The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Legendary Austrian pianist and scholar Paul Badura-Skoda dies at 91. In the 1960s, he was artist-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music | September 28, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

Paul Badura-Skoda, the celebrated Austrian pianist who was equally known for his performances and his scholarship, and who was artist-in-residence at the UW-Madison in the mid-1960s until 1970, died this past Tuesday at 91.

A Vienna native, Badura-Skoda was especially known for his interpretations of major Classical-era composers who lived and worked in that city including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

He was the only pianist to have recorded the complete sonatas by those composers on both the modern piano and the fortepiano, the appropriate period instrument.

If memory serves, Badura-Skoda’s last appearances in Madison were almost a decade ago for concerts in which he played: the last piano sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert; a Mozart piano concerto with the UW Chamber Orchestra; and a solo recital of Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Chopin at Farley’s House of Pianos.

But he also performed and recorded Bach, Chopin and Schumann among others. And Badura-Skoda was also renowned as a conductor, composer, editor and teacher.

You can find many of his recordings and interviews on YouTube. Normally, this blog uses shorter excerpts. But the legendary Paul Badura-Soda is special. So in the YouTube video at the bottom  you can hear Badura-Skoda’s complete last recital of Schubert (Four Impromptus, D. 899 or Op. 90), Schumann (“Scenes of Childhood”, Op. 15) and Mozart (Sonata in C Minor, K. 457). He performed it just last May at the age of 91 at the Vienna Musikverein, where the popular New Year concerts take place.

Here are links to several obituaries:

Here is one from the British Gramophone Magazine:

Here is one from WFMT radio station in Chicago, which interviewed him:

Here is one, with some surprisingly good details, from Limelight Magazine:

And here is his updated Wikipedia entry:

But you will notice a couple of things.

One is that The Ear could not find any obituaries from such major mainstream media as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. But each had many other feature stories about and reviews of Badura-Skoda’s concerts over the years in their areas.

The other noteworthy thing is that none of the obituaries mentions Badura-Skoda’s years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in the 1960s, where he helped to raise the profile and prestige of the School of Music. Getting Badura-Skoda to join the university was considered quite an unexpected coup.

So here are two links to UW-Madison press releases that discuss that chapter of his life and career.

Here is an archival story from 1966 when Badura-Skoda first arrived at the UW-Madison:

And here is a press release that came from the UW-Madison News Service eight years ago on the occasion of one of Badura-Skoda’s many visits to and performances in Madison:

Rest in Peace, maestro, and Thank You.

It would be nice if Wisconsin Public Radio paid homage with some of Badura-Skoda’s recordings since a complete edition was issued last year on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

If you wish to pay your own respects or leave your memories of Paul Badura-Skoda and his playing, please leave something in the comment section.

Posted in Classical music
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  1. As an MM ’69 student of Professor Badura-Skoda, I was in awe of the sheer vastness of his repertoire. In his master classes he would play portions of any piece brought to the class. While his mastery of the Viennese Classics is legendary, listen to the 24 Etudes of Chopin, the major works of Schumann, the Concertos of Tchaikovsky and Scriabin as examples of his versatility.
    His performance of the Schubert B flat in Union Theater was jaw-dropping. Does anyone remember his Beethoven 4th with Otto-Werner Mueller and the Waukesha Symphony? The fire alarm went off during the cadenza. PBS kept playing for as long as he could before throwing up his hands in frustration.
    UW Madison was a wonderful place especially for pianists. Badura-Skoda brought his protègè, the beautiful pianist Marylènè Dosse, as his assistant. Others on campus included the great Dane, Gunnar Johansen, the fabulous James Tocco, and the nuturing piano Professors Barrows, Chilton, and Steffans. This rich piano tradition was continued by the incredible Howard Karp, my beloved teacher when I received my DMA in ’76, and is now thriving with Christopher Taylor. Joe Di Piazza
    Professor Emeritus


    Comment by Joe Di Piazza — October 4, 2019 @ 1:52 pm

  2. I first heard Paul Badura Skoda as a child on a Nixa recording ,and simply adored him, years latter I was able to ask him for his autograph in a concert he gave inGuadalajara Mexico, he and his wife were so warm and kind and inforgettable, it was aa dream that came true for me. His encore was Alla Turka. Rest in peace wonderful artist and sweet gentleman. Descanse en paz caballero de la música.


    Comment by ROSE MARY PÉREZ — September 30, 2019 @ 2:07 pm

  3. One time during Paul’s years as an artist in residence at the UW-Madison School of Music, a young pianist came to Madison for a lesson with the great maestro, Paul Badura-Skoda. Paul asked the young man, “What would you like to play” and he replied, “The Moonlight Sonata.” He started the first measure and at the end of the first phrase, Paul asked him to stop. With some indignation the student looked at Paul and said, “Why?” Paul replied with three words, “I don’t see the moon. Start over.” Again, the student started the piece and Paul stopped him again and said, “I still don’t see the moon. Go outside and see the moon,” which he did, as it was evening. After some time, he came back in, shivering, and started the piece again, and Paul said, “I now see the moon.” This was recounted by the student to me fifty years later, so his teaching had a long time effect. Paul so loved Mozart that he once told the audience that Mozart is like a prayer. He mentioned how Mozart could change one note in a phrase and it would be genius.


    Comment by Tim Farley — September 29, 2019 @ 12:00 am

  4. We want to pay our respects to Paul Badura-Skoda, a remarkable person in so many ways. His recordings will live on and be a source of inspiration for generations to come. He was not one to remind us of what he accomplished. He had a very sweet disposition. We feel really fortunate to have known him. Paul played solo concerts four times at the store, all treasured memories. He really enjoyed the restored instruments and always looked forward to meeting the latest restored instruments on his next trip to Madison. One time when he was warming up for one of his concerts, our sales manager heard somebody tuning, and noticed that Paul was tuning a unison. She ran to get Tim and asked if she should stop him. (Tim would normally not allow something like that.) Tim said, “Oh, it is not a problem. Paul is a registered piano technician, certified in Hamburg.” So, Tim and Paul had technician conversations, too. He was the kind of pianist that if he detected the slightest imperfection while practicing, he would stop and retune the note. Tim asked him if he would play Brahms’ third piano sonata for one of our programs, which he agreed to. Tim brought in his Westminster recording and asked him to autograph it, which he did, “as a souvenir of my performance fifty years later, PBS, March 14, 2004.” It was a recording Tim grew up listening to as a child. What a career he had, both as performer and scholar. One time he warming up on a Saturday morning. The doorbell and who walks in but Philippe Entremont! He dropped his jaw and said, “Paul! and Paul responded, “Philippe!” They knew each other well. Any time a great conductor went to Vienna to conduct a choral masterpiece, and Paul was in Vienna, he would sign up to be in the chorus; Paul said that is one way he learned conducting, experiencing the great maestros like that. We posted a tribute to Paul in the Salon Piano Series FB page and the Farley’s House of Pianos FB page. Other stories from us are there if you want to hear more PBS stories. Our hearts are warmed by his memory.


    Comment by Renee Farley — September 28, 2019 @ 11:46 pm

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