Liszt students enjoy considerable cachet. Liszt students who left
behind tangible examples of their playing enjoy a renown that
adds to the Liszt debate. Arthur Friedheim was one such, but he
had the dual distinction of having also been taught by Anton Rubinstein
with whom he studied at the age of fourteen; Friedheim was born
of German parents in St Petersburg in 1859. His move to Liszt
in Weimar led to a breach with Rubinstein, who called Liszt ‘the
devil’. Eventually Friedheim became Liszt’s secretary and indeed
his amanuensis, remaining with the composer for eight years until
Liszt’s death. Travel and endless concerts followed and also a
rather peripatetic life; London, Munich, Toronto and New York,
where he died, were also places where he lived for a time. The
First War saw him ostracised in America, and working as a pianist
in a movie theatre. He died in 1932.
Friedheim recorded on disc and roll. But he only made ten sides
on 78 discs, a rather paltry return for so eminent a musician.
One of his disc recordings coincides with a roll; the second Hungarian
Rhapsody, though the disc, which was made for Emerson in 1917,
is truncated and essentially halved in length. Nevertheless despite
the rather cloudy Emerson sound — not a prestigious label, though
it did record some prestigious musicians — we can discern one
thing. The statuesque and dull roll performance is worlds away
from the passionate ardour and splendour of the disc. The usual
prescriptive comments about roll performances must apply. No one
could take the Chopin Prelude performances seriously as examples
of Friedheim’s playing. The F sharp minor sounds plain weird,
and the companion Prelude in G has clearly been edited to such
an extent that it’s hard to tell how many voices are teeming there.
Some things do survive somewhat intact. Gottschalk’s The Banjo
is sprightly, bright, crisp and amusing. Elements of his Lisztian
playing can be inferred but they must be considered provisional
only. The roll recording of La Campanella
can be compared
with a 78 he made of the same piece. The roll’s endemic brightness
and generic tonal response contrast with the subtle colouration
preserved in the grooves of the 1913 Columbia. But there is also
a further proviso. Both the Dal Segno and the Nimbus Grand Piano
series have transferred some (but not all) of the same rolls.
The results, mechanically speaking, vary enormously. The Nimbus
version of La Campanella
is, in my view, a far more realistic
affair than the lumpen and rather bizarre sounding Dal Segno.
But there are huge tempo variations in the two transfers of other
pieces, as a look at the headings will indicate.
So, whatever one wishes to infer from the playing of this important
Liszt student, the evidence is improbably preserved by these two
discs. It’s best to seek out Friedheim’s disc records — they’re
on Symposium 1343, coupled with the recordings of another Liszt
student, José Vianna da Motta.