An Austrian pianist
and composer, a child prodigy
and one of the foremost interpreters of Beethoven
in the early twentieth century. He was the first to record all 32 Beethoven sonata
His style is spare and exact; not at all flamboyant. He was a chubby, well-living man, not the image of a romantic pianist. Schönberg said of his performances, "But when he played, there was a cathedral-like silence in the auditorium... his concerts were not circuses; they were communions. And when the audience dispersed, it was with a feeling of having been cleansed."
Schnabel was born on 17 April 1882 in Lipnik in Austria, moved to Vienna in 1889, and Berlin in 1900. He fled the Nazi régime and in 1939 settled in America, becoming a US citizen in 1944. When the War ended he settled in Switzerland and died there, in Axenstein, on 15 August 1951. He married the contralto Therese Behr in 1905, and their son Karl Ulrich Schnabel (b. 1909) was also a pianist.
Between 1891 and 1897 his teacher in Berlin was Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915), who also taught Ignacy Paderewski, and who was himself a pupil of Carl Czerny and therefore at two removes from Beethoven himself. Leschetizky famously declared to the 12-year-old, "You will never be a pianist, for you are a musician."
His public début was in 1890, in Berlin, aged eight. From 1912 he began recitals in collaboration with other great performers, such as Carl Flesch, Emanuel Feuermann, Pablo Casals, Joseph Szigeti, and Paul Hindemith.
His recording career began in 1930, and he did all the Beethoven sonatas for HMV, a series he had first performed for the composer's hundredth anniversary in 1927 in Berlin, and which he was to repeat in Berlin in 1932 and London 1934. He also did centenary recitals of Schubert Lieder with his wife in 1928. He recorded until the end of his life.
Although the range of composers he played was narrow and traditional - Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, Brahms, and Bach - his own compositions were quite modern, including an atonal style. He wrote a piano concerto (1901), three symphonies (No. 1 in 1946, premièred in Minneapolis), and five string quartets. Schnabel taught at Berlin from 1925 to 1933, and in Michigan in the 1940s.
He said, "I am attracted only to music which I consider to be better than it can be performed. Therefore I feel (rightly or wrongly) that unless a piece of music presents a problem to me, a never-ending problem, it does not interest me much."
Noded to the accompaniment of Schnabel playing Bach.