Pianist and composer Wilhelm Kempff was a German native with a special interest in Beethoven interpretation. Here, London Piano Institute answers questions about this modern musical maestro.
Q: Where was Wilhelm Kempff born?
London Piano Institute: He was born in Jüterbog, Brandenburg, Germany and grew up in Potsdam. He also lived in Berlin and Italy.
Q: Where did he take studies?
London Piano Institute: He would have first learned piano from his father, an organist and the Royal Music Director for St. Nikolai Church. When he was 9, he enrolled at Berlin Hochschule für Musik.
Q: Prior to his formal education, did Wilhelm Kempff have any exposure to piano?
London Piano Institute: His father taught him at an early age, as did his grandfather who was an organist. He also had a brother who was the music director at the University of Erlangen.
Q: Did Wilhelm Kempff study under any notables?
London Piano Institute: While in Berlin, he studied the intricacies of compositions with Robert Kahn. Karl Henrich Barth instructed a young Wilhelm Kempff on piano.
Q: When did Wilhelm Kempff make his first recital?
London Piano Institute: Though he would have played for smaller audiences prior, Wilhelm Kempff played his first major presentation in 1917 when he debuted his interpretations of select Beethoven and Brahms works.
Q: How extensively did Wilhelm Kempff travel for performances?
London Piano Institute: He traveled throughout Europe. He was particularly fond of London. Abroad, Wilhelm Kempff made his first appearance in New York in 1964. He performed nearly a dozen times in Japan.
Q: Why did Wilhelm Kempff retire?
London Piano Institute: He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that causes shaking of the hands. This undoubtedly made performing quite difficult.
Q: Were there any particular composers that Wilhelm Kempff was fond of?
London Piano Institute: He is particularly noted for his interpretations of Beethoven. However, he also enjoyed playing Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and a handful of other distinguished composers.
Q: Did Wilhelm Kempff strictly perform concert halls or did he leave behind any recordings?
London Piano Institute: Wilhelm Kempff actually recorded for around six decades. Interestingly, he is known for taping the Beethoven piano concert toasts twice—once with Berlin Philharmonic and later with Ferdinand Leitner.
Q: How would one describe Wilhelm Kempff’s technique?
London Piano Institute: All of his works stressed the spontaneity of the music. He was very lyrical and leaned toward moderation.
Q: When was Wilhelm Kempff’s first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic?
London Piano Institute: He first performed with the Berlin Philharmonic as a soloist in 1917, when he was 22 years old.
Q: What was Wilhelm Kempff’s last performance with the Berlin Philharmonic?
London Piano Institute: His last concert with this group was in 1979, when he was 84 years old.
Q: Did Kempff teach during his career?
London Piano Institute: He enjoyed teaching very much. For five years, Wilhelm Kempff directed the Stuttgart College of Music. Before his death, he founded Kempff Kulturstiftung in southern Italy. He taught there periodically until 1982.
Q: As a composer, what sort of works did Wilhelm Kempff leave behind?
London Piano Institute: He composed four operas, a number of songs and ballets, along with orchestra works and violin concertos.
London Piano Institute is a private adult-oriented learning academy located in London, England. More than just an education, London Piano Institute strives to instill an appreciation and understanding of music into each student. London Piano Institute accepts students from beginner to expert and takes great pride in educating correctly the first time.