The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Remembering Rudolf Serkin | January 18, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

Among 20th-century pianists, Rudolf Serkin (below, in a photo by Yousuf Karsh) was a giant.

The Ear heard him live only twice.

Once was in New York City when Serkin played the “Emperor” Piano Concerto by Beethoven with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

The second time was years later in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, when he played an all-Beethoven program of sonatas during the Beethoven bicentennial.

Then there were his many recordings, no less wondrous and captivating. They set standards hard to equal, let alone surpass.

The Ear especially loved his Beethoven concertos and sonatas, but also his Mozart and Schubert, his Schumann and Brahms. One of The Ear’s favorite recordings was Serkin playing both the Piano Concerto and the Piano Quintet by Robert Schumann. (You can hear the opening of the Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Serkin was a complete musician who excelled in solo music, chamber music and concertos.

Recently, The Ear saw the finest essay he has ever read about Serkin — who often seems overlooked or forgotten these days when the spotlight usually falls on his contemporaries Arthur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz — in The New Yorker magazine.

Richard Brady, who usually writes about movies, captures the special magic that was Serkin’s.

In addition, the story offer 12 carefully chosen samples of Serkin’s playing, taken from solo recordings, concertos and chamber music, from older standard composers and classic works to more modern composers and works.

Here is a link:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/2017-in-review/my-favorite-classical-music-release-of-2017

Did you ever hear Rudolf Serkin live?

What did you think?

Do you have a favorite work, live or recorded, played by Rudolf Serkin?

The Ear wants to hear.

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6 Comments »

  1. OK — i’m dating myself. Here are R Serkin’s Union Theater concert dates. Mar 15, 16, 1946; Feb 8, 9,
    1963; NOV 18, 19, 1966; Jan 29, 1972; Mar 9, 1977
    Programs for all these concerts are on file at the Theater’’s archives at the Steenbock library.

    Comment by Marius — January 19, 2018 @ 8:48 am

  2. I was fortunate to hear Mr. Serkin live on a number of occasions, including the Beethoven concert with the Waldstein and Hammerklavier sonatas at the Wisconsin Union Theatre in 1976, and the Beethoven 4th concerto on two different occasions, as well as a several recitals in Boston’s Symphony Hall. He has always been a tremendous inspiration to me, as a youngster, and even as I have become an “oldster”. Integrity, authenticity,
    reverence for the letter and spirit of the composer’s score, and ferocious dedication to the instrument. He
    had an amazing command – listen to his recording of the Schubert Fantasie in C with violinist Adolf Busch – the pianism in terms of virtuosity, refinement and color is truly out of this world. One of the giants.

    Comment by Bill Lutes — January 18, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

    • Actually the Beethoven concert was in March 1977!

      Comment by Bill Lutes — January 18, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

  3. I saw him once in Germany at a solo concert. Mainly Chopin and Scriabin. It was an amazing experience.

    Comment by Musicophile — January 18, 2018 @ 4:11 am

  4. I saw the Serkin Beethoven concert at the Union Theater, sitting high in the balcony with Bob LaBrasca. I was enthralled. What year was it?

    Comment by Ron MCrea — January 18, 2018 @ 12:11 am

    • It was either February 8th or 9th, 1963. In fhose years there was a Red and White Union concert series. Artists would actually play different programs on consecutive nights. Subscribers could but both series without duplicate repertoire. I attended both nights. I don’t recall the order but one night was all Beethoven and the other all Schubert (including 4 impromptus). I believe I learned most of what I know about those two composers at those concerts.

      Comment by Marius — January 18, 2018 @ 8:56 pm


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