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OBITUARY: Annie Fischer

It seems fitting that the great Hungarian pianist Annie Fischer should have died while listening to a broadcast performance of Bach's St John Passion. Until her final years she was an inveterate concert- and opera-goer. Fischer's profound love of music and her enthusiasm for life were reflected in her playing. She communicated great physical, emotional and spiritual energy, warmth and generosity.

Fischer was also a player of immense honesty. It was surprising and exciting to hear such intense power emanating from her small, elegant frame. In Beethoven and Schumann, above all, her work was unmatchable. Her interpretation of Beethoven was an ideal fusion of the intellectual and the humane. The balance she maintained between form and content, while keeping an appar- ently effortless freedom of expression, was reminiscent of Wilhelm Furtwngler; her command of Beethoven's thought process was comparable to Artur Schnabel's. Her playing of Schumann sounded so fresh, tender and spontaneous as to be almost improvised. She made his music seem newly discovered.

None of this, though, would have been possible without her extraordinary pianism, her amazingly strong and supple technique. She certainly did not practise compulsively, but her preparation for performance was dedicated and concentrated. I remember listening to her practising, for hours on end, the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata Op 14 No 2 and hearing her delve deeper and deeper into this relatively slight work.

Annie Fischer studied at the Franz Liszt Academy with Ernst von Dohnnyi to whose influence she in later years attributed her remarkable range and control of sonority. Even as a small child she displayed an instinctive, unfailing grasp of harmonic progression. She made her dbut at the age of eight in Beethoven's C major Concerto and won the first International Liszt Competition in Budapest in 1933. (The piano pedagogue Maria Curcio told me that Fischer learnt the E flat Concerto in only three weeks.) Three years later she married Aladar Toth, the eminent musicologist and later director of the Budapest Opera. Their marriage was extremely happy; Annie Fischer derived great inspiration from Toth's support and guidance.

Fischer was Jewish and the Toths spent the second half of the Second World War in Sweden. They were unable to travel abroad, and this was the only period in Fischer's life when she taught on a regular basis. She was as demanding of her pupils as of herself and she concentrated on the repertoire closest to her own heart: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Bartk. Lessons went on without regard for the clocks and were often followed by lengthy sessions when Toth took over and introduced the students to the masterworks of opera.

In 1946 the couple returned to Hungary and Fischer resumed her international career. She played all over Europe, in the United States, Canada, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand and was frequently heard at the main music festivals including Edinburgh, Holland, Prague and Salzburg. On three occasions she won the most prestigious Hungarian State award, the Kossuth Prize.

Fischer hated recording but made some outstanding discs of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. Inexplicably, very few of these are at present available.

For many years her appearances were highlights of the London concert season where her audiences invariably included a large proportion of fellow pianists. A feature of her performances was that one could remember them in great detail many years later. Her last London recital was in June 1992 when she concluded a Beethoven / Schumann programme at the Royal Festival Hall with a magisterial account of the Fugue from the "Hammerklavier" Sonata played as an encore.

Niel Immelman

Annie Fischer, pianist: born Budapest 5 July 1914; married 1936 Aladar Toth (died 1968); died Budapest 10 April 1995.