The last concert I attended was on March 6, at Carnegie Hall. Onstage were three famous soloists, performing as a trio: Emanuel Ax, piano; Leonidas Kavakos, violin; and Yo-Yo Ma, cello. Their program was all-Beethoven, in honor of the composer’s two-hundred-fiftieth birthday. They played a trio, of course, but also two sonatas: one for violin and piano, and one for cello and piano.
Did you notice that I said “for violin and piano”? A sonata “for violin and piano”? (We’ll leave the cello sonata to one side.) Before the piece began, I turned to the friend sitting next to me—a pianist—and said, “Remember: Beethoven called these ‘sonatas for piano and violin’!” He smiled broadly.
Many years ago, a pianist friend of mine—another one—informed me of this fact. It doesn’t make much difference, but it’s something that pianists may feel a certain pride in.
Well, the latest episode of my music podcast, Music for a While, is headed “Springtime.” It includes excerpts from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F, Op. 24, nicknamed “Spring.” (Did I just say “Violin Sonata”?) I chose to play a recording by Szeryng and Haebler.
Henryk Szeryng, remember, was the violinist born in Poland who went to Mexico after the war. He lived from 1918 to 1988. Ingrid Haebler, born in 1929, is still with us. She is an Austrian pianist. In my judgment, Szeryng and Haebler were one of the greatest violin-and-piano duos on record. (Yes, I mean “record” in more than one sense.)
When I was a kid, Szeryng played all the Beethoven sonatas in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The pianist in these recitals was György Sándor, the Hungarian.
Would you like to take a look at the Szeryng-Haebler album? Go here. On the cover, we see “Beethoven: The Sonatas for Piano and Violin. Die Sonaten für Klavier und Violine. Les 10 Sonates pour Piano et Violon.” And note the order of the names: “Haebler. Szeryng.”
I’ll be darned. That is old-school.
In a nostalgic mood, I’ve walked down Memory Lane, which is to say I have Googled. I’ll be darned (again). On those programs back in Ann Arbor, Sándor’s name—the pianist’s name—came first. Have a look.
No offense to violinists—you can’t play these sonatas without them!—but pianists everywhere might smile a bit.