The concert performance by pianist Hermann Schwertmann
and conductor Alexander Paulmuller with the Niederösterreichisches
Tonkünstlerorchester of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B Flat,
Op. 23, prompted Marcel Prawy to arrange for a recording session.
courtesy Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.
Schwertmann in the mid nineteen fifties.
copyright Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.
same performance was released by Don Gabor on his Plymouth label (P-12-43).
But then on
label and cover the name Hans Kessler was
printed, a pseudonym for Hermann Schwertmann.
Hermann Schwertmann, conductor Alexander Paulmüller and the 'Nieder-Österreichisches
Tonkünstler Orchester' were rehearsing Tchaikowsky's First Concerto
Op. 23 and the actual concert was a great succes, Marcel Prawy proposed
to tape the performance.
Tchaikovsky's popular Opus 23 was still missing in the growing Remington
catalog of classical music. This was an opportunity to fill the gap.
They all agreed.
Prawy, the well known Viennese lawyer/musicologist/dramaturge was
Gabor's producer for the recordings originating in Austria.
It was not the taping of the live performance on November 25th 1951,
but the recording was made on a separate day, as there are no noises
of the public and there is no applause. It was a so called studio
recording done in the Musikvereinssaal with its beautiful
Despite all this, the performance of the popular B flat, Opus 23,
by these artists is not impeccable, nor is the sound recording. It
is nevertheless a remarkable performance.
for a Sound Clip of Tchaikovsky's
Piano Concerto No, 1 Op. 23.
In the difficult
years after the Second World War, when producers of American record
companies were traveling from one European city to another, instrumentalists,
singers, orchestras and conductors were all too eager to make recordings.
Doing several takes was simply not done as the costs had to be kept
low. If the sound quality may have been the primary objective of the
technician, it was not always an important issue for the producer,
nor for the artists. And certainly
not in the case of those early recordings for a budget label as Remington
was. To everyone involved it was more important to earn a living than
to chisel and refine the end product.
Despite all this, the recording shows that it was all a labour of
love and that it was hard work in unfavorable circomstances. Chances
are that a relatively good sounding pressing can be encountered. The
quality of a record also depends on the matrix production, the quality
of the vinyl and the pressing process.
der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien: Brahms: Piano Concerto
Strauss: Burleske for Piano and Orchestra, and
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1.
performed in one evening's concert.
A tour de force for many a pianist.
Not for Hermann Schwertmann.
courtesy Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.
in 1947 Hermann Schwertmann had performed Tchaikovsky's Piano
Concerto No. 1 Op.23 with that same orchestra, but then conducted
by Milo von Wawak. Especially for the pianist it was a demanding
enterprise because also the First Concerto of Johannes Brahms and
Richard Strauss's 'Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra' were on the
program that evening. And Schwertmann succeeded in rendering the full
content of the piano part of all compositions as he later always would
do. Over the years critics were very positive about his performances.
the performance of Brahms's No. 1 in Sarajevo, the 'Oslobodjenje'
of April 12, 1957 wrote:
'Schwertmann presented himself as a technical master of his
instrument and is an artist with a high intellect and an excellent
culture. It was very interesting to witness him while sinking
deep into the core of Brahms's work.' -
April 12, 1957
hat sich als technischer Meister seines Instruments präsentiert
und ist ein Künstler hohen Intellekts und ausnehmender
Kultur. Es war sehr interessant, ihn bei der Versenkung in den
Kern des Brahmsschen Werkes zu beobachten.')
critic of 'Die Presse' reviewed in the edition of November 25th, 1952,
Schwertmann's performance of the Shostakovich Concerto:
'Hermann Schwertmann cleverly sensed the rhythmic problems
which Shostakovich's Piano Concerto entails'. - Die Presse,
November 25th, 1952,
Schwertmann hat sich mit viel Geschick in die rhythmischen Probleme
eingelebt, welche Schostakowitsch' Klavierkonzert aufgibt'.)
Tchaikovsky Concerto was certainly one of Hermann Schwertmann's favorites
on the long list of solo concertos which he had on his repertory,
ranging from the popular J.S. Bach to the modern, not well known composers
Karl Senn and Ernst Ludwig Uray.
Sebastian Bach - Concerto in D
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 2, Piano
Concerto No. 5
Johannes Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1
Frédéric Chopin - Piano Concerto No.
Claude Debussy - Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
George Gershwin - Piano Concerto in F
Edward Grieg - Piano Concerto
Joseph Haydn - Piano Concerto No. 7
Franz Liszt - Piano Concerto No. 2
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Piano Concertos KV271, KV
449 and KV 488
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 2
Dimitri Shostakovich - Piano Concerto
Karl Senn - Piano Concerto
Richard Strauss - Burlesque for piano and Orchestra
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky - Concerto No. 1
Ernst Ludwig Uray - ' Konzertante Musik' for Viola,
Piano and Orchestra
was born on August 5th 1919. His talent was soon discovered and already
at the age of 14 he started studying the piano at the 'Staatsakademie
für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Wien' (Viennese State Academy
for Music and Dramatic Art). At the same time he studied at the 'Bundesgymnasium'
and passed the final exams at the age of 18. From then on until the
outbreak of World War Two, he studied musicology and the English language
at the University of Vienna, while he continued to study the piano.
He passed his exam ('Reifeprüfung für Klavier') with Bertha
Jahn-Beer in 1938. He then studied for the next year with Emil von
Sauer, and with Friedrich Wührer the year after. Again he passed
his exam with high notes receiving the 'Diplom Konzertfach' (Concert
But building a career was not on the program. On the 20th of December
1940, at the age of twenty one, he was drafted into the army and he
formally served until the end of the war, but gave concerts at several
occasions. After having been imprisoned by the Allied Forces, a fate
of numerous citizens from all walks of life, the young pianist was
released at the end of March 1946.
1947 at the time of the performance with the Tonkünstlerorchester
conducted by Milo Wawak.
copyright Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.
A few days later,
on April 1st, he took up the post of teacher at the 'State Academy
for Music and Dramatic Arts' and was able to really start a career
as a performer when, in that same year, he joined the 'Collegium
musicum Wien'. He was a member until 1953. He also teamed up with
harpsichordist/pianist Kurt Rapf to perform, as duo pianists,
works for four hands and for two pianos, written in a variety of styles.
Their repertory was quite extensive. And their success is well documented.
The 'Kleines Volksblatt' from November 1st, 1950, wrote:
'The highlight of the evening brought the exact and swingful
execution of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion of Bartók
(...) by Kurt Rapf and Hermann Schwertmann.' - Kleines
Volksblatt, November 1st, 1950,
des Abends brachte die exakte und schwungvolle Aufführung
der Sonate für zwei Klaviere und Schlagzeug von Bartòk
(...) durch Kurt Rapf und Hermann Schwertmann.'
list of works for two pianos:
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach -
Béla Bartòk - Sonata for 2 Pianos and
George Bizet - Jeux d'enfants
Johannes Brahms - Liebeslieder-Walzer and Variations
on a Theme by Haydn
Claude Debussy - Petite Suite, En blanc et noir, Six
Antonin Dvorak - 3 Slavonic Dances
Manuel de Falla - Nights in the Gardens of Spain
George Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue
Anton Heiller - Toccata
Paul Hindemith - Sonate (1938)
Manuel Infante - Danses Andalouses
Franz Liszt - Concerto pathetique
Peter Mieg - Concerto for 2 Pianos.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Fantasy for an Organ KV 608,
Adagio und Fuge, Sonata KV 358, Sonate KV 448, Sonata for
4 Hands, Concerto for 2 Pianos K 365
Felix Petyrek - 4 Concert Studies, Toccata and Fugue
Sergej Rachmaninoff - Suite Nr. 2
Maurice Ravel - Ma Mère l'Oye
Max Reger - Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue Op.
96, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven
Karl Schiske - Sonate Op. 29 - 1949
Franz Schubert - Marches from Op. 40, Fantasy Op. 103
Norbert Sprongl - Capriccio - First performance
Igor Strawinsky - Die Bauernhochzeit
Esther Williamson - Sonata
Pursuing a career
as a performing artists is not an easy task. Gradually the emphasis
was put on teaching and on other important activities at the University
where he helped reorganize the university's teaching plans. He also
was responsible for the organization of the various competitions named
after significant people: 'Bösendorfer Wettbewerb', 'Heydner
Wettbewerb' and 'Rombro-Stepanow Wettbewerb', the contests for
young students and upcoming artists. In 1960 he officially became
a professor and in 1967 he received the title of 'extraordinary university
professor' to be appointed 'university professor' only three years
later, in 1970.
Schwertmann in 1952 at the
the time when he was pursuing a career as a concert pianist.
Photo by Fayer, Vienna. Image
courtesy Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.
Most musicians do not restrict their repertory to the works solely
written for their specific instruments as a soloist in recitals and
concertos. Hermann Schwertmann too had a vast repertory of chamber
music, he was accompanying violinists and cellists, and other instrumentalists,
and he often appeared as a member of chamber music ensembles. It is
interesting to see what the repertory of an artist can look like,
in this case that of Hermann Schwertmann.
- Second Sonata for Violin and Piano
Charles-Auguste de Bériot - 'Scène de ballet'
for Violin and Piano
Ludwig van Beethoven - Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos.
1, 2, 5 (Spring), 7, 9 (Kreutzer), and 10; Sonata for Violoncello
and Piano No. 3; Trio No. 4 for Clarinet, Violoncello and Piano
Johannes Brahms - Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1,
Sonata for Violoncello and Piano No. 1, Trio for Piano, Violin
and Horn, Piano Quartet No. 2
Antonin Dvorak - Sonatine for Violin and Piano Op. 100
Walter Gieseking - Sonatine for Flute and Piano
Stephen Heller - Quintet for Clarinet, Violin, Violoncello
Kurt Hessenberg - Sonate F für Violine und Klavier
Paul Hindemith - Sonata for Flute and Piano, Sonata for
Oboe and Piano, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Sonata for Bass
Jenö Hubay - Csárdas for Violin and Piano
Augustin Kubizek - Trio for Clarinet, Violoncello and
Prinz Louis Ferdinand - Piano Quartet
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy - Sextet for Piano, Violin,
Two Altos, Cello and Bass Op. 110
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Sonata for Violin and Piano
Friedrich Neumann - Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Thomas Pitfield - Sonatine for Flute and Piano (1948)
Reinhold Portisch - Trio for Violin, Clarinet und Piano
Kurt Rapf - Trio (1984) for Clarinet, Violoncello and
Max Reger - Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 139, Sonata
for Clarinet and Piano, Piano Trio Op. 2
Karl Schiske - Sonata for Violin and Piano, Sextet for
Clarinet String Quartet and Piano
Franz Schubert - Sonatina for Violin and Piano Op. 137/3,
Robert Schumann - Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 121,
3 Fantasy Pieces Op. 73 for Cello and Piano, Piano Quintet Es-Dur
Friedrich (Bedrich) Smetana - Two Pieces from 'Aus der
Heimat' for Violin and Piano
Norbert Sprongl - Sonata for Flute and Piano Op. 70,
Third Violinsonata (World Première), Sonata for Bass
and Piano Op. 74 (World Première), Quintet Op. 67
Richard Strauss - Sonata Op. 6 for Violoncello and Piano,
Violin Sonata Op. 18
Erich Zeisl - Sonata for Cello and Piano
And for a recital pianist there is also quite a number of pieces,
mainstream and some modern works. This
shows that there would have been ample opportunity to make more recordings
of this pianist for whatever label.
Johann Sebastian Bach
- Toccata and Fugue in E
Ludwig van Beethoven - Sonatas (Pathétique,
Moonlight, Waldstein, Sonata Op. 78, Op. 111), Polonaise Op.
89, Rondo 'Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen', Eroica
Johannes Brahms: Rhapsodie in E
Alfredo Casella - 11 Pezzi infantili (1920)
Frédéric Chopin - Ballades Nos. 1 and
3, Etüde Op. 10 Nos. 3, 4, 7 and 12, Mazurkas (Op. 6
No. 2, Op. 68 No. 2, Op. 68 No. 3, Op. 37 No. 2), Prelude
Op. 28 No. 2, Polonaise Op. 53, Polonaise Op. 21, Nocturne
in F, Introduction et Polonaise Op. 22, Scherzo Op. 39
Muzio Clementi - Sonata in G
Claude Debussy - Suite pour le piano
Georg Friedrich Händel - Partita A-Dur, Sonata
Karl Herrmann - Sonata
E. T. A. Hoffmann - Sonate
Franz Liszt - Sonata in B, Polonaise in E, Rigoletto-Paraphrase
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy - Lied ohne Worte (Song
Without Words) Op. 19 No. 9, Variations sérieuses Op.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Sonatas (in A, in B)
Max Reger - Intermezzi Op. 45, Humoreske Op. 20 Nos.
1 and 4
Erwin Christian Scholz - Third Piano Sonata Op. 52
Franz Schubert - Sonata D 485, Sonata in A, Impromptu
in B, Impromptu in E flat, Moment musical Op. 94 Nos. 1, 2
Robert Schumann - Carneval Op. 9, Toccata in C Op.
7, Sonate in F sharp, Scherzo in A Op. 99
Norbert Sprongl - Four Preludes for Piano, Four Dance
Pieces for Piano Op. 96
Carl Maria von Weber - Rondo brillant Op. 62
Schwertmann appeared regularly in the studios of the ORF and
there are certainly taped performances in the archives of the radio
station. However the only commercial recording he made is Remington
R-199-76, released in May 1952. There
are several minor irregularities in the playing as the performance
was taped in a limited time frame without the luxury of splicing.
There are maybe two instances where a possible splice can be heard.
Despite the stress caused by the adage "Nothing must go wrong",
Schwertmann's approach is sensitive, and his phrasing is at times
beautiful. Subdued passion and meditative intimacy alternate each
other. The transition from cadenza to the finale of the first movement
is refined. His exceptional sense for rythm can also be heard in the
second and third movements. His performance comes right from
the heart and has no pretence which cannot be said of the the later
Conrad Hansen performance which is the stylish high school of pianoplaying
approach loosing some of the emotional impact of this wonderful concerto.
Hermann Schwertmann gives a sensitive, very personal, and above all
Paulmüller in the nineteen sixties when he was conductor
of the Bruckner Orchestra (1958-1961) and of the Stuttgart Philharmonic
Orchestra (until 1972).
Paulmüller is a very good conductor. Like Kurt Wöss,
he studied for some time with legendary Felix Weingartner.
There is an added sense of a live recording and there is no cold calculation
in the music making, there is no bravura for the sake of it, no virtuosity
to impress. Schwertmann gives a very personal account of Tchaikovsky's
In his assessment in the early nineteen fifties of 18 recordings of
the Tchaikovsky Concerto, critic Warren DeMotte wrote that
this Remington was not a bargain. The listener may agree with him
at certain instances, but definitely not on aspects of atmosphere
J.F. Indcox, in his discography of Tchaikovsky Recordings on
Microgroove (High Fidelity, August 1954), said about R-199-76:
"Schwertmann's piano has an unpleasantly tinny sound, even
though well removed from the mike and it is hard to admire the
brassiness of the string tone, or the breathy woodwinds. As a
performance it has its points being robust, occasionally imperious
and has a good deal of animated conviction."
reviewer used the word "imperious" and he may be convinced
that this is a just qualification. There is however no arrogance or
disdain, nor is Schwertmann's position a dominating and overbearing
one. The performance is integer and sincere. There is at times a very
sensitive flow in the pianist's playing. The reviewer could have applied
a specific playback correction in order to attain a more or less correct
frequency characteristic. Remington Records were generally cut in
such a way that they would sound best on a simple gramophone player
or portable gramophone. See for the right correction of Remington
and other discs
The same recording was issued on the Plymouth label, but then,
as Don Gabor so often did, with a different (fantasy) name as soloist,
in this case Hans Kessler, maybe to avoid extra license payments
to Marcel Prawy, or just presenting a Tchaikovsky recording with a
"different" artist to fool the record buying public.
One may regret that no more takes were made. But really regrettable
is that no other commercial recordings of Schwertmann were made and
then with more recording time, so attention could have been paid to
quality. Maybe someday radio recordings, made by the Austrian Broadcasting
Corporation (OR, Österreichischer Rundfunk), will be published
and then the listener could be taken by surprise again. The often
cited phrase: 'It is a pity that not more recordings were made of
this artist', is fully justified in the case of Hermann Schwertmann.
R-199-176 from 1951 with Tchaikovsky's
Piano Concerto in B Flat, Op. 23,
performed by pianist Hermann Schwertmann, conductor Alexander
Paulmuller and the Austrian Symphony Orchestra (Niederösterreichisches
For many years
in a row Hermann Schwertmann organized the Beethoven competitions
and was a juror for several other competitions. His dedication to
the cause of music resulted in receiving the 'Great Honor of Merit
of the Austrian Republic' (Großes Ehrenzeichen für
Verdienste um die Republik Österreich) awarded on September 25th,
1974, by the Ministry of Science and Research.
From 1978 till 1984 he also taught at the 'Japanese Summer Seminars'.
Numerous were his students. Many of these do play a role, be it as
a pedagogue, an instrumentalist, or as a composer.
After 37 years of devoted teaching and managing, he retired in September
1984 at the age of 65.
Hermann Schwertmann lives in Vienna.
A. Bruil - February 12th, 2006
and images of Hermann Schwertmann, the poster and the program, submitted
by his daughter, cellist player Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.
On July 22, 2007, I received the sad message that after a long, serious
illness, pianist Hermann Schwertmann, aged 87, had passed away in
Vienna on July 13, 2007.