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Hermann Schwertmann (1919-2007)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 



The concert performance on Sunday, November 25th, 1951, by pianist Hermann Schwertmann and conductor Alexander Paulmuller with the Niederösterreichisches Tonkünstlerorchester of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B Flat, Op. 23, prompted Marcel Prawy to arrange for a recording session.

Poster courtesy Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.


 
 







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The firtst label of Remington R-199-76 with Hermann Schwertmann's performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto.

 

 

 

The second pressing of Remington R-199-76

 

 

 

 

 

The label of Remington R-199-76 in the later MUSIRAMA disguise but was originally not a MUSIRAMA recording.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hermann Schwertmann in the mid nineteen fifties.
Image copyright Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same performance was released by Don Gabor on his Plymouth label (P-12-43). But then on label and cover the name Hans Kessler was printed, a pseudonym for Hermann Schwertmann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When pianist Hermann Schwertmann, conductor Alexander Paulmüller and the 'Nieder-Österreichisches Tonkünstler Orchester' were rehearsing Tchaikowsky's First Concerto Op. 23 and the actual concert on the afternoon of Sunday, November 25, 1951, was a great succes, Marcel Prawy had already planned to tape the performance the next day in the Brahmssaal.
Tchaikovsky's popular Opus 23 was still missing in the growing Remington catalog of classical music. This was an opportunity to fill the gap.

 

Marcel Prawy, the well known Viennese lawyer/ musicologist/ dramaturge was Donald Gabor's producer for the recordings originating in Austria.
In the case of the Tchaikovsky concerto it was not the taping of the live performance on November 25th 1951. The recording was made on a separate day, because there are no noises of the public and there is no applause. It was a so called studio recording done in the Musikvereinssaal with its beautiful acoustics.
Despite all this, the performance of the popular B flat, Opus 23, by these artists is not impeccable, nor is it a quality sound recording. It is nevertheless a remarkable performance because it has many good moments.

In the difficult years after the Second World War, when producers of American record companies were traveling from one European city to another, instrumentalists, singers, orchestras and conductors were all too eager to make recordings.
Doing several takes was simply not done as the costs had to be kept low. If the sound quality may have been the primary objective of the technician, it was not always an important issue for the producer, nor for the artists. And certainly not in the case of those early recordings for a budget label like Remington was. To everyone involved it was more important to earn a living than to chisel and refine the end product.
Chances are that a relatively good sounding pressing can be encountered. The quality of a record also depends on the matrix production, the quality of the vinyl and the pressing process.

Konzertbüro der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien - Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Strauss: Burleske for Piano and Orchestra - Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1. Performed in one evening's concert. A tour de force for many a pianist. Not for Hermann Schwertmann.
Program courtesy Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.

Already in 1947 Hermann Schwertmann had performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 Op.23 with that same orchestra, but then conducted by Milo von Wawak. Especially for the pianist it was a demanding enterprise because also the First Concerto of Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss's 'Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra' were on the program that evening. And Schwertmann succeeded in rendering the full content of the piano part of all three compositions. Over the years critics were very positive about his performances. After the performance of Brahms's No. 1 in Sarajevo, the 'Oslobodjenje' of April 12, 1957 wrote:


'Schwertmann presented himself as a technical master of his instrument and is an artist with a high intellect and an excellent culture. It was very interesting to witness him while sinking deep into the core of Brahms's work.'
- Oslobodjenje', April 12, 1957

('Schwertmann hat sich als technischer Meister seines Instruments präsentiert und ist ein Künstler hohen Intellekts und ausnehmender Kultur. Es war sehr interessant, ihn bei der Versenkung in den Kern des Brahmsschen Werkes zu beobachten.')

The critic of 'Die Presse' reviewed in the edition of November 25th, 1952, Schwertmann's performance of the Shostakovich Concerto:


'Hermann Schwertmann cleverly sensed the rhythmic problems which Shostakovich's Piano Concerto presents'. - Die Presse, November 25th, 1952,

('Hermann Schwertmann hat sich mit viel Geschick in die rhythmischen Probleme eingelebt, welche Schostakowitsch' Klavierkonzert aufgibt'.)

The Tchaikovsky Concerto was certainly one of Schwertmann's favorites on the long list of solo concertos which he had on his repertory, ranging from the popular J.S. Bach to the modern, not well known composers Karl Senn and Ernst Ludwig Uray, including Gershwin's Concerto in F, Rachmaninoff's Second Concerto, and Beethoven's Emperor.


Johann Sebastian Bach - Concerto in D
Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 2, Piano Concerto No. 5
Johannes Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1
Frédéric Chopin - Piano Concerto No. 1
Claude Debussy - Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
George Gershwin - Piano Concerto in F
Edward Grieg - Piano Concerto
Joseph Haydn - Piano Concerto No. 7
Franz Liszt - Piano Concerto No. 2
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Piano Concertos KV271, KV 449 and KV 488
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 2
Dimitri Shostakovich - Piano Concerto
Karl Senn - Piano Concerto
Richard Strauss - Burlesque for piano and Orchestra
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky - Concerto No. 1
Ernst Ludwig Uray - ' Konzertante Musik' for Viola, Piano and Orchestra

Hermann Schwertmann was born on August 5th, 1919. His talent was soon discovered and already at the age of 14 he started studying the piano at the 'Staatsakademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Wien' (Viennese State Academy for Music and Dramatic Art). At the same time he studied at the 'Bundesgymnasium' and passed the final exams at the age of 18. From then on until the outbreak of World War Two, he studied musicology and the English language at the University of Vienna, while he continued to study the piano. He passed his exam ('Reifeprüfung für Klavier') with Bertha Jahn-Beer in 1938. He then studied for the next year with Emil von Sauer, and with Friedrich Wührer the year after. Again he passed his exam with high notes receiving the 'Diplom Konzertfach' (Concert Pianist Certificate).

But building a career was not on the program. On the 20th of December 1940, at the age of twenty one, he was drafted into the army and he formally served until the end of the war, but gave concerts at several occasions. After having been imprisoned by the Allied Forces, a fate of numerous citizens from all walks of life, the young pianist was released at the end of March 1946.

In 1947 at the time of the performance with the Tonkünstlerorchester conducted by Milo Wawak.
Image copyright Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.

A few days later, on April 1st, he took up the post of teacher at the 'State Academy for Music and Dramatic Arts' and was able to really start a career as a performer when, in that same year, he joined the 'Collegium musicum Wien'. He was a member until 1953. He also teamed up with harpsichordist/pianist Kurt Rapf to perform, as duo pianists, works for four hands and for two pianos, written in a variety of styles. Their repertory was quite extensive. And their success is well documented. The 'Kleines Volksblatt' from November 1st, 1950, wrote:


'The highlight of the evening brought the exact and swingful execution of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion of Bartók (...) by Kurt Rapf and Hermann Schwertmann.' -
Kleines Volksblatt, November 1st, 1950,

('Den Höhepunkt des Abends brachte die exakte und schwungvolle Aufführung der Sonate für zwei Klaviere und Schlagzeug von Bartòk (...) durch Kurt Rapf und Hermann Schwertmann.')

Hermann Schwertmann's list of works for two pianos:


Wilhelm Friedemann Bach -
Sonata
Béla Bartòk - Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion
George Bizet - Jeux d'enfants
Johannes Brahms - Liebeslieder-Walzer and Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Claude Debussy - Petite Suite, En blanc et noir, Six epigraphes antiques
Antonin Dvorak - 3 Slavonic Dances
Manuel de Falla - Nights in the Gardens of Spain
George Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue
Anton Heiller - Toccata
Paul Hindemith - Sonate (1938)
Manuel Infante - Danses Andalouses
Franz Liszt - Concerto pathetique
Peter Mieg - Concerto for 2 Pianos.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Fantasy for an Organ KV 608, Adagio und Fuge, Sonata KV 358, Sonate KV 448, Sonata for 4 Hands, Concerto for 2 Pianos K 365
Felix Petyrek - 4 Concert Studies, Toccata and Fugue
Sergej Rachmaninoff - Suite Nr. 2
Maurice Ravel - Ma Mère l'Oye
Max Reger - Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue Op. 96, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven
Karl Schiske - Sonate Op. 29 - 1949
Franz Schubert - Marches from Op. 40, Fantasy Op. 103
Norbert Sprongl - Capriccio - First performance
Igor Strawinsky - Die Bauernhochzeit
Esther Williamson - Sonata

Pursuing a career as a performing artists is not an easy task. Gradually the emphasis was put on teaching and on other important activities at the University where he helped reorganize the university's teaching plans. He also was responsible for the organization of the various competitions named after significant people: 'Bösendorfer Wettbewerb', 'Heydner Wettbewerb' and 'Rombro-Stepanow Wettbewerb', the contests for young students and upcoming artists. In 1960 he officially became a professor and in 1967 he received the title of 'extraordinary university professor' to be appointed 'university professor' only three years later, in 1970.

Hermann Schwertmann in 1952 at the the time when he was pursuing a career as a concert pianist.
Photo by Fayer, Vienna. Image courtesy Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.

Most musicians do not restrict their repertory to the works solely written for their specific instruments as a soloist in recitals and concertos. Hermann Schwertmann too had a vast repertory of chamber music, he was accompanying violinists and cellists, and other instrumentalists, and he often appeared as a member of chamber music ensembles. It is interesting to see what the repertory of an artist can look like, in this case that of Hermann Schwertmann.


Béla Bartòk - Second Sonata for Violin and Piano
Charles-Auguste de Bériot - 'Scène de ballet' for Violin and Piano
Ludwig van Beethoven - Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos. 1, 2, 5 (Spring), 7, 9 (Kreutzer), and 10; Sonata for Violoncello and Piano No. 3; Trio No. 4 for Clarinet, Violoncello and Piano
Johannes Brahms - Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano No. 1, Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn, Piano Quartet No. 2
Antonin Dvorak - Sonatine for Violin and Piano Op. 100
Walter Gieseking - Sonatine for Flute and Piano
Stephen Heller - Quintet for Clarinet, Violin, Violoncello and Piano
Kurt Hessenberg - Sonate F für Violine und Klavier
Paul Hindemith - Sonata for Flute and Piano, Sonata for Oboe and Piano, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Sonata for Bass and Piano
Jenö Hubay - Csárdas for Violin and Piano No. 4
Augustin Kubizek - Trio for Clarinet, Violoncello and Piano
Prinz Louis Ferdinand - Piano Quartet
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy - Sextet for Piano, Violin, Two Altos, Cello and Bass Op. 110
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Sonata for Violin and Piano KV 301
Friedrich Neumann - Sonata for Clarinet and Piano
Thomas Pitfield - Sonatine for Flute and Piano (1948)
Reinhold Portisch - Trio for Violin, Clarinet und Piano
Kurt Rapf - Trio (1984) for Clarinet, Violoncello and Piano
Max Reger - Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 139, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Piano Trio Op. 2
Karl Schiske - Sonata for Violin and Piano, Sextet for Clarinet String Quartet and Piano
Franz Schubert - Sonatina for Violin and Piano Op. 137/3, Trout Quintet
Robert Schumann - Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 121, 3 Fantasy Pieces Op. 73 for Cello and Piano, Piano Quintet Es-Dur
Friedrich (Bedrich) Smetana - Two Pieces from 'Aus der Heimat' for Violin and Piano
Norbert Sprongl - Sonata for Flute and Piano Op. 70, Third Violinsonata (World Première), Sonata for Bass and Piano Op. 74 (World Première), Quintet Op. 67
Richard Strauss - Sonata Op. 6 for Violoncello and Piano, Violin Sonata Op. 18
Erich Zeisl - Sonata for Cello and Piano
(1951)

And for a recital pianist there is also quite a number of pieces, mainstream and some modern works. This shows that there would have been ample opportunity to make more recordings of this pianist for whatever label.


Johann Sebastian Bach - Toccata and Fugue in E
Ludwig van Beethoven - Sonatas (Pathétique, Moonlight, Waldstein, Sonata Op. 78, Op. 111), Polonaise Op. 89, Rondo 'Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen', Eroica Variations
Johannes Brahms: Rhapsodie in E
Alfredo Casella - 11 Pezzi infantili (1920)
Frédéric Chopin - Ballades Nos. 1 and 3, Etüde Op. 10 Nos. 3, 4, 7 and 12, Mazurkas (Op. 6 No. 2, Op. 68 No. 2, Op. 68 No. 3, Op. 37 No. 2), Prelude Op. 28 No. 2, Polonaise Op. 53, Polonaise Op. 21, Nocturne in F, Introduction et Polonaise Op. 22, Scherzo Op. 39
Muzio Clementi - Sonata in G
Claude Debussy - Suite pour le piano
Georg Friedrich Händel - Partita A-Dur, Sonata
Karl Herrmann - Sonata
E. T. A. Hoffmann - Sonate
Franz Liszt - Sonata in B, Polonaise in E, Rigoletto-Paraphrase
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy - Lied ohne Worte (Song Without Words) Op. 19 No. 9, Variations sérieuses Op. 54
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Sonatas (in A, in B)
Max Reger - Intermezzi Op. 45, Humoreske Op. 20 Nos. 1 and 4
Erwin Christian Scholz - Third Piano Sonata Op. 52
Franz Schubert - Sonata D 485, Sonata in A, Impromptu in B, Impromptu in E flat, Moment musical Op. 94 Nos. 1, 2 and 6
Robert Schumann - Carneval Op. 9, Toccata in C Op. 7, Sonate in F sharp, Scherzo in A Op. 99
Norbert Sprongl - Four Preludes for Piano, Four Dance Pieces for Piano Op. 96
Carl Maria von Weber - Rondo brillant Op. 62

Hermann Schwertmann appeared regularly in the studios of the ORF and there are certainly taped performances in the archives of the radio station. However the only commercial recording he made is Remington R-199-76, released in May 1952. There are several minor irregularities in the playing as the performance was taped in a limited time frame without the luxury of splicing. There are maybe two instances where a possible splice can be heard. Despite the stress caused by the adage "Nothing must go wrong", Schwertmann's approach is sensitive, and at times his phrasing is very beautiful. Passion and meditative intimacy alternate each other. The transition from cadenza to the finale of the first movement is refined.

His exceptional sense for rythm can also be heard in the second and third movements. His performance comes right from the heart and has no pretence which cannot be said of the later Conrad Hansen performance which is the stylish high school of pianoplaying approach loosing some of the emotional impact of this wonderful concerto. Hermann Schwertmann gives a sensitive, very personal rendition which, in its quality, is on par with for instance Alexander Uninsky's rendition on the Philips label with Willem van Otterloo conducting the Hague Residency Orchestra, also recorded in the early 1950s and first issued on A 00135 L.


The conductor of this performance, Alexander Paulmüller, was born in Innsbruck (Tyrol, Austria). He conducted orchestras at Breslau, Graz, Linz, and Vienna; at Kaiserslautern, Regensburg and Frankfurt am Main. From 1964 till 1972 he was conductor of the Würtemberg State Opera. Early in his career he was a choral conductor at the Vienna State Opera with Bruno Walter.

Alexander Paulmüller in the nineteen sixties when he was conductor of the Bruckner Orchestra (1958-1961) and of the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra (until 1972).

Alexander Paulmüller is the conductor of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meerestille und Glückliche Fahrt) and of Schubert's Symphony No.5 which was released on Remington R-199-86 about that recording Warren Demotte simply commented in the Long Playing Record Guide that the issue suffers "from poor recording".
Judging from the Tchaikovsky accompaniement it is clear that Alexander Paulmüller is a very good conductor. Like Kurt Wöss, he studied for a short time with legendary Felix Weingartner in Vienna. Weingartner was conductor of the Vienna State Opera from 1927-1935. Naturally many students tried to get tuition from the esteemed conductor. - R.A.B.

Hermann Schwertmann gives a very personal account of Tchaikovsky's First. There is an added sense of a live recording and there is no cold calculation in the music making, there is no bravura for the sake of it, no virtuosity to impress.
In his assessment in the early nineteen fifties of 18 recordings of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, critic Warren DeMotte wrote that this Remington was not a bargain. The listener may agree with him regarding the technical qualities of the recording and pressing, but definitely will disagree when considering the performance, the atmosphere and the concentration.

Click here for a Sound Clip of Tchaikovsky's
Piano Concerto No, 1 Op. 23.

J.F. Indcox, in his discography of 'Tchaikovsky Recordings on Microgroove' (High Fidelity, August 1954), said about R-199-76:


"Schwertmann's piano has an unpleasantly tinny sound, even though well removed from the mike and it is hard to admire the brassiness of the string tone, or the breathy woodwinds. As a performance it has its points being robust, occasionally imperious and has a good deal of animated conviction." - J.F. Indcox, 1954

The reviewer used the word "imperious" and he may be convinced that this is a just qualification. There is however no arrogance or disdain, nor is Schwertmann's position a dominating and overbearing one. The performance is integer and sincere. There is at times a very sensitive flow in the pianist's playing. That was probably what Indcox meant by writing "and has a good deal of animated conviction". For a better listening experience he could have applied a specific playback correction in order to attain a more or less correct frequency characteristic. Remington Records were generally cut in such a way that they would sound best on a simple gramophone player or portable gramophone. See for the right correction of Remington and other 1950 mono discs Dialing Your Discs.

The same recording was issued on the Plymouth label, but then, as Don Gabor often did, with a different (fantasy) name as soloist, in this case Hans Kessler, maybe to avoid extra license payments to Marcel Prawy, or just presenting a Tchaikovsky recording with a "different" artist in a cheaper issue for record buyers in super markets, or just to fool the record buying public.

One may regret that no other commercial recordings of Schwertmann were made and then with more recording time, so attention could have been paid to quality. Maybe someday radio recordings, made by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (OR, Österreichischer Rundfunk), will be published and then the listener could be taken by surprise again. The often cited phrase: 'It is a pity that not more recordings were made of this artist', is fully justified in the case of Hermann Schwertmann.



Remington R-199-76 from 1951 with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B Flat, Op. 23, performed by pianist Hermann Schwertmann, conductor Alexander Paulmuller and the Austrian Symphony Orchestra (Niederösterreichisches Tonkünstlerorchester). See also The Covers of Curt John Witt.

As is the case with Michèle Auclair's recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (R-199-20), here also the name of the composer is spelled the German (Austrian) way and printed on both cover and label. It shows that the spelling was copied from Marcel Prawy's text which accompanied the tape reel.

For many years in a row Hermann Schwertmann organized the Beethoven competitions and was a juror for several other competitions. His dedication to the cause of music resulted in receiving the 'Great Honor of Merit of the Austrian Republic' (Großes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich) awarded on September 25th, 1974, by the Ministry of Science and Research.
From 1978 till 1984 he also taught at the 'Japanese Summer Seminars'. Numerous were his students. Many of these do play a role as a pedagogue, an instrumentalist, or as a composer.
After 37 years of devoted teaching and managing, he retired in September 1984 at the age of 65.
Hermann Schwertmann lives in Vienna.

Rudolf A. Bruil - February 12th, 2006

Biographical details and images of Hermann Schwertmann, the poster and the program, were submitted by his daughter, cellist player Ursula Erhart-Schwertmann, Vienna.

On July 22, 2007, I received the sad message from his daughter that after a long and serious illness, pianist Hermann Schwertmann, aged 87, had passed away in Vienna on July 13, 2007.

R.A.B.

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Copyright 1995-2006 by Rudolf A. Bruil