Piano Spheres has lost its founder and Artistic Director. Leonard Stein, our dear friend and mentor, died peacefully in Burbank, California, June 24, 2004.
According to his will, Leonard’s ashes were scattered at sea on 7/9/04 off the coast of Long Beach, California. Members of the family, friends and the Piano Spheres artists participated in the simple ceremony. It was a beautiful day with blue skies as the boat circled while we threw flowers in the sea to mark the spot.
Stein was a revered musical resource in Los Angeles. He was composer Arnold Schoenberg’s teaching assistant at UCLA, personal assistant until 1951, edited Schoenberg’s Style and Idea as well as other theoretical and musical works of Schoenberg, and became founding Director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California from 1975 until his retirement in 1991. Although Leonard Stein’s name will always be closely linked with Arnold Schoenberg as one of that composer’s foremost interpreters, he was ecumenical in his musical interests and befriended most of the world’s leading composers, conducting and performing their music throughout his career. He was mentor and teacher to some of the outstanding composers and musicians of today including Marni Nixon, Kimball Wheeler, Dean Drummond, LaMonte Young, Catherine Gayer and Jacalyn Bauer Kreitzer. As impresario, he presented over 400 composers (most of them still living) in his tenure at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, and as Mark Swed wrote recently, his “…Encounters series in Pasadena [made] Southern California a focal point for the most advanced music from Europe, Asia and America.” After his retirement he founded Piano Spheres concerts enlisting, as he said, “the best, young pianists in Los Angeles” who with Stein have for 10 years performed piano music of many periods, prodding audiences to participate in appreciating the creation of new works, many commissioned by the pianists themselves. His lectures, lecture-concerts and participation in conferences and symposia seemed effortless and immanently approachable, belying exhaustive research and musical analysis as he offered inspired insights into the music; he continued to lecture and perform internationally until his death. Stein was a “musician’s musician”, raconteur and willing sparring partner with musical Los Angeles.
Piano Spheres presented a concert honoring the memory and accomplishments of Leonard Stein on Saturday, December 11 at 4:00 p.m. at the Pasadena Neighborhood Church, 301 No. Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, CA. The concert program highlights include several Schoenberg works: selections from the Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret Songs) and the Early Songs by Marni Nixon and Mark Robson–which Ms. Nixon recorded and often performed with Stein; the Fantasy for violin and piano performed by RoseMary and John Harbison; Op. 19 Piano Pieces by Gloria Cheng; and the Webern two-piano, four-hand arrangement of the Prelude to the Gurre-Lieder which will be performed by all four pianists from Piano Spheres.
Of special significance for this program, Leonard Stein’s own compositions will have their first known performance. His Waltz for piano, four-hands will be performed by Susan Svrcek and Vicki Ray; and the Viertel-Lieder, based on poems by Berthold Viertel, will be shared by Nixon, Kimball Wheeler, Rosemary Harbison and Ray.
Other works on the program include the Ravel Kaddisch from “Deux melodies Hèbraïques” sung by Wheeler with Mark Robson pianist; Busoni’s Berceuse by Ray; Ives’ “Thoreau” from The Concord Sonata by Svrcek; and the Schumann Romance in F# performed by Robson. Joel Krosnick will perform a work for unaccompanied cello (TBA), and RoseMary Harbison and Susan Svrcek will join Krosnick for a performance of a J.S.Bach Chorale Prelude, “Das alte Jahr vergangen ist”, a favorite of Stein’s arranged under his tutelage by Berthold Tuercke.
leonard stein, 87; schoenberg institute chief, pianist, teacher
By Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 25, 2004
Leonard Stein, who as a pianist and authority on the works of Arnold Schoenberg became one of the preeminent figures in Los Angeles’ musical life, has died. He was 87.
Stein, director of the Schoenberg Institute at USC from its inception in 1975 to 1991, died Thursday of natural causes at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
With a passion for the newest of new music that he maintained throughout his life, Stein was a close friend of many of the great 20th century composers, such as Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky and Pierre Boulez. But he also remained a champion of any number of young local composers and performers.
Until the last month or two of his life, when he began to show signs of frailty, he was regularly seen (and heard) at concerts of contemporary music, candidly expressing his opinions, open to almost anything new but suffering no fools. He continued to schedule concerts as well, and they nearly always included a premiere.
Stein was a no-nonsense pianist. He was – adamantly – not a demonstrative player. He valued clarity above all, and he had the rare ability to make immediate sonic sense of structurally complex music, especially that written in the 12-tone system. But he hardly limited himself to the piano or to Schoenberg, with whom he first studied in 1935. As a teacher who, at one time or another, was associated with most of the major universities and colleges in the Southland, Stein influenced a broad range of students, including avant-gardist La Monte Young – one of the originators of Minimalism – and Van Cliburn Competitionwinning pianist Jan Nakamatsu.
Stein also influenced musical life in Los Angeles as a concert presenter.
In 1960, he organized the Encounters series in Pasadena, making Southern California a focal point for the most advanced music from Europe, Asia and America.
Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage were among the composers who participated. In 1994, three years after he retired from teaching, Stein organized Piano Spheres, a series of piano recitals that offers some of the liveliest programming in town. He also continued to play one recital a year in the series, although he canceled this year’s because of illness.
“He was a wonderful man, a wonderful pianist and a wonderful influence,” said Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in upstate New York and music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony.
“We associate strong judgmental commitments with intolerance,” Botstein added. “But here was a person who had a profoundly rooted perspective on how music should be understood and written, and combined it with an enormously gracious and open-minded perspective.” Lawrence Schoenberg, the youngest of the composer’s children, also remembered Stein’s strong opinions. “He was very dedicated and always defending my father,” said Schoenberg, who fondly recalled being taken, as a child, to baseball games by Stein. “He was always the first to write a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times after a nasty review. As a teacher, he was the most important advocate of my father.”
Stein was a lifelong Angeleno. Born in 1916, he attended Los Angeles City College and studied with Richard Buhlig, a colorful local pianist with close ties to composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin. When Schoenberg fled the Nazis and settled in Los Angeles in 1934, Stein immediately enrolled in his classes at USC and UCLA. Stein said he always felt privileged to have learned about music in Los Angeles.
“I got a good education just by listening to fine music,” he told The Times in 2001, “because of the refugees and people like Buhlig…. I didn’t plan on a career as a pianist by going to the Eastern schools … which back then anyone who wanted to have a career had to do. I just stuck around.” While earning a master’s degree at UCLA – where he had also received his bachelor’s – Stein served there as Schoenberg’s teaching assistant from 1939 to 1942. From 1941 until the composer died 10 years later, Stein was his personal assistant, working closely with Schoenberg on the editing of his scores. Through the composer, Stein also gained entree into the local emigre community, where he got to know many writers, painters and musicians who had fled Germany and Austria. Only after Schoenberg’s death did Stein begin to play the composer’s piano music widely. During the ’50s, he was a frequent performer at the Monday Evening Concerts, which are now part of the music program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
It was also during this period that Stein began a long teaching association with Southern California institutions of higher education, including Occidental College, Los Angeles City College, Pomona College, UCLA, UC San Diego, Cal State Dominguez Hills, California Institute of the Arts and what is now Claremont Graduate University. Stein’s most important academic appointment, however, was to the directorship of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at USC in 1975. Housed in a specially designed Bauhaus building on campus, the facility was the repository of Schoenberg’s archives. But, ever the practical musician and promoter of living composers, Stein began a groundbreaking concert series in the institute’s intimate concert hall, where he often featured such emerging artists as the Kronos Quartet playing cutting-edge music. Stein’s retirement in 1991 proved a fatal blow to the institute. USC, which had long had its eye on the building, eventually withdrew its support, and in 1998 the archive was transferred to Vienna.
Retirement meant little to Stein, who still played, taught and ran Piano Spheres. He also continued to write about Schoenberg and edit Schoenberg materials. Among the most important books he edited were several volumes of Schoenberg’s teaching manuals and “Style and Idea,” a collection of the composer’s writings. Mark Robson, one of the pianists involved with Piano Spheres, once compared Stein to the wizard of Oz. “It’s a funny metaphor,” Robson told The Times three years ago, “but [he’s] someone who tells you to go out and get the broomstick from the witch. He is someone who encourages people to flesh out things that they come up with themselves.”
Stein is survived by a niece, Betty Coleman, and a nephew, Phil Stein, both of Los Angeles. His wife, Marie D. Stein, died in 1986. Plans for a memorial are pending.
Times staff writer Chris Pasles contributed to this report.
© 2004 Los Angeles Times
tributes: leonard stein, 1916-2004
Leonard’s obvious influence on me as a pianist was through the instigation of a concert series that would permit me to explore personalized repertoire and to become a more widely regarded local performer. As a musician, I think one of his most valuable legacies was his synoptic view of developments in twentieth century music; he imbibed a variety of currents and factions with objective perception–a few preferences and proclivities notwithstanding–and shed light on general directions in the art. His viewpoint on many topics has produced a lingering impression.
I can’t really testify to Leonard’s influence on me as a person, but I did find him to be an entertaining eyewitness to trends in all aspects of culture; furthermore, his position as a Los Angeles native helped me to feel in touch with one source of American musical history. His steadfast and fearless pursuit of outlets for musical performance was admirable–he seemed not to recognize any ultimate obstacles in the realization of an artistic project such as a concert series, displaying the worthy traits of patience and thrift as he cultivated and nurtured his goals.
My metaphorical description of him elsewhere as a “Wizard-of-Oz” type could be embellished further with the portrait of a pragamatic believer in workaday marvels who had a basically positive outlook on life’s progress. He continually encouraged me to pursue many facets of my talent, whether or not it seemed tantamount to retrieving the witch’s broom!
Finally, Leonard’s writing remains a model of lucidity and succinctness. One of the fruits of his editorial skills, Style and Idea–a compilation of Schoenberg’s writings– holds a privileged place on my bookshelf.
Leonard will always be remembered for the benevolence he conveyed, with a knowing twinkle in his eye, upon the lucky many of us whom he mentored. He is often described as having been curmudgeonly. That is only because he cared more about music than about politesse.
My relationship with Leonard began inauspiciously on a spring afternoon in 1978 at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute on the University of Southern California campus. As the Director of the Institute from its founding in 1975 until his retirement in 1991, Leonard regularly presented fascinating programs of 20th-century music. On this occasion, he had organized a festival of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. A student at the time, I had been invited to perform Schoenberg’s iconic Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19, that evening and arrived early to try out the piano. I was mid-phrase in a soft passage when a wiry figure suddenly bolted through the auditorium uttering one terse pronouncement: “THAT’S not pianissimo!” And then he disappeared. What I didn’t know at the time was that as Schoenberg’s longtime assistant and editor of his music and writings, Leonard had memorized every note and dynamic marking that Schoenberg ever wrote.
Since that time, in addition to keeping my pianissimos honest, Leonard became one of my most treasured musical sounding boards. He was enormously generous with advice, support, frank (and often blunt) opinions, and imaginative insights, and he inspired with his openness towards so many compositional styles. He contributed to musical life in Los Angeles in so many ways, and continued to perform the most daunting repertoire up until this past year. Through his teaching, his advocacy of young composers and performers, his lively leadership of the Institute and the Encounters series, his launch of the unique Piano Spheres series, and as a singular link to Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Los Angeles’ first flowering as a haven for contemporary music, Leonard made a difference for all who knew him.
My last encounter with Leonard was on the night he died. He was disoriented from his medications as well as from our sudden appearance in his hospital room. Nonetheless, there were things that still mattered greatly to him. He looked straight at me and demanded: “What is your Piano Spheres program for this fall?” I detailed my recital for him and knew that for those brief moments I had his complete attention. He seemed satisfied.
The above was written for The OPEN SPACE Magazine and will appear in Issue No. 6, 2004
You asked how Leonard influenced me as a pianist and as a person. When I begin to think of Leonard pianistically the first thing that comes to mind is clarity. Leonard loved counterpoint. When he played I sometimes felt that I was at an aural/visual demonstration of the structure of a piece. As if each line he played had a laser-pointer outlining what he wanted us all to hear. And along those same lines he was very sparing with the pedal in his devotion to the clarity of the counterpoint. I’ve found myself many times thinking of that clarity when I play Bach, or Schoenberg or many other composers! On a personal level Leonard’s influence is more far-reaching. How can I begin to explain, or even understand what this wonderful person has meant to me? It will be an ongoing process to be sure. He has imbued my life with a sense of challenge, risk, high-jinks, scholarship and rigor. He helped my career in countless ways. He always encouraged my own musical individualism even when he didn’t personally agree with the aesthetic. His generosity of spirit goes with me into every lesson I teach. I feel him watching and listening and as always, asking: “So? What are you going to play this year?”
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the various ways in which you’ve been a part of my life over the last thirty years or so.You probably don’t recall that I was in your classes at Cal Arts back in the early 1970’s. But I still have the class notes that I took and all the syllabi that you typed out on that old typewriter of yours! You were so giving as a teacher! Who else would have just said “yes” to a request by a couple of us students for a class in the late Beethoven String Quartets?
(And so immediately that we began the next week, meeting in a cafeteria!)
I remember once I called you from New Haven, while I was a student at Yale. I must have had some question about a project, and you were right there to talk to me and explain whatever it was I didn’t understand! I don’t even recall the exact subject, but I DO know that it was very clear to me that YOU would have the answer!
Quite a few years ago, I was teaching a student from the Claremont Graduate School, and we were working on some Schoenberg. As he and I were a bit uncertain about some notation, it occurred to me to call you with a Question that perhaps was obvious in its answer, but you were so willing to make it even clearer to us.
And I will always remember how you treated my student Joyce when she came to you for a lesson! She had worked on the Op. 19 Schoenberg piano pieces, and how thrilled she was after that two hours with you! You were so gracious to work with her. I suspect it influenced her musical direction! You wrote me a note after that lesson with her, saying how important it is to encourage our young people and that it had got you thinking again about some of the intricacies of phrasing, pedaling, and such, in Schoenberg’s music.
Lots of people know that because of you and your performance of Rick Lesemann’s Concerto for Piano and Electronic Tape, I got to know Rick –and well, the rest is history!
I don’t remember exactly when or how you came to ask me about being involved with Piano Spheres. All I know is that it has been a driving force in my life. That series has opened my eyes and continues to push me to my limits– and a few times, a bit beyond!
Thank you, Leonard, and I miss you. But your spirit is always with me.
Haiku for Leonard Stein
ears and heart open
to bold new worlds of music
embracing the best
reaching toward the lofty peaks
ever aiming high
yet relishing life’s pleasures
some fun is good too
It is difficult for us to imagine life without Leonard. He was like a mountain – his musical knowledge and standards reaching to the sky, his frugal practicality providing a solid base. And, of course, he seemed eternal. Throughout his long life in music, Leonard’s generous, venturesome spirit helped many musicians, and opened exciting new aural vistas for many listeners. Our aim for Piano Spheres is to carry on in Leonard’s spirit of independent adventure for years to come.
From its modest beginnings in 1994 at Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church, Piano Spheres’ path has continued upward, culminating in a happy relocation to Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School of Performing Arts two years ago. Leonard considered it especially important for me to thank all our old friends, since their support has made these ten seasons possible. We also are eager to welcome new friends, as we look forward to our eleventh season, and continuing expansion.
The best way to keep a memory of someone, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person. – The Dalai Lama
We plan to carry on with Piano Spheres.
I was a composition student of Leonard Stein in the mid 1960’s. I am presently a biophysicist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. I would like to submit the accompanying poem, if it is appropriate to your purposes, in memoriam of this extraordinary individual.
A Butterfly for Leonard Stein
Imagine a gigantic
bag of adjectives
boxes of airy space
saltations to no
for no particular
even aware of
of its own
Mary A. Hannon
Leonard Stein, Mentor Extraordinaire
Leonard Stein filled a room with his presence simply by being there. His life was music and the family of musicians who enjoyed his influence and friendship. His death on June 24th was a huge loss to the music world but his presence will live on in the rich legacy he has left to all of us.
I first encountered Leonard on my voice-mail when he left his phone number, no name, and a message regarding Piano Spheres. I was dumbfounded to learn that the voice was Leonard’s because I had planned to talk with him only after preparing myself by reading Style and Idea, the book he edited containing the selected writings of Arnold Schoenberg.
Our first in-person conversation occurred during the intermission of Susan Svrcek’s Piano Spheres recital in 2001. Susan dedicated her performance of Frederick Lesemann’s Concerto for Piano and Electronic Tape to Leonard, who had premiered it in 1980 and for whom it was written. Susan attended that premiere and Leonard’s performance changed the direction of her musical career. After telling Leonard how deeply moved I was by Susan’s dedication to him, his reply was “But she plays it so much better than I did.”
During the last years of his life, Leonard’s great joy was Piano Spheres. He delighted in celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and worked tirelessly to insure its successful future.
Leonard was a mentor extraordinaire. The power of his influence was matched by his personal humility in the service of great music and talented musicians. His footprint merits a permanent place on the distinguished road of music history.
Originally published in Piano Forte Vol. 7, no.4
P.O. Box 3124
So. Pasadena, CA 91030
Leonard Stein was directly responsible for the start of my career. I first met him when I was 23. He was a colleague of my voice teacher, Herta Glaz, and his encouragement with my voice, musicality and affinity for the music of Schoenberg and German works in general awakened in me the possibility that I could and would have a career.
With a lot of care and time on his part, Leonard inspired me to learn the Schoenberg String Quartet in F# minor, Opus 10, and that was the work for which the LA Philharmonic, conducted by Simon Rattle at the time, needed a mezzo-soprano for a series of concerts. Dr. Stein arranged an audition for me during an orchestra rehearsal; it was a great success, and many engagements came as a result. I went on to sing the work with many quartets and orchestas, and it remains of course, very special to me. Leonard made me believe that at 24, I had the muscianship and musicality necessary to perform these very difficult works, and he was always there for me when I doubted myself.
Just knowing Leonard Stein widened my horizons far beyond my small town Oregon background; his constant prodding of me with stories, anecdotes, educational perserverance in not only music, but history, politics and world awareness forced me to grow rapidly and take on more and more challenging musical projects, career objectives, and personal growth goals.
He had a profound influence on me, and I don’t know how he found the time to help not only me, but many musicians he believed in. I will never forget our many special concerts and recordings together, and our travels. I miss him profoundly, but am so very, very lucky and privileged to have known one of the greatest of human beings.
Remembering Leonard Stein
Leonard Stein (b. Los Angeles, 1 December, 1916; d. Los Angeles, 24 June, 2004).
American musicologist. He studied music theory and composition with Schoenberg at the University of Southern California (1935-36) and at the University of California at Los Angeles (BA 1939, MM 1941, MA 1942); he was Schoenberg’s teaching assistant at the latter (1939-42) and his private assistant (1942-51). In 1965 he received the DMA from the University of Southern California with the dissertation “The Performance of Serial and Twelve-Tone Music for the Piano”. From 1946 he taught at institutions in California, and was adjunct professor at the School of Music at the University of Southern California in 1975. he was director of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at the University of Southern California from 1975 until his retirement in 1991 and editor of its journal (1976-90). Besides writing articles on Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School, he edited many of Schoenberg’s collections of essays, as well as several compositions for the complete edition. He has toured the USA and Europe as a pianist and conductor.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
At the time that I was finishing my undergraduate studies and beginning to look around for a place to do graduate work, the name Leonard Stein was offered repeatedly as a reply to my almost desperate inquiries about with whom I might study the 20th century piano repertoire. I was completing four stimulating years as the student of John Perry, a distinguished pianist/teacher whose specialties were Beethoven and Schubert, and whose advocacy of works by conservative university-based composers was an important part of his pianistic activities. My curiosity about more adventurous composers was growing, though, and the only reaction from fellow piano students to my wild enthusiasm for the bizarre sounds of Boulez, Cage, Wolff and Lucier was uncomprehending silence. During those years, I played Schoenberg’s Op. 11 and the piano part of Pierrot Lunaire, Ruggles’ Evocations, and Stockhausen’s Klavierstück IX, and became good friends with the composition and philosophy students.
Those were the days when Leonard was one of just a few pianists in the United States who played the most radical, avant-garde music, music that we knew only from recordings and hard-to-come-by scores, and he counted many avant-garde composers among his friends and musical comrades. Of course, he also played what was, in those days, still “new music” – Schoenberg, Webern and Berg – and we listened, in the light of his professional and personal relationship with Schoenberg, with heightened attention and pleasure.
Eventually, I had to make a choice between Yale, which would have been a continuation of my work on the traditional repertoire, and the recently formed California Institute of the Arts, with its reputation for innovation and crazy experimentation (not always just in things musical). So when I arrived in California in 1975 to become Leonard’s student at Cal Arts I jumped immediately, with his friendly, and sometimes amused, guidance, into the cold, refreshing waters of Webern, Schoenberg, Boulez and Stockhausen. Right away, he conscripted me for duty in ensemble pieces by Carter, Ives, Berio and Earle Brown, and it was just what I’d been looking for.
I left my first lessons with Leonard , however, with a feeling of puzzlement, coming as I did from a world where lessons were filled with detailed criticism of each bar of music, more practicing and comparing of recordings with my own efforts and those of other students, followed by additional lessons on those same measures of music. Sessions with Leonard were more often my playing through of the piece, his correcting of the score’s misprints and my own naïve oversight of crucial musical elements (and wrong notes…) and then a wide ranging conversation about the composer of the work, who he, of course, knew. This led into stories about some of the other pianists he’d heard play the piece and about young composers he liked and recommendations of new pieces I should bring in the next week. It took me some time to recognize the new situation I was in.
It was during our weekly sessions at the piano that Leonard told me of the violent frenzy with which Boulez played his own piano music, and the connection between the seemingly sparse and ascetic music of Webern and the world of Schubert and Brahms. When I asked about Cage and Feldman, Leonard introduced me to Earle Brown, who happened to be at Cal Arts that year, telling me to take his course on experimental music and painting. After I’d worried out loud one day about how to continue my involvement in new music when I finished at Cal Arts, Leonard advised me to go to Italy to work with Frederic Rzewski.
Leonard’s seeming disinterest in teaching the traditional piano lesson stemmed not from a paucity of ideas about playing the pieces students brought to him but rather, I think, from his sense of his own life as a musician. The variety of his work was astonishing, and how interesting that he was not really known as “a pianist”, although he’d made many distinguished recordings at the keyboard. If you asked at random a number of people who’d encountered him or known him, what they knew him as, you’d get a kaleidoscope of answers: composer’s assistant, writer, editor, theorist, musicologist, lecturer, conductor, teacher, mentor and, yes, pianist. He was a wonderful example of a true musician, clarifying that music is a life, not a career.
Mentioning certain topics or asking a presumably innocent question of Leonard could bring forth a flow of reminiscences and impressions. He was particularly enthusiastic about Bertolt Brecht’s poetry, and amused by the writer’s prisoner-like appearance. I had a curiosity about Hanns Eisler, having just played the 2nd Sonata and the Op. 3 pieces (recommended to me, of course, by Leonard), and he enjoyed describing Eisler’s comical presence and good-natured character, which endeared the composer to many during his years in the United States. I’d often wondered about Leonard’s political leanings during the first decade that I knew him, as he expressed quite a few times an antipathy towards “political” music (especially pieces by Rzewski and Christian Wolff), and was unhappy that I would spend my time learning and playing such things. The composer/pianist Yuji Takahashi, who’d been invited by Leonard to play Xenakis’ Eonta in Los Angeles (it must have been the 1960s), told me that he felt Leonard had become much more open-minded as he aged. I witnessed this when, after a concert in 2001, where I’d played Rzewski’s hour-long The People United Will Never Be Defeated, his only criticism was an amused “It’s way too long!”
It was, in fact, Leonard who set an example of broadmindedness for us – in my case, introducing me to Eisler, Hauer, Reger, Busoni, guiding me through Schoenberg, Webern, Sessions, Stockhausen, Boulez, and reminding me, when I grew frustrated, thinking that I’d explored the farthest reaches of 20th century music, that “all music is new music”. He asked me many times, in a lightly mocking tone, why I refused to even consider certain composers or types of music and, ultimately, why I worried so much about everything.
I left Cal Arts and Los Angeles after two years and, following a period of doctoral study at the University of Colorado in Boulder, eventually settled with my wife, the composer Hyo-shin Na, in San Francisco. I took up a position on the piano faculty at Stanford and saw Leonard less frequently, although I kept in touch, until the advent of email, by writing letters and making the occasional phone call. During my first years in San Francisco, I traveled to New York, where I was involved in performances and recordings of pieces by Stravinsky and Schoenberg with Robert Craft. Craft, of course, had been the driving force behind Columbia’s complete Webern recordings made in the 1950s, and Leonard had been the pianist in the chamber works, and solo Variations, and had accompanied Marni Nixon in the songs. Craft still held Leonard in the highest esteem and spoke to me fondly of their work together. In 1989, I found myself feeling like a strange sort of shadow trailing far behind Leonard, when I played the harpsichord solo in a performance Craft conducted of Carter’s Double Concerto at Alice Tully Hall; he’d led the same piece in Los Angeles in 1962 with Leonard as the harpsichordist.
Leonard visited San Francisco a number of times in the 1990s, in association with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, for whom I was, at the time, one of the pianists. During the first of these visits, in 1993, he gave a remarkable performance (by memory, even though he was 77 at the time!) of Schoenberg’s Suite Op.25, along with the violin and piano Phantasy. A few years later, he returned to participate in a public discussion of Stockhausen’s music prior to a performance of Mantra. The appearance of “performers” on such panels in San Francisco is still exceedingly rare, composers being given pride of place almost exclusively. As such, Leonard’s presence was a testament not only to the breadth of his activities, but also to the respect afforded him as a pianist/intellectual (a rare creature). Leonard once told me that he had, in fact, “discussed” this issue of the accepted hierarchy of composer/performer with Schoenberg. When he proposed the equality and, even, superiority of the (in this case) pianist to the composer, in the light of the pianist’s versatility, experience with a wider range of music than the composer, and constant exposure to the real physical problems of making music by playing an instrument, Schoenberg simply wouldn’t hear of it, and the conversation went no further.
Leonard came to Stanford in May of 2001 to talk to the students and other members of the community, many of whom were there because they remembered a visit he’d made decades earlier. ( Sitting in the audience was Jon Nakamatsu, winner of the 1997 Van Cliburn piano competition who, as a teenager growing up in the Bay Area, had flown regularly to Los Angeles for theory lessons with Leonard.) At the conclusion of Leonard’s talk, he and I played the 2-piano version of Schoenberg’s Second Chamber Symphony, a piece he’d played countless times with numerous pianists. During two afternoons of rehearsal I enjoyed the wild, impetuous, highly dramatic feel of the music while playing at Leonard’s tempos, following his shifts of speed and dynamics, sometimes barely making it to the next page turn. This was animated, good-natured, high-spirited music making, completely devoid of any concern for perfectly simultaneous attacks and asphyxiating, unyieldingly steady tempi.
After the performance, a local musician who’d been in the audience approached me and asked what it was like to work with Leonard, and about the nature of our musical and intellectual interaction during rehearsals and what he imagined must have been a need to integrate our, at times, disparate visions of the piece. What could I say to such a question? “I just do what he tells me to do!”
Of the many projects undertaken by Leonard in the years I knew him, possibly the one with the most various and far-reaching repercussions is the annual series of piano recitals called Piano Spheres. Launched in 1994, with 4 younger Los Angeles pianists who had close associations with him, the series is a counterweight to the myriad piano recitals comprised of endless re-playings of the same narrow repertoire. Its focus is on not-so-frequently heard music, mostly of the 20th century, including everything from certain works of Beethoven, Liszt and C.P.E. Bach to masterworks of the early 20th century by Busoni, Cowell and, of course, Schoenberg, mid century – Boulez, Carter, Stockhausen – and a wide range of recently written pieces, some of them commissioned by Piano Spheres. For his own part in the series, Leonard gave recitals that included, among many other works, Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, the Boulez 3rd Sonata, the solo works of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, the Eisler 3rd Sonata and Op.3 pieces, and the fourth movement of Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks, which was dedicated to him. In addition to this almost overwhelming abundance of music to be heard by Los Angeles audiences, Leonard has left a legacy of continuing challenge to the pianists involved in the series: I can only imagine the resourcefulness and amount of pure hard work it must take to present a new group of programs each year.
Thinking about Leonard, I have the impression of a highly complex personality with a great many intertwined character strands, many quite unusual and rare. Certainly, there was his generosity in sharing ideas, enthusiasms , friendships. Was his lyrical big-toned playing of Bach a manifestation of this generosity? There was his tendency to focus his feelings about a complex of issues into a concise, pithy remark, and so I remember how much I enjoyed his occasional short, dryly humorous letters with their compact, elegant handwriting. Standing out most in my mind now though, is a day in the spring of 2001 when our conversation came round to David Tudor, and Leonard remarked about how much he admired Tudor’s seeming disdain for celebrity and fame, and about how this quality is so rare in the world of musicians.
A week after Leonard’s 2001 Stanford visit, Hyo-shin and I flew to Vienna and our path crossed there with his (he’d just played the Schoenberg Chamber Symphony with a young Austrian pianist). The three of us spent a week going to lectures, rehearsals, concerts, museums, and restaurants and, even though he was 40 years older than either of us, it became clear after a few days that we simply couldn’t keep up with him. One evening, as we sat together over a late dinner following a recital in which I’d played Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19, I asked him for his thoughts on my playing of the piece. The performance had gone reasonably well until the very last note of the final, sixth piece which, when I tried to play it at the pppp dynamic indicated by the composer, simply didn’t sound. After letting me contemplate the rather heavy silence created by my request, he smiled – “You might try to play the last note a little louder…”
E. Randol Schoenberg
I knew Leonard very well after I interned at the Schoenberg Institute in 1985, and saw him almost every week while I was studying at USC law school from 1988-1991. He published my first big article on Schoenberg and Einstein (which became one of the best-selling ASI journals). I was instrumental in getting my sister Melanie to study with Leonard, which I think he enjoyed. At my suggestion, Leonard made a reduction of the Schoenberg Kol Nidre, which he had helped premiere 60 years earlier. Leonard was in many ways a part of our extended family and I will always be grateful to Leonard for giving me a first-hand glimpse of my grandfather’s humor and character.