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From the Archives: Celebrated pianist in Sydney

“Beethoven is not only my personal preference – that was the feeling I found throughout Europe. Love for the music of Beethoven becomes more pronounced every day. There has been an intensification of enthusiasm during the last few years.

“Last season I played the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas in Vienna and I repeated that later in Paris, with the same success.”

WORTHY OF THE SUBJECT.

Wilhelm Backhaus playing piano, Sydney, 1930

Wilhelm Backhaus playing piano, Sydney, 1930Credit:Staff photographer

“I spent most of my time on the steamer coming out here reading a book on Beethoven by Romain Rolland. It is a record worthy of the subject, and I heartily recommend it to all Beethoven enthusiasts.”

Mr Backhaus mentioned the Beethoven centenary, which was celebrated all over Europe in 1927, and in which, he said, the leading European statesmen participated.

“As an instance of the wide appeal made by Beethoven,” said Mr Backhaus, “it is interesting to note that a book on Beethoven has been written by H. Herriot, the well known French statesman.

“There is one thing that I would very much like to mention,” Mr Backhaus concluded. “I have been made an honorary member of the Society of the Friends of Music. This is one of the oldest societies in Europe, and has its headquarters In Vienna. Beethoven was one of the first honorary members, so that it is indeed an honour that has come to me.”

KEPT VERY BUSY.

Wilhelm Backhaus and his wife are presented with flowers on their arrival in Sydney on April 22, 1930.

Wilhelm Backhaus and his wife are presented with flowers on their arrival in Sydney on April 22, 1930.Credit:Staff photographer

Wilhelm Backhaus, since he previously visited Australia, has been appearing extensively in recitals in England and on the Continent. He gave three recitals In London towards the end of 1928 then hurried to Manchester, Bradford Middlesbrough, and Bolton, and across to Vienna to take part in the Schubert Festival. He next visited Paris to appear with the Lamoureux Orchestra and give a Beethoven recital, and then returned to Vienna to play the Brahms D minor Concerto with the Tonkunstler Orchestra. His travels then took him into Germany, where he played for the first time since 1921. Early In 1929 he gave a series of six Beethoven recitals in Vienna. After further recitals in Germany, he fulfilled an extensive tour of Spain and Portugal. He afterwards visited Italy and Poland, his concert engagements keeping him busy all the year-so busy, in fact that he had to play through the Christmas holidays. In the course of a tour in South America, he gave five recitals from Beethoven’s works to packed houses in Buenos Aires.

Ad for performance by German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus, SMH APril 26, 1930

Ad for performance by German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus, SMH APril 26, 1930Credit:SMH Archives

Mr Backhaus, whose tour is under the management of E. J. Gravestock, Ltd, will commence his Sydney season at the Town Hall next Saturday night.

A Great Welcome.
EMINENT PIANIST’S BRILLIANCY.
(May 28, 1930)
A great welcome from a great audience assured William Backhaus of his high place in the esteem of the Australian public when he began his second tour of this country on Saturday night at the Town Hall. And this great audience found itself as completely swayed by the power of the celebrated pianist as were those who heard him in his first series of Sydney recitals about four years ago. His dignity, intellectual depth, and diversity of outlook, as well as his superb repose, even in the midst of prodigious technical difficulties, again aroused prompt and enthusiastic admiration.

Indeed, Mr. Backhaus is so supremely at ease that one marvels at the restraint with which the most colossal effects are achieved.

Indeed, Mr. Backhaus is so supremely at ease that one marvels at the restraint with which the most colossal effects are achieved.This confidence and security are inspiring, controlled as they are by such imaginative power, perfection of rhythm, and breadth of style. Then, whatever the demands upon his technique, his tone is consistently beautiful in itself, and delightful in its continually-varying contrasts and gradations. One may instance the soft, mystic beauty of the adagio in the “Waldstein” Sonata, and the captivating lyric grace of Chopin’s Third Study from opus 10, as two characteristic examples of this exquisite tonal variety in Saturday night’s recital.

In 1933, the same year Wilhelm Backhaus met the newly appointed chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler (who later gave the pianist a professorship), he became executive advisor to the Nazi organization Fellowship of German Artists. He had a long performing and recording career, and died in Austria in 1969.

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