Piano Music for the Left Hand Alone
With catalogue of more than 450
words - c to g:
These statements were all about stretch between the 1st. and 5th. fingers; the inner stretch between the other fingers is more vital to left-hand player.
of Chopin's and Beethoven's left hands ( I sure
know whose manicurist I would bet my money on!).
of Liszt's right hand - which of course has
nothing to do with this site - but is included
in memory of his many memorable feats
with this hand - also when it was
concerning piano playing.
So much for stretch. The other important question is muscular strength. With the right hand it would be the weak little finger, that would be responsible for the melody. (Well - I can strike a note harder with my right hand's little finger, than I can with my left thumb - but that little trick would give any piano teacher sleepless nights). Wittgenstein himself commented on the issue of strength: Even if the right hand normally is stronger, it is easier to play with the left alone. The thumb of the left hand is the strongest and it is on top, so my left thumb replaces my lost right hand and that is what I play the melody with. Every pianist knows that jumps (the fast movement from bass to treble - and back again) are much easier to perform with the left hand than with the right. Of course I cannot play the notes in the bass and the treble at the same time with only one hand. I have to break the chord, but the listener must never notice.
Breaking a chord - that is playing each note of the chord one after the other in quick succession - just like a harp; (listen - for example - to Chopin's study op.10 nr.11 or listen to Bach's solo works for violin or cello - there all chords of more than two tones are broken). This practice was very common in piano playing right up to the middle of the last century - even though it was not indicated in the score. Much of the singing quality in, for example, Paderewski's playing came from breaking chords - and of course from an extensive use of rubato (a slight wavering in tempo - generally and between the two hands - normally with the left before the right). But mind you - in these days of paroxysmatic hysteria about original performing practice you are faced with a severe problem, that requires a great deal of indulgence and diplomacy. In Baroque music you must play on original instruments to be accepted at all, and with tempos and phrasings, that sometimes are based on sources, that wouldn't be accepted in science elsewhere. But if you try to play romantic music - or for that matter Mozart or Beethoven - the way we know from reliable sources these composers actually did - then you are in serious trouble. So - don't ever listen to anyone, who uses the words: The correct ... so and so in connection with musical performance. Such a thing doesn't exist - thanks God - for that would kill the whole art of music. This problem was beautifully summed up by Brahms, who was never blessed with any kind of diplomacy. One evening he listened to a pianist playing one of his works and afterwards Brahms said: This is exactly the way I had imagined it. The next evening he listened to another pianist playing the very same work - but quite differently. And Brahms said: This is exactly the way I had imagined it.. Well - anyway - who was Brahms to judge, when we have so many experts telling us otherwise? Dinu Lipatti also commented on this issue, see appendix.
But - anyway - Wittgenstein was very obsessed with volume and strength - in fact he was often afraid, that he would not be heard. Even before he lost his right arm he was known as a "string basher", but in his School for the Left Hand he deals with the problem by giving some strange indication of "fingering": two og three fingers on the same key or (with black notes) even using the whole fist.
Fortunately piano music for the left hand is composed even today. The risk of accidents or illness will always be there, but it is the cruel irony of Fate that World War I indirectly became the great supplier of this special genre. As an officer in the Austrian army Paul Wittgenstein was wounded near the Polish border and had his right arm amputated. But with this tragic incident this particular art form had a new impetus - for after a period of convalescence and - later back in Vienna - retraining he embarked on a career of more than forty years stunning audiences in Europe and America with his virtuosity. At the same time he used his enormous fortune to commission works from a number of contemporary composers. So we owe our thanks to him for works by Ravel, Britten, Richard Strauss, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Franz Schmidt and many others,
And these composers were also indebted to Wittgenstein - for not only did he pay them well but he paid them so well indeed, that they could build new houses for the money, redecorate the old ones and so on - some of them - as with Hindemith - even selling the skin before the bear was shot.
Paul Wittgenstein at the height of his career.
Some of these works have only become known to a larger public within the last fifty or sixty years, due to the fact that in connection with his commissions Wittgenstein made very firm conditions about exclusive rights of performance for a period of time (for the Ravel concerto it was six years and with Korngold's it was life-long). All these clauses expired when Wittgenstein died in 1961, and today quite a number of pianists (Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman and Raoul Sosa - to mention but a few) are able to continue their careers as pianists - now only with their left hands.
The repertory for the left hand has one further benefit. Some piano students are now and again injured - leaving their right hands useless for a short period of time - though seldom due to strain from practicing. Normally they would be able to use this as a marvellous excuse for taking leave from practicing. But with this vast amount of music? - No way! and I talk of bitter experience.
There are a number of recordings with Paul Wittgenstein himself playing, but they are mostly from his old age and do not justify the respect and admiration he enjoyed at the height of his career, when he performed with Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Willem Mengelberg, Serge Koussevitzky, Pierre Monteux, Erich Kleiber and others. Dr. Edel comments on a couple of these late recordings and calls them awful - and I tend to agree with him. But they should not be underestimated as historical documents. Furthermore, it must be admitted that being a musician of the 19th. century (as Prokofiev rightly described him), Wittgenstein did not have much understanding or sympathy for the music of the 20th century, and he simply refused to play some of the works he commissioned (for example the Hindemith concerto). In other works - which he did play - his classic-romantic attitude and understanding caused, that his performances hardly presented these works from their best side. There have been a Douglas Fox, a Otakar Holman, a Siegfried Rapp and others, who suffered the same fate as Wittgenstein, but it was he, that put left hand playing back on the map. Just think of the musical scene today without the left hand works of Ravel, Prokofiev, Britten, Strauss, Schmidt and Korngold - and you will see, what I mean.
Finally it should be remembered that he was a very generous but not always a very easy man. Despite his brilliant career and his courageous determination to pursue it, he never learned to accept his handicap, and as an artist he was convinced that he often knew better than the composers - at least about left-hand playing - which he probably did. But the results were often quarrels, harsh letters and unauthorized changes in the scores which he received, with scandal following upon scandal. Well - time heals all wounds, and today Wittgenstein should be remembered in gratitude for his pioneering work and for the many works he commissioned. And his three volume School for the Left Hand is a work of genius with many exercises that even pianist with two well-functioning hands ought to study.
Wittgenstein towards the end of his career
There are some examples of pianists who have arranged left-hand music for both hands together. Well - this is an issue which will always be open to discussion - pro et contra. See appendix .
This site contains many anecdotes - some of which have gotten their own appendix - but some are included in the entries about the composers. The reason for this is that some of the anecdotes are of minor importance to the subject, but some are more important. I have tried to keep this site from being a 'dusty' musicological site and instead tried to concentrate on living up to the strictest and authentic demands and at the same time making the site one which can be read as a history with good stories at the same time.
to the catalogue of composers and their works:
or chose from the
selection below of 20 left-hand
composers whose works are all available on CD:
|Charles Alkan||Béla Bartók||Arnold Bax||Felix Blumenfeld||Johannes Brahms|
|Frank Bridge||Benjamin Britten||Godowsky / Chopin||Erich Korngold|
|Dinu Lipatti||Franz Liszt||Sergej Prokofiev|
|Maurice Ravel||Camille Saint-Saëns||Franz Schmidt||Alexander Scriabin||Richard Strauss|
truly in a rare jolly mood.
Born: 11th May 1948
Thus sharing birthday with
Irving Berlin, Salvador Dali and
- alas - Baron von Münchhausen!
Credits, history, explanations, contact, and - of course - bad excuses!
This site is created with the help from books, anthologies, scores of my own collection or in libraries, encyclopedias and the Web (not always trustworthy - except for this site - of course!). From these sources I have collected my information. Some items need to be examined closer, so there may be faults, which I - in all honesty - shall be the last to admit.
The pages should not be seen as any contribution to musicology. To quote the great British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham: I am very little interested in "-ology" - but I am interested in Music. So these pages are simply the history of the composers and arrangers who have contributed to the left-hand literature and the history of the works they composed.
I have not tried to make any discography - and there are reasons for that. First of all Ravel would fill a whole page and Prokofiev would perhaps creep in on a second place together with Scriabin, and I think that would be most incongruous - albeit very realistic - since record companies are not interested in Piano Music for the Left hand Alone. No - I have chosen another solution which you will have to put up with: I have listed one or (rarely) two recordings which I think represent this or that work best. They were all available at the time of writing and should be possible to find.
Although my native tongue is Danish, I have chosen to publish this site in English thereby making it available to a much larger public. (May The Good Lord - and my old English teacher, or perhaps the order should be reversed - forgive me for my own translation.)
This project is still
construction - and by
that I mean, that this first page is already - more or less - in its
final form, but the catalogue of composers and their works is still embryonic
- but it will grow until it has entries of more than 4000 works by 4-500
composers. Many pages or links may not work yet - but they will - just
give it a little time.
If sometimes a Danish word or phrase creeps in, it is because this project began many years ago in this language - and cut and paste is a very nice thing on the computer. Also - now and again an "xxx" may appear. This means either that some further information was due to be entered here - and - most likely, I had forgotten what to write - or perhaps I had mislaid my English dictionary. In some places an "???" will appear - this means that a reference to some work appear in some sources but without any specification.
And - again - I want to encourage readers - that is, those who have kept awake until here - to contribute with corrections and additional information about composers and their works, in order to make this site as complete as possible. But - please: Don't just tell me this or that. Since I don't even trust myself, I will need references to sources etc. You will also notice, that a lot of portraits are missing, so I will appreciate any help with this - plus, of course - permission to use them.
Any language will be
accepted. Mind you - I didn't say understood. I will prefer English, German, "Scandinavian", French and
(the last two hopefully in an easy version; perhaps not
like: "Me Tarzan - you Jane" - but - please not too
advanced). And - by the way - I believe I can get along in
It would also be very useful to me if you just write a word or two about your relationship to music: That is if you play the piano, on what level and if you are one of those who simply just love music - or someone - like myself - who just gets paid for it (professional or non-professional).
A lot of people have most kindly helped with inspiration, encouragement, contributions, suggestions and with finding and giving permissions to publish pictures and musical notes on this site.
Kathryn Adamson, Librarian, Royal Academy of Music for her kind help with finding information and pictures about not too well known English composers - and for her wonderfully informal way of answering my mail and kind and encouraging words about this site.
|Dr. Jindrich Bajgar of the Czech Music Information Center for help with several Czech composers - and for helping me out with the minor - but difficult problem of making my computer spell Czech names correctly - like Martinů, Dvořák, Tomášek and Janáček|
Amelie Brofeldt (my sweet and beautiful daughter) for the two photos of my hands on the keyboard.
Hanne Christensen and Jacob Faurholt, Edition Wilhelm Hansen. Their help with Hans Abrahamsen's October and with going through the old catalogues has added substantially to this site.
Ms. Mary Wallace Davidson, Head, Cook Music Library Indiana University for her very great help with getting information and picture of Walter Bricht. Her fast response and kindness is a role model for librarians and a unique help for researchers like myself who has to work and depend on the mail system.
|Sylvia Derksen, Muziekgroep, Holland to whom I am deeply grateful for precise information about Dutch composers and for magnificent pictures AND - mind you practically on the day after my request was sent.|
|Charles Gounod, French composer - for lending me a hand with this project - it is in fact his left hand that forms the wallpaper of the site.|
|Dale W. Hansen, Archivist of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York to whom I am indebted for her great help with information about Albert Ross Parson.|
|Janusz Haskiel, whose helpfulness has saved me for making a fool of myself by trying to translate polish sites on my own. Also he spent a great deal of time on vacation in Poland looking for 'new' composers for me. People like that are becoming a rare species.|
|Paul Havemann, whose homepage about the Havemann Family brought many information about music during the rise of The Third Reich - and whose genealogical research also extends to the Danish branch of the family who owned one of the largest general stores in Copenhagen.|
|Alex Hearn, Administrative Assistant at the British Music Information Center for kind help with finding pictures of relatively - and unjustly unknown British composers.|
|Lars Bo Jensen, Syddansk Universitet for very kind and flattering help with the poem by H. C. Andersen about Alexander Dreyschock - and with most kind and spontaneous help about technical problems during the process of writing - given in such a way that even I could understand it.|
Rainer Maria Klaas, my warmest thanks also to this German pianist - who professionally is very familiar with piano compositions for one hand alone - and who on his own inspiration has read through my site and by mails given me so much new information and inspiration - shared his knowledge of the subject in a most altruistic fashion for which I am very grateful. Not only by pointing out omissions and errors - but at the same time giving me links which has "forced" me read through new material which has given me so much new information and pictures. Homepage
|Frédéric Meinders: Great admiration and gratitude goes to this wizard of the keyboard - who not only turned out to be not only a wonderful pianist and a kind human being - but also a sporting example of a composer who would risk taking up my challenges and transcribe works like Mozart's Alle turca and Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.|
|Jannie Nordestgaard - a dear colleague through 25 years in The Danish National Radio - for her kind help with translations of Spanish titles etc. and for her helpfulness in general.|
|Elizabeth Pearson, Library Director, Montreat College for her kind and expert help with information about the composer Juliette Adams. And to staff member Don Talley for scanning the historic photos of Juliette Adams; Real first class scanning are not a thing that you are spoilt with on the net, which makes me even more grateful to Mr. Talley for his work.|
|Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, Armenian-American composer whose enthusiastic helpfulness and vastly exaggerated thankfulness for including her on this site made me blush. Well - now I really don't blush - but her very frank and personal mails (on music and other important things in life) are some that I cherish very much.|
John Sarkissian, Armenian-American composer whose helpfulness and kind words have been a great help.
Albert Sassmann, pianist
and piano lecturer in Vienna. Master of Arts of the University of
Music Vienna, “Associate of the Royal College of Music
London”. His invaluable help and support and his altruistic
attitude towards the subject (serving music and not just himself) is
a formidable encouragement and something that has earned him my
profound gratitude. In
1999, Mr. Sassmann wrote his Master-thesis about the subject:
“Aspekte der Klaviermusik für die linke Hand am Beispiel des
Leschetizky-Schülers Paul Wittgestein” (“Aspects of piano music
for the left hand alone in respect to the Leschetizky-pupil
Paul Wittgenstein” ,
,which can be found in the Vienna National Library and in the Library of the University of Music Vienna respectively - and which I hereby recommend. Albert Sassmann's homepage.
Professor Raoul Sosa for kind and encouraging help putting his website to my disposal for information, and which I urge you to visit.
Eunice Wonderly Stackhouse, D.M.A. Associate Professor of Music Chair, Fine Arts Department, Director of Music Programs, Montreat College, USA for her very quick and kind help with information about the composer Juliette Adams. I have been offered quick help before - but that is certainly so long ago, that I can't remember and certainly not in this altruistic grand scale. In fact her kind help has gone far beyond the entry of Juliette Adams and has been one the greatest encouragements in this project.
Teddy Teirup, Danish pianist and at one time my piano teacher. When my right arm was partially paralyzed for one and a half year in the early nineteen seventies, he was the one to introduce me to the great world of left hand playing - starting me off on Scriabin.
To all these I extend my warmest thanks. Errors and omissions - in lack of someone else to blame - I take upon myself.