Heinrich Neuhaus was an outstanding pianist and pedagogue, a creator of a piano ‘school’ which is a great achievement in a development of the art of piano playing.
Neuhaus’ life-long teaching attitude was strongly influenced by the first impressions of his childhood. He was born in 1888 in a small, provincial city in Elizavetgrad, Ukraine. His father Gustav, of German origin, and his mother Olga, of Polish origin, were a music teachers. They opened the first music school in their town, and were teaching literally all day long. According to Heinrich Neuhaus, his father was very musical but with limited pianistic skills. In his teaching Gustav emphasized the so-called technical or physical side of piano playing beyond all reasonable limits. For years, everyday, for many hours, Heinrich heard his parents teaching in this way, completely based on the physical elements of playing, and he absolutely hated it. Therefore, the key concept of his own teaching was appeal to the intellect of the student. He perhaps avoided physical aspects somehow more than he later thought would be reasonable.
His mother, Olga Blumenfeld, was the sister of Felix Blumenfeld, a famous conductor and professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, pianist and composer, who died in 1931.
Following Blumenfeld’s advice, Neuhaus went to Berlin, in 1905 to study with Leopold Godovsky. The whole family traveled to Germany a few times (in 1902, and in 1904 together with F.Blumenfeld and Karol Szymanowsky, his first cousin). When he arrived to Berlin at the age of 17, he was already a great concert pianist. Neuhaus was fluent in German, French, Italian, English, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish.
After studying briefly with Godovsky, Neuhaus went to Italy for two years. He considered it the most productive and happy period of his musical and personal life.
Then his Parents insist he returned to Elizavetgrad, which caused him a great depression. After that, he was sent to Berlin again, to the Hochschule der Musik. His piano teacher there was Heinrich Bart. At the same time, he took full courses in theory and composition. Bart’s teaching was very much in the spirit of the old German school. He didn’t recognize composers like Liszt, Wagner, Debussy, Scriabin, Mahler, Strauss, and Reger. He thought real music finished with Brahms, and real art of performance finished also with Brahms. He absolutely didn’t respect contemporary pianists and virtuosos, such as Busoni. Neuhaus could not accept all this and soon left Berlin and returned to Ukraine. His parents were not happy to see that he hadn’t completed his music education and sent him to the Masterschule in Vienna Academy of Music.
Later in 1915, H.Neuhaus took examinations and received his diploma from the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
That same year he was invited to teach in the Tbilisi Conservatory in Georgia.
It the 1917 revolution was approaching and he soon joined his parents in Elizavetgrad. From 1919 until 1922 he taught in Kiev Conservatory. For Heinrich Neuhaus, this was a very special and active time. In first season at Kiev, he gave six or seven solo recitals, and instantly became, not only an audience favorite, but also real idol, especially among young music lovers. His numerous concert programs at that time included a great variety of music from Bach to Szymanowsky.
In 1922 Neuhaus and Blumenfeld, also a Kiev Conservatory professor were transferred to Moscow Conservatory. The Moscow period of Neuhaus’ musical life lasted until his death in 1964.
Neuhaus’ pedagogical manner was completely different from other teachers. There was always an audience at his lessons: students of different professions constantly came in, sometimes for a whole day, to hear and to see how he was teaching. Neuhaus very much loved and encouraged the presence of people during his lessons. The more people were present, the more he was inspired. He was an artist from head to toe.
Neuhaus expected the student to really UNDERSTAND the LANGUAGE with which a musical work was written. He wanted musicians to strive to understand the complete vision of the work’s logic and structure, its harmonic underlying, it’s essence. He paid special attention to sound and balance (range, quality, etc.). However, it is important to note that almost everyone he accepted to his class was pianistically very well prepared.
From the beginning his Moscow concerts attracted enthusiastic attention. His art was characterized by poetic inspiration, a fine sense of style and character and depth and nobility in delivering different musical images. The attraction of Neuhaus’ pianistic mastery was not bravura virtuosity but his ability to use the richness of a sound palette of the piano, his incredible imagination, and the way he always found true artistical meaning of each work.
Neuhaus was a remarkable master of sound. Under his fingers the piano had a singing quality, an emotional expressiveness and diversity of timbres. Neuhaus’ art opened for the listener the great possibilities of the piano. He made it sound like an orchestra, which was obeying an ideal conductor. Neuhaus’ in-depth knowledge of music, poetry, literature, art, his personal experiences, artistic imagination, all of this expressed through interpretation of the works he performed. Neuhaus knew how to find the most quintessential and individual quality in each composer.
Neuhaus’ performances of Scriabin’s works were particularly memorable. He was creating an illusion that the sound was coming not from the striking of the hammer on the strings, but just appeared by themselves from the air.
The charm of Neuhaus’ image as a performer, his outstanding erudition, the genuine love for art, and his personal human qualities had attracted talented young people to him. Everyone who was close to Neuhaus was greatly influenced by his artistic personality, and felt a special responsibility to art. They were absorbed by artistical atmosphere, which was in class of Neuhaus.
In his teaching, Neuhaus didn’t follow any dogmatic principles. His main subject was the process of artistic upbringing and the personal influence of pedagogue on student. This influence consisted of different practical remarks, showing on the piano the finest nuances of sound, phrasing, rhythm, dynamic, from which finally comes complete artistic interpretation of a musical work.
Neuhaus’ work in his class was a creative event, including the element of improvisation. There were moments of artistical intuition, which lead to practical ways of solving pedagogical goal. Even the most detailed description of his pedagogical process can give only a very vague idea of what he was doing.
One of the things he believed in, was that a pedagogue must first of all be a MUSIC TEACHER. That means to bring the student to an UNDERSTANDING of the musical art, its ideas and emotional content. He used to say, “First you have to know what to play and later how to play it.”
Rubinshtein and Neuhaus