Obituary: Peter Wallfisch

Michael Freyhan
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:27

Peter Wallfisch, pianist: born Breslau 20 October 1924; Professor of Piano, Royal College of Music 1973-91; married 1952 Anita Lasker (one son, one daughter); died London 10 November 1993.

THE PIANIST Peter Wallfisch settled in Britain when he married Anita Lasker in 1952. Having sought refuge from Hitler's Germany first in Jerusalem and then in Paris, he was able to turn a potentially disastrous start in life to advantage, by absorbing the different cultures into which fate had thrown him. Enriched by these influences he embarked on a concert career which encompassed North and South America, the Middle and Far East, but predominantly Europe.

His love of the classics ran in parallel with a search for the lesser- known repertoire of different national traditions. In the field of English music he was a pioneer in the Frank Bridge revival and a champion of the works of Kenneth Leighton, many of which are dedicated to him.

Wallfisch's frequent concerto performances were characterised by an impulsive and vital imagination, but it was especially in his thoughtfully chosen recital programmes and broadcasts that his individuality shone through.

Chamber music was undertaken with no less seriousness than solo work and colleagues found that he rehearsed with as much intensity as he performed, eschewing coffee breaks. But the sense of fun and the ridiculous was always at hand for light relief.

Wallfisch formed warm, long- lasting friendships with people from many different walks of life. What mattered to him were sincerity, loyalty and a healthy work ethic. Pomposity and a willingness to take from music, rather than give to it, especially in the financial sense, were anathema, putting him at times on a collision course with agents and other 'important' people in the music business.

Wallfisch was a devoted teacher of those eager to learn. A man of quick intuition, he rarely changed his opinion of people. But his restless spirit was the basis of his artistic creativity. For him there was no such thing as a repeat in music; what was required was the original idea in a new aspect.

The piano was a passion; he remembered individual instruments, like people and cats, for their virtues and blemishes, noting the identification numbers of those that he wished and did not wish to encounter again. Having once earned his living in a Jerusalem music shop, selling pianos, he had discovered exactly what lies 'under the bonnet'. It was probably his only area of mechanical expertise.

In his later years he took especial pleasure in musical collaboration with his son, Raphael Wallfisch, one of the foremost English cellists. Their evident rapport, founded not only on family ties but on mutual respect for each other's artistic personality, attracted exceptional critical recognition in the United States and elsewhere.

Two years ago Peter Wallfisch was struck down by a stroke, bringing his playing career to an abrupt end. Left with an irrecoverable loss of finger dexterity but an unimpaired mind, he maintained his routine of daily practice at home, for his own pleasure. Though he admitted that he made progress, no one was allowed to hear. He preferred to be remembered as he was, with his abilities undiminished, and it is fortunate that there are many recordings available to remind us of the unique character of this dedicated musician.

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