Casus Petri – as seen in a little bit newer perspective.


Part II


 Main Market Square in Cracow, the biggest one in the Europe; nowadays as well as in time Petri was frequent visitor here, this wonderful place offers enormously many attractions – from the National Museum (Da Vinci) and St. Mary gothic cathedral with its magnificent altar made by Veit Stoss, up to about 600 pubs, cafes and restaurants located in closest neighborhood of this major meeting point in Cracow, the real Capital of Polish Culture and Art.



When rationality in pianism becomes considered, one should immediately start to think about no one, but Petri...


Now, a few words concerning the Person: Egon Petri was born in Hanover, Germany, at 23 March 1881 into a Dutch family. His father, Henri Willem Petri, was honored with the concertmaster's position in the Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1889; about Petri's mother, I have found not one bit of information. Young Egon was at first determined to follow his father's footsteps and under his guidance he started to study the violin. He played well enough to appear – as member of his father's quartet – even in front of such great personage as Johannes Brahms; Egon not soon after resigned from the thought about a violin career and started learning the piano. He started yet seriously dealing with the piano only being about 20 years old. Teachers, who influenced his development for the most, were legendary Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño (former student of Gottschalk, of the Chopin's scholar G. Mathias and of Anton Rubinstein) and Ferrucio Busoni. Petri's contacts with Busoni, who was a friend of his father, began in 1901 and lasted to the end of Busoni's life (1924).


Wanting to enlarge his general education, Egon Petri studied philosophy and gained a doctorate in Music at the Royal Manchester College. At the same College, he worked from 1906 until 1910. To the piano pedagogy not somebody else has directed him, but his great teacher Busoni; young Egon studied under his artistic guidance in Berlin, Weimar and Dresden; in years of the 1st World War he cooperated with Busoni on editing of the works of Bach. In 1921 he started lecturing in Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, and four years later (according to some different sources: in 1927) he moved to Zakopane, a capital of the Polish Tatra mountains. Petri's courses in Zakopane had such a good reputation that in a special sense the musical World owes them the birth of one of the greatest... cello talents. Mss. Iris Greep, a talented English pianist arrived to Zakopane to participate in Egon Petri's courses in summer of 1938; in the same year another musically talented Englishman Mr. Derek du Pré, the accordionist – spent his holidays in the Tatra mountains. These two young talented musicians were met and fell in love with itself just here, in Zakopane; they entered the state of matrimony in 1940, and on the 26 January 1945 Jacqueline du Pré was born (in Oxford).


In 1939, when Germany and Russia treacherously invaded Poland, Petri and his wife had been forced to run for their life from here, leaving his library with an enormously rich collection of books and other rarities. As well, a pair of the grand pianos has been left to the favor of fate.




Interior of the 'Slowacki' Theater in Cracow; that is how looks a like the picture of a cultural environment Petri had lived in within his 'Polish-years'...



From 1940 until 1946 Petri was employed at Cornell University in Ithaca (New York), and from 1947 up to 1957 he worked at Mills College in Oakland (California); in the circle of teachers of this College was Darius Milhaud; John Cage worked there as an accompanist. In 1957, Egon Petri took up additional work at the Music Conservatoire in Basel, and as well from 1952 until 1962 he taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Egon Petri died in Berkeley (California) on 27 of May 1962 in the age of 81. Prof. Robert Sheldon, about whom we shall speak in a while, became his heir at this college.


Egon Petri was not the piano megastar, which would give yearly as many concerts as Arthur Rubinstein (b. 1887 in Łódź, Poland) or Artur Schnabel (b. 1882 in Lipnik, Poland). Still as a pedagogue, he definitely belongs to the most prominent piano teachers of the 20th Century. It does not matter that to the circle of his pupils belong John Ogdon and Earl Wild. Petri actually was a tirelessly active and extremely efficient teacher, and that is why in seeking for stronger base of rationalism in the widely understood pianism and piano pedagogy, it would perhaps be exceptionally valuable to become adequately informed about his views. It would surely be priceless to familiarize oneself with opinions originated by the Artist, whose powerful intellect stayed in perfect harmony with truly vibrant emotionality.


Until the recent days, Egon Petri's biography had not been written at all. An article of Mrs. Michaele Benedict, the former Prof. Sheldon's student, printed some years ago in the Clavier Magazine, is one of very few, truly credible sources of information about the Petri's teaching; her newest text related to Petri could be found under this link. How I already mentioned a moment ago, Mrs. Benedict was not the pupil of Petri, she studied under artistic direction of Prof. Robert Sheldon yet, which for 14 years studied under the Master and after his death embraced his class in the music conservatoire in San Francisco. Prof. Sheldon gathered the tens of tapes fulfilled with recordings of the Petri's lessons; he also very scrupulously kept notes, which with time became the real treasury of wisdom related to the pedagogy of his Master. Here you are one of favorite Petrie's anecdotes concerning the piano practicing methods, written down by Prof. Sheldon: A pedestrian who was on his way to Athens, met a peasant working by the roadside and asked him "How far is it to Athens?" The peasant replied, "Walk!" The man said, "I know I have to walk, but tell me how long will it take me to get there?" The peasant repeated, "Walk!" When the third inquiry drew forth the same information, the traveler, giving the peasant up as a hopeless idiot, walked away with great strides. After a few seconds the peasant called out: "Half an hour!" Greatly surprised, the man turned back and said: "Why did you not tell me that at once?" Whereupon the peasant replied, "How could I tell you before I saw, how you walked?"



With this anecdote, Petri usually answered questions essential to capture some aspects of his pedagogical work or to overcome some mechanical problems. "If you practice fast and carelessly - it is bad. If you are practicing fast and efficiently it is very well. If you practice slowly, but efficiently it also is very good. If you practice slowly and carelessly it is very bad. If exercises you practice help you in coming off you probably don't need them; but when you practice them improperly they could cause much harm". Petri's remarks were remarkably concrete, he was not supposed however in the custom to talk too much "directly". He liked the good anecdote and quoted a lot. Master did not accept metaphors and comparisons, which bottom of the matter was not related to the actual problems. Being given by the agile and very sharp mind, being – from a child years – familiar with the company of people who belonged to the artistic-intellectual elite of Europe, and fluently speaking all the most vital languages, Egon Petri understood very well that building a positive approach of the pupil towards the object of studies, was the responsibility of him as of his the teacher of music. Portraying his work as the element of the "storage payment" to the World Culture and Art, he understood it as a satisfaction that goes along with permanent widening intellectual ranges, and which provokes the students for self-reliant solutions, also in a field of the technique of playing the piano. Petri was a virtuoso performer in the full meaning of this word, but however he offered many extra "technical solutions" to his pupils, he stood outside of any thought of paying attention to benefits allegedly coming from usage of a rough muscular power. He held a view that it is necessary "to take, to take UP" the sounds from the keys, besides – in the very physical meaning of this words, but not to sadistically press ON them.


I focus on what I call motion and emotion – the relationship between physical motions, technique, and human emotion, interpretation, while taking into consideration the inherent properties of the piano.

                                          Rebecca Penneys


Playing [technically] up, according to his beliefs, should be understood as a basically important ground for the physical ease in playing the piano. From the psychological point of view with at least my own opinion such a way is the most natural solution of the technical part of piano playing and greatly helps to solve the  quadrature of the magical circle in technique of the piano playing, generally. We, human beings, were created as the psychophysical entirety and if we are sure that the thought is supposed to control functioning of majority of the manual aspects of playing, THIS [up...!] is the direction that, thinking about the best results, should have the ruling position in the piano technical schooling. We must to start the drive of imagination or we would be forced to act on the tightened brake tertium non est datur. Instead of barely unmusically piano technical exercises habitually ordered by the piano tradition, Petri usually advised to exercise fragments of bigger musical forms composed by the Great Masters and containing the concrete technical problem; for sample, these could be the Preludes of Bach as well as the faster parts of his Partitas or Suites, as Courantes and Gigues. 


Many years of contact with the violin and admiration for the melodiousness of this instrument put him to promote the  violin-like way in understanding of serving role of the upper parts of pianist's hands. They should act in the very similar way the right hand of the violinist does, when it actually draws a bow. Petri demanded the excellent fluidity of phrases and he was desperately interested in the question of keeping up the flow of the emotionally full-bodied musical thought and emotions inside of the sounds; he never tolerated sounds, which would be produced without any connection with the musical thought. He talked: "the flow of musical movement is one of my obsessions". As everyone aspiring to mastery, Petri was a pedant, who never becomes satisfied from results of the work; one must to say yet, that these moods were superbly balanced by his brilliant intelligence and a tactful feeling of humor.



 Legendary musicians: the brothers Karol (1904-1997, the pianist – on the left) and Antoni Szafranek (1909-1979, the violinist and conductor – on the right), who both were the really efficient transmitters of the European Spirit into the musical life of Poland within years it perhaps needed in that kind of support for the most...



I remember very well the similar lightness of thinking and freedom of the atmosphere in lessons, I have experienced being the private student of Prof. Karol Szafranek, who how he was used to say more than to his other teachers (Zygmunt Lisicki, Paul Brande, Leonid Kreutzer), for the most owed his great pedagogic art exactly to Petri, under whom he privately studied in Zakopane and Cracow. Prof. Szafranek, talking about the Petri's method, very often mentioned the Chopin's Method, particularly underlining the Chopin's famous awareness of leggiero. Until I started to re-edit my understanding of the Petri's way of piano technical schooling, I saw the Chopin-like leggiero as sole and one element that could increase the efficiency of the piano playing technique. After hearing the performances completed at the 15th International Chopin Piano Competition, and becoming especially deeply irritated by performances, which in spite of clearly perceptible talent of young pianists, possessed the one and same feature of the "frozen thoughts" and were – as seen from the piano technical point of view – truly brutal, I just discovered the different meaning of this notion. Leggiero could, as well, be interpreted as the special kind of the atmosphere of teaching, too. It should be initiated by the teacher and become unbroken by the students, who must be in charge of its developing via the dialogue. Spiritual  leggiero would absolutely not cause the collapse of authority of the master! Furthermore, it should be seen as the way of achieving and reinforcing the thinking about the sounds' up taking way, so strongly promoted by Petri...



Let you have a look at this unforgettable recording of Maria Callas, the famous aria from "Norma" of Bellini, Casta diva. Let you try to go as far as possible in your tries to recognize her FACTUAL FEELINGS that finally ruled her as well mental, as PHYSICAL approach to the vocal technique, generating so greatly touching musical performance; thoughts & feelings yet, factually determine our physical activity as an entirety [not only I am profoundly assured they just are able to complete this]. Maria Callas acted and her acting was extremely effective. If such has happened, her acting must went into any clearly determined direction. Did she PRESS her voice, her mind and just herself as a psychophysical entirety down? Not at all! She just tried to drive all of her mental powers UP  in the similar way Rembrandt probably did – when he painted, and Michelangelo – when he drew his architectural projects. Petri also was right, and this is actually true, that he in his pedagogic practice once again totally approved the Chopin's leggiero as the most efficient way in forming such a piano instrumental technique, which liberating the hands from unnecessary tension and opening the doors to World of the really artistically efficient work.     


In history of the piano teaching is nearly impossibly to find the – seeing it from the piano technical point of view – as highly valuable idea as the authentic leggiero of the Chopin style. Correspondingly, as well as Neuhaus, who always emphasized the technical easiness of the piano, Petri was the next Great one, who did NOT LIKE to brutally press on the keys.

Remember that technique is mental rather than physical. Therefore, it is necessary to imagine a movement before making it.

                                          Egon Petri


Piano youngsters, being constantly provoked for self-reliant searches of the meaning of everything in what they are participating in, nolens volens must grow up their immature beliefs and emotions; they are being taught to discern the "second bottoms" of things, especially in the artistic sense of the matter. If here would not be actively played such a game, results they could achieve will nearly always be stigmatized by any kind of "ingenuous simplicity". How to avoid it, is a question, to which everyone must come for the answer just personally, indeed. Prof. Szafranek, thanks to whom the author of the this text also have got a chance to entrance into the zone of influence of the Petri's schooling system, in the initial phase of our contacts repeatedly used very known Polish saying about the pointless tries to discover America once again, Columbus did it for us so many years ago...


In pianism, besides, many smaller and greater "Americas" have been discovered by Chopin, Liszt, Leszetycki, Leimer-Gieseking, Godowski, Hofmann and Neuhaus as well. Here we can find the interesting and quite big land, found by Egon Petri personally; his understanding of the piano playing and teaching, seen in the perspective of the  THINK UP!  idea should become as famous as possible world-wide.



My tiny Variations on Petri are coming to the end. Now let us to recapitulate the other topic: the 15th International Chopin Piano Competition. Recently I visited the Van Cliburn Foundation Web-Site and I think that instead of the concluding commentary at this place, it will be sufficient enough to take a few bits of information from there.


 Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, where the International Van Cliburn Piano Competitions are taking place. The distinguish Polish piano teacher of Italian origin, Prof. Margerita Trombini-Kazuro – former student of Egon Petri, and as well the former TEACHER of Barbara Hesse-Bukowska and Andrzej Ratusinski (for instance), was the member of The Jury of the 2nd Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.


Here you are the list of Members of the Jury (2005), which served at the 20th Competition: Mr. John Giordano (USA) - the conductor and the composer, leading the Jury from 1973; Mr. Marcello Abbado (Italy) - the composer and the pianist; Mr. Peter Cossé (Germany) - the sociologist and the philosopher, the musical adviser of many festivals; Mr. Richard Dyer (USA) - music critic; Mr. Claude Frank (USA) - the pianist and the teacher; Mr. Thomas Frost (USA) - producer (violinist, he also studied composition under Paul Hindemith); Mr. Joseph Kalichstein (Israel) - the pianist and the chamber musician; Mr. Jürgen Mayer Josten (Germany) - musicologist; Mr. Menahem Pressler (USA) - the pianist and the chamber musician; Mr. Tadeusz Strugala (Poland) - conductor; Mrs. Zhou Guangren (China) - teacher of the piano. Just 11 persons plus the Screening Jury (where the one new Member, Mrs. Yoheved Kaplinsky (Israel/USA).


Only the three Persons were the "pure piano teachers" here...


Reading the Rules of work of the Jury one could see many interesting things: "Water is H2O, two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen, but here acts something, a third element, what causes that this is just water. Nobody yet knows what it is." (D.H. Lawrance)


Two articles from Rules of the work of the Jury:


- "Even though we cannot be sure that on each of competitions we will be made happy discovering the Artist, we can have hope of identifying somebody who one day will become the Artist."


- "The Jury Member, who within four last years stayed in any informal, pedagogic or different professional relations with any of participants should reveal this fact and if the Chairman of the Jury decides this way, to stop oneself from judging him. Each of the Jury Members, who through the longer time stayed in any pedagogic or different relations with anybody of participants should reveal this fact..."


And for the end, third, very important point:


- "Breaking principles described in the points (above)... could cause leaving the Jury Member out of work or/and the disqualification of the participant."


I think that Petri could frankly be smiling both reading the quotations taken from these Rules and becoming informed that his teaching has been understood as so near to the Chopin's one. He truly was a man, who knew so much about the piano, and whom powerful intellect stayed in a perfect harmony with the truly vibrant emotionality...

Back to the Part I – Thank you!

At this place, I would like to express my profound thankfulness to Mr. Jamie Hippner-Page from Washington, USA, for his greater help in editing of this Petri-article!


Thank you so much – Dear Friend! 



Thank you, Dear Visitor, too – for your interest in EGON PETRI and his teaching system!

Any your comment would be received with the truly great appreciation!


Yours sincerely – S.K.



Actualized: 2007-10-31