Karl Ulrich Schnabel

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The Independent Online

Karl Ulrich Schnabel, pianist and teacher: born Berlin 6 August 1909; married 1939 Helen Fogel (died 1974; one daughter); died Danbury, Connecticut 27 August 2001.

Karl Ulrich Schnabel survived a childhood as the son of a famous father, even succeeding in carving out a reputation of his own in the same line of work. The father in question was Artur Schnabel, universally regarded as one of the finest pianists of the 20th century. Karl Ulrich also made his mark as a pianist, though more often in the four-handed literature, and as a much-respected teacher.

Brought up in Berlin, in a house where some of the world's greatest musicians were entirely normal visitors, Karl Ulrich Schnabel began to play the piano at the age of five. Carl F. Flesch, son of Artur Schnabel's duo partner, the violinist Carl Flesch, remembers that the Schnabels' top-floor flat "had a lot of music, with his father playing, his mother [the soprano Therese Behr] singing. The people underneath were very annoyed when we started playing ping pong on Sundays; they complained, which we found highly unjustified". Karl Ulrich studied piano with Leonid Kreutzer and composition with Paul Juon at the Berlin Academy of Music from 1922 to 1928, making his concert début at 17, in 1926, also in Berlin.

With Hitler's accession to power the Schnabel family left Germany for their second home in Italy, settling briefly in Britain before emigrating to the United States in 1939 and taking US nationality in 1944. Karl Ulrich Schnabel established himself in New York with, from 1947, a second home on Lake Como where, like his father before him, he ran an annual piano course.

Karl Ulrich Schnabel had already begun to specialise in the piano-duet repertoire in Europe, playing with his father – a recording of the Mozart Concerto for two pianos and orchestra was received with especial acclaim – and in the USA he continued with his wife, Helen Fogel, a pianist of considerable stature in her own right. She had studied at the Juilliard School in New York with Alexander Siloti (whose earlier pupils, in pre-Soviet Russia, had included his cousin, Sergei Rachmaninov), continuing her studies between 1934 and 1938 with Schnabel père at his summer course at Tremezzo on Lake Como. Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Helen concertised together for almost three-and-a-half decades, until her death from cancer in 1974. Thereafter he formed another duo with the Canadian Joan Rowland.

Schnabel was as much a teacher as performer, with a career almost 80 years in duration: he began teaching at the age of 13, preparing students who aimed to study with his father. In later years, now with an international reputation, he gave masterclasses in a number of countries, among them England, Israel, Australia, Brazil, France, Japan and the United States; his students included Leon Fleisher and Claude Frank. In 1950 his pedagogical instincts emerged in print, in a book entitled Modern Technique of the Pedal, which was translated into German, Japanese and Italian. He was also an enthusiastic film-maker.

Carl F. Flesch recalls his friend of almost 90 years as "very intelligent, very likeable, very enthusiastic, forceful – but I have never seen him annoyed: he had a very good temper". The recollection ties in with the answer Schabel once gave when asked to define beauty in music: "Proportion". Flesch recalls that "though he was always in the shadow of his father, he never evinced any bitterness or resentment as some children of the famous do; instead, he was a great admirer of his father".

Martin Anderson

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