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"Father was a strange man. At the piano he was like a computer that could remember and duplicate anything. With the exception of a few troublesome phrases here and there, I don’t remember him ever having a memory slip. He rarely practiced some works in his repertoire. I lived with him for 31 years and heard only a few passages of Liszt’s Gnomereigen, the Don Juan Fantasy, and Balakirev’s Islamey; yet I heard him practice the Chopin sonatas, the Schumann Toccata, as well as Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata."

Boris Barere says the period in the early 1930s was difficult when the family lived in Berlin. Simon Barere’s recital of 1932 had created a sensation, but he lost over 60 concerts in Germany because he was Jewish. "Although he was to go to America the trip did not happen because his manager in England died, and there were financial repercussions from the stock market crash in the United States. After the family left Russia, the timing was always off; he did not know or understand the business aspects of a career, and for years he never had a good manager. When he needed work, a friend who was in charge of UFA Films found a job for my father in Hamburg playing Liszt’s Rhapsody #6 and La Campanella everyday in a silent movie theater to raise money to send my mother and me to Sweden. "My father was depressed and sick when the family emigrated to Sweden; he did not touch the piano for over a year. Somehow he received an invitation to perform with Sir Thomas Beecham and to record for HMV in London. I could never understand how this was possible because he did not practice for over a year."

One of the recordings was Liszt’s La leggierezza, a piece he had learned as a student of Anna Essipova, the second wife of Theodor Leschetizky. "She taught to my father, and to Benno Moiseiwitsch, a different ending for the etude than Liszt’s. My father recorded the work with the Leschetizky ending. It was a phenomenal recording but he never played it like that again because the press criticized him for it.

"My father’s debut at Carnegie Hall in 1936 included two Bach chorales (the Bach-Busoni arrangments), the Liszt B Minor Sonata, Chopin’s Nocturne in Db and Scherzo in C# Minor, two Scriabin etudes, Balakirev’s Islamey, and Blumenfeld’s Etude for the Left Hand Alone."

Simon Barere made recordings for HMV between 1934 and 1936, as well as others that show his pianistic genius. He recorded at Carnegie Hall, but it was impossible to see the stage from the recording studio to know when a new  work started. "My father was a victim of this; his Carnegie Hall recording of the Chopin Ballade #4 has some 18 measures missing; it was an excellent performance, minus the opening. "Because my father did not make a great number of recordings, I decided to speak to the technicians who ran the Carnegie Hall recording studio, offering to pay for whatever they could record when my father played there. They had to juggle acetates from one turntable to another because it was impossible to see the stage, so they missed many works. I wanted to have recordings of my father for myself, my family, and friends, so I duplicated them to pass around. Some years later Brian Crimp of APR Records contacted me and asked for recordings of my father, which were subsequently released by APR and Hyperion labels." Barere played the Schuman Toccata at breathtaking speed, not because he liked it at that tempo or tried to show off. It was a necessity; in those days there were no tapes and no editing. "When my father suggested recording the Schumann Toccata to HMV producers in 1934, they complained the work was impossible to record on one side of a 78 r.p.m. record. Lhévinne had recorded it on two sides of a 78 r.p.m., 10" record and so did Horowitz. My father bet he could do it on one side, and he did it twice in a row for them. I couldn’t imagine what he later told me: ‘Would you believe that my hands got tired?’ He did not like the feeling.

"Once he replaced Rubinstein in New York on short notice in 1946. The family was on holiday when a telephone caller from the Brooklyn Academy announced that Rubinstein’s wife was ill in California and he had cancelled. Could my father replace him? Sure. When? Next week. He hadn’t been at the piano for two months but took the train to New York and practiced the C major scale four or five times that day. I remember the program was the Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy, and Balakirev’s Islamey."

Barere preferred Romantic repertoire and often played the Chopin Impromptu in Ab, but with a fast pace in the beginning, then doubling the tempo at the repeat. Some people objected to that. Simon Barere’s fateful performance of the Grieg Concerto in Carnegie Hall took place in 1951. "He was happy about that engagement because he had a new manager and new help for his career. He practiced the Grieg Concerto, which he never played before; as a matter of fact my mother and I played the orchestral part to help him get ready for the performance. I was backstage when it happened. His last words to Eugene Ormandy were very strange: "Mr. Ormandy, this is the first time that we are playing together. I hope it won’t be the last." A few minutes later he died on stage during the performance.

Like many artists, Barere did not like to hear his own recordings, and expected a lot of himself. "If you spoke to such musicians as Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Misha Elman, Shura Cherkassky, or Horowitz, they all had a one-track mind; they thought only of their craft and did not know if it was spring or summer. When my father returned from a tour I would ask him where he had been. It was not important to him to know where he was or where he was performing.

"He had no backing as most artists had and did everything himself. Milstein, Piatigorsky, Rubinstein, and Horowitz had sponsors. My father never owned a piano throughout his life. "It was easy for my father to play the piano. He puzzled people because he did not have to work at it like most others. He played with a ravishing sound, and his performances had a magical quality. His natural intuition distinguished him from other pianists. He often said pianists should leave the music alone and not overly interpret it, because this risks destroying the music."

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      Listen to Samples

 1  Liszt - Gnomenreigen
     Simon Barere, piano

 2  Interview
     Jacques Leiser, Boris Barere

 3  Interview
     Jacques Leiser, Boris Barere

 4  Balakirev - Islamey
     Simon Barere, piano

 5  Interview
     Jacques Leiser, Boris Barere


The life and career of Simon Barere is illuminated in an audio interview with his son, Boris Barere, conducted by impresario and piano expert Jacques Leiser.

The result: a wealth of information about Barere as well as first hand recollections and anecdotes of the greatest musicians of the time who knew him and visited him at Barere's homes. This is no sentimental family memoir it is a deeply informative, highly colorful and uncommonly entertaining cameo of a unique figure in piano history as well as some of the most famous piano legends in memory. Interspersed are some of Simon Barere's most extraordinary recordings both from the studio and privately taken in the concert hall, made available by the APR company that has reissued on CD all known audio documents of Barere.

                         Copyright © 2008 Jacques Leiser