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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

East of Vienna




Part 1



Vienna - Pressburg


To study rhythm, [Leschetizky] thought, one should go where rhythm was. What could be more instructive than going out to the gypsies in the Prater and listening to their wild, free rhythms! He would often be found there sitting by himself in a corner, absorbed in their peculiar manner of playing. ... some friends ... strolled over to a café house on the other side of the Prater, where the peasants were amusing themselves. Hearing curious sounds issuing from the place, they went inside. A girl with bells on her wrists was playing the piano and making a great noise, to the utmost delight of her audience. Over at one side sat Leschetizky, watching every move of the player ... 'I shall sit here until she stops, for she has perfect rhythm! She has played twenty times, and every piece was with a different rhythm. You've never heard heard anything like it...

The Prater was the nearest place to go to hear the gypsies play in Vienna, but he reminded us [students] that the wildest gypsies did not come near big places, and if people wanted to hear them play, they had to search for them. He thought one hardly knew how to play an Hungarian rhapsody until one had heard and appreciated the playing of the wildest band of gypsies...

Leschetizky led us ... down many streets to the outskirts of Pressburg [Bratislava], where we found a special type of gypsies. It might have been that they were the same ones whom he [along with Liszt and Anton Rubinstein] knew years before and who remembered him. At any rate, they must have recognised in Leschetizky a man after their own hearts, for, as he walked down the path toward them, they fairly swarmed about him, dancing around him, and began to play close to his ear. 'Don't play too well,' he said to one of them, 'we shall be jealous. We have much to learn from you, even if we know a little bit ourselves.' They asked him what he wanted to hear. 'I want to hear you,' he replied. 'Don't worry about what you play.'

They became very animated. They waved to us, and the whole band bowed from time to time. The leader walked round and round our table as he played, then back, nearer to his band, and they all leaned toward us as they made great crashes of crescendos or passionate diminuendos ... 'The gypsies have a dynamic quality and rhythm that very few people have... [Look at them.] They have forgotten everything but the pleasure of playing. They are magnificent!' Leschetizky gave them more money, and they played on. He was happy...

- Ethel Newcomb, Leschetizky As I Knew Him (New York 1921)


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