Arthur Rubinstein

Great Pianists Profile:

Golden Piano Sound

“You cannot play the piano well unless you are singing within you.”

 “My first musical impressions were formed by the lugubrious and plaintive shrieks of factory sirens.”

About his birth town Lodz

“My father had a preference for the violin. He presented me a small fiddle, which I promptly smashed to pieces.”

My instinctive need was for polyphony and harmony

“When my older sister was practicing and made a mistake, I was the one who did the slapping. Half in fun, half in earnest.”

I was the one who did the slapping 

“..and with my back to the piano, I would call the notes of any chord, even the most dissonant ones. From then on, it became ‘mere child’s play’ to master the intricacies of the keyboard.”

I learned to know the keys by their names

“Her chief effort was to make me keep my elbows close to the body and to play scales without dropping the coin she placed on my hand. After three months of vain struggle, she had to admit her defeat.”

My first teacher was a Mrs. Pawlowska, a typical component of the old school

“The Master took little account to my sister’s elaborate account of my talents. Being suspicious of child prodigies he planned to find out by himself. After he told my mother: ‘This boy may become a very great musician. He certainly has the talent for it. When time comes for serious study, bring him to me, and I shall be glad to supervise his artistic education.”

One morning I was taken to Joseph Joachim

“Professor Barth was a formidable personality. I was terrified by him. Nobody before had inspired so much fear in me than this sixty-year-old man! But I soon realised that I was not the only one to suffer when I saw many of his pupils in tears after their lessons. There was a sort of naïve honesty and integrity to his teaching.”

The question of schooling was a very important one.

“Sometimes I think, not so much am I a pianist, but a vampire." 

All my life I have lived off the blood of Chopin 

“Picasso and I talked for hours about everything; we understood each other perfectly. Our good friendship began that night and is still alive after all these years.”

1916 - We met in Madrid at the Café Levante

“Are you painting this subject on commission? - ’What a stupid question’ he said, ‘Every minute there is another light, every day is different too, so whatever I paint becomes always a new subject.’ This was a great lesson to me.”

On my daily visits, I watched Picasso paint the same subject over and over again 

“Now I have successes with women because I am old. Middle age was the hardest part.”

When I was young, I used to have successes with women because I was young

“The President read a long complimentary speech on a specially erected dais, which I answered with a spontaneous improvised one after a sleepless night. The Presidential plane took us back to New York”

President Ford bestowed me on the Medal of Freedom at the White House

“During the deliberations of the jury in the Chopin Competition, I noticed a hostile attitude toward Michel Block, who had no supporters behind him like the others. So I decided to add to the prizes a special one, the Arthur Rubinstein Prize, and bestow it upon Mr. Michel Block.”

I’m the person who cannot stand obvious injustice.

“Queen Juliana offered a state dinner in our honor. I remember how amused she was when I told her that, as a young boy, I played a concert in honor of her grandmother,’s birthday in the precence of her recently married mother.”

My Dutch audience always inspired me to give them my best

“Why did you agree to play those pieces? You could have asked me for some concertos for whom you feel a little more respect. I shall not play with you at all. He came to my hotel room with loud apologies. “All right,” I said, “but how we play tonight without a rehearsal?” ‘Oh,’ he smiled, ‘I could conduct these works by heart No problem.’

Bernstein on Grieg: ‘This music is not even worth to talk about’ 

Receiving the Kennedy Center honors at the White House from President Carter in 1978.

Congratulations to Arthur Rubinstein, a great American! 

“Igor,” I said, “you play the piano abominably. Your tone is so hard that it could make me hate my instrument.”

Stravinsky: “You have it easy, you play a few pieces and they hand you a good sum of money.” 

“They could put me in chains and I still would be free because my thoughts would be mine - and that's all I want to have.”

I'm a free person; I feel terribly free

“My long experience with women proved to me that the lover has the advantage; he shows himself to the object of his love in the best light and only at moments chosen by himself. Now look at the fate of the husband. He is always around even if she wants to see less of him.”

I was determined not to marry

When I play, I make love 

– it is the same thing.

It’s all a miracle 

“To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings – it’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life miracle to miracle.”

“-except an unconditional acceptance of life, and what it brings.”

There is no formula for success

“I was lucky enough to have the chance to make new records of the same compositions in the hope of improving them”

It was my good fortune to make some records with the brilliant Daniel Barenboim

“-he profits from the opportunity to creep into your nose while you are busy with your hands at the keyboard.”

The worst enemy of a pianist is the fly

“At most of my concerts, the brain, which helps me to prepare my work, is at peace. It is the inspiration, the urge to transmit the music to the listeners which I like to call soul.”

On the Soul

“The pianistic exuberance and the technical ease of Vladimir Horowitz made me feel deeply ashamed of my persistent negligence and laziness in bringing to life all the possibilities of my natural musical gifts.”

There was much more than sheer brilliance and technique

“By reading a few times a work which I wanted to include in my repertoire, I was able to grasp clearly, in my own way, the intentions of the composer. I often used the expression; it must speak to me.”

I changed my habit very little when I learned new pieces

“When I sit in Paris in a cafe, surrounded by people, I don't sit casually - I go over a certain sonata in my head and discover new things all the time.”

I discover new things all the time

“A short, red-headed boy (Gilels) shook his hands timidly and went straight for the piano. With the first few bars of the Appassionata by Beethoven, I felt I was in the presence of a true God-given talent.”

A true God-given talent

“Richter played three pieces by Ravel. These I had never heard played so beautifully; his ‘Oiseaux tristes’ still remains with me. But then came a complete revelation, the Fifth Sonata of Scriabin.”

Richter emerged as the great pianist we had all heard about 

“They always wanted me to do them with Heifetz but I refused because he treated these sonatas as solo pieces with accompaniment.”

I recorded the violin sonatas by Brahms and my favorite three by Beethoven with Szeryng 

“But I must say, in my defense, that it is not so good, in a musical way, to overpractice. When you do, the music seems to come out of your pocket. If you play with a feeling of 'Oh, I know this,' you play without that little drop of fresh blood that is necessary – and the audience feels it.”

I was born very, very lazy and I don't always practice very long

“I feel that special secret current between the public and me. I can hold them with one little note in the air, and they will not breathe. That is a great, great moment.”

I can hold them with one little note in the air

“If it's not noble, then it's not very good... Music is an art of emotion, nobility, dignity, greatness, love, of tenderness. All that must be brought out in music but never a show of pompousness.”

Never sound pompous

I never took time to practice note by note

“This dreadful negligence remained with me until the years when the recording industry required all the notes to be played properly and faithful to the text. At the same time, it taught the audiences to expect from live performances the same faultless execution.”

“I’ve found that if you love life, life will love you back. People are always setting conditions for happiness… I love life without condition.”

I love life without condition 

“ I feel what people get out of me is this outlook on life, which comes out in my music. My music is the last expression of all that.”

Music is not a hobby, not even a passion with me; music is me