The Arty Semite

Artur Schnabel: Great Pianist, Biting Wit

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Artur Schnabel (1882 –1951) is universally recognized as the one of the finest 20th century musicians, expressing uncommon emotional depth and spirituality as a pianist. (One teacher famously told him: “You will never be a pianist. You are a musician.”) Born the son of a Jewish textile merchant in Lipnik, Moravia (then part of Austria), Schnabel only began making records around age 40, but his legacy can be treasured through superlative reissues from EMI Classics, Naxos Historical, Appian Publications and Recordings and Music and Arts.

Schnabel’s human warmth and wry personality can also be appreciated in “Music, Wit, and Wisdom: The Autobiography of Artur Schnabel,” released by the German publisher Wolke Verlag. A new and unexpurgated edition of Schnabel’s posthumously published “My Life and Music,” “Music, Wit, and Wisdom” contains a dozen lectures given by Schnabel in 1945 at the University of Chicago, each followed by question-and-answer sessions with the public. Far more relaxed and candid than Schnabel’s 1940 lectures at the same venue, “Music and the Line of Most Resistance” (also published in an excellent edition by Wolke Verlag), “Music, Wit, and Wisdom” benefits from Schnabel’s growing mastery of English. Despite learning the language later in life, he delighted in creating puns, such as after a visit to a UK dentist: “I paid fifty shillings for these shifty fillings.”

In 1945 Schnabel’s humor was of course leavened with tragedy, and he details with devastating simplicity the fate of his surviving family in Vienna: “In 1942 my mother, at the age of eighty-four, was taken away by the Nazis and never heard of again.” Uncompromising in his views about some fellow Jews, Schnabel says of the author Stefan Zweig, “particularly in relation to music [he was] an unbelievably naive man, with a very cheap taste,” while the works of bestselling Beethoven biographer Emil Ludwig (born Cohn) he terms “really trash.” Of German industrialist Walther Rathenau, Schnabel says: “I think it was the resentment at having been born a Jew which irked him most.” And asked by an audience member if he ever planned to revisit Germany, Schnabel’s reply is of lapidary force: “I don’t want to go to a country to which I am only admitted because it has lost a war.”

Listen to Schnabel perform with his son, the eminent pianist and teacher Karl Ulrich Schnabel:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Walther Rathenau, Stefan Zweig, Artur Schnabel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.