From Academic Kids

Josef Lhévinne (December 13, 1874December 2, 1944) was a Russian pianist and piano teacher.

He was born into a family of musicians in Orel in the present day Ukraine and studied at the Imperial Conservatory in Moscow under Vasily Ilyich Safonov. His public debut came at the age of 14 with Ludwig van Beethoven's Emperor Concerto in a performance conducted by his musical hero Anton Rubinstein. He graduated at the top of a class which included both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin, winning the Gold Medal for piano in 1892.

In 1898 he married fellow Moscow Conservatory student Rosina Bessie (1880 - 1976), also a pianist and winner of the Gold Medal for piano in her year, and the two began to give concerts together, a practice that lasted until his death. Faced with anti-semitism and the first rumblings of what would become the Russian Revolution, they moved to Berlin in 1907 where Lhévinne gained a reputation as one of the leading virtuosi and teachers of his day. Trapped there as enemy aliens at the outbreak of World War I, having lost what money they had saved in Russian banks in the 1917 Revolution and unable to concertize due to the war, they endured years of considerable hardship surviving on the income from a handful of students.

At last free to leave Germany, in 1919 the couple moved to New York City, where Lhévinne continued his concert career and taught piano at the Juilliard School (Rosina also taught there, with Van Cliburn among her pupils). Regarded as the supreme technical pianist of his day by virtually all of his more famous contemporaries, he never achieved their level of success with the public, perhaps because he made it look and sound so easy, but mostly because he enjoyed teaching more than performing. He settled into a life of concert tours and teaching which continued until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1944 a few days short of his 70th birthday.

He left only a handful of acoustic recordings which are truly breathtaking examples of perfect technique and musical elegance. The discs of Chopin Etudes Op. 25. Nos. 6 and 11 and Schulz-Evler's arrangement of Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz are legendary among pianists and connoisseurs. In the words of Harold Schonberg: "His tone was the morning stars singing together, his technique was flawless even measured against the fingers of Hofmann and Rachmaninoff, and his musicianship was sensitive."

Lhévinne wrote a short book in 1924 that is considered a classic: Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing.


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