others said, could not compare with his Debussy which surely was the essence of poetry. The controversy, as over most artistic matters, might have been endless, for Gieseking is not a specialist.

“He is, critics say unanimously, a great musician. To appraise him seems almost impertinent and so they write of his playing in awkward, halting sentences which struggle with big words like “pellucid” and “perfection.”

–February 24, 1929 (online resource)

Among the Scarlatti sonatas in his repertoire were these: Sonata in E Major, L. 23; Sonata in E Minor, L. 275; Sonata in D Minor, L. 413; Sonata in D Major, L. 424. They are performed by him in the following clip recorded in the 1940s.

Gieseking remained in Germany during World War II, occasionally performing in Occupied France. Controversy about his affiliations arose after the war but he was later welcomed back to the United States.

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