Alfred Cortot

Franco-Swiss pianist and conductor

Alfred Denis Cortot (26 September 187715 June 1962) was a Franco-Swiss pianist and conductor.

Quotes edit

  • Infant prodigies do not necessarily become great musicians. I have had over three thousand pupils, and I am convinced that the proficiency which some display is no more than a manifestation of dexterity and an extraordinary natural imitative faculty of children.
    • "Do Infant Prodigies Become Great Musicians?", Music & Letters (Apr., 1935)
  • The musician's technique, in fact, should be as protean as the actor's. The best method of attaining this is by combining the qualities of the artist and the technician. To do this it is essential, that in addition to concentrating upon musical technique, one should keep in touch with the other arts. They provide that general culture to the musician without which he will never become a great artist.
    • "Do Infant Prodigies Become Great Musicians?", Music & Letters (Apr., 1935)
  • It seems to me that this last piece, The Poet Speaks, which is the title Schumann gave to this immortal work, should be a transition into a kind of intimate reverie. It is not just about making a beautiful sound and expressive phrasing. You also need to create a sense of dreaming. The truth is, you need to dream this piece, rather than play it.
    Will you allow me to take your place?

    These two phrases are not connected. They are two different elements… of the same musical state. Here, like a question… And here again, another, tenderly asking the way. And from this moment, you should convey the music not just through the notes but through some kind of inspiration drawn from its immortal spirit. Now the sonorities should fade away…grow fainter and dimmer…and you are left simply in the presence of a reminiscent dream.

  • Russian students? you ask. Yes, we have white Russians but not the Soviets. They have a wonderful school of their own which has produced superb musicians such as Sviatoslav Richter, Oistrakh, and Rostropovich. Those Russians that we have here chose freedom, but their Slavic temperament manifests itself just the same, and they have a marked talent for music.
    • in "Visit with Alfred Cortot" by Alexander Kosloff, Music Educators Journal (Feb.-Mar., 1962)

Quotes about Cortot edit

  • That's right. And the time when Cortot came to Vienna in 1947 remains one of my greatest pianistic memories. He came there to play for the first time after the War, and we all knew what the war had been for him, what his ideological engagement had been. Cortot played two programs. The first part of the first recital, how shall I say this... it was an absolute disaster. Cortot played Chopin's Fantasy, which is not very difficult from a technical point of view, but he didn't manage to play even one octave correctly. Jörg Demus was seated next to me, and he was seething: "My goodness, how is this possible? He's an amateur, I'm leaving at intermission!" After the intermission, however, Cortot came back on stage like a changed man. It was a different man, a different pianist. He had gotten ahold of himself. I couldn't believe how well he played the Sonata Op. 35 No. 2, which is such a perilous piece by comparison. At the end of the concert, with Gulda, we found Demus and tried to convince him that he had missed a major event: "That's impossible! I don't believe you – and I already sold my ticket for the second recital!" [laughs] In the end, we weren't able to convince him. A week later, in front of a sold-out house, with all three of us in attendance, Cortot played the 24 Preludes and the Kreisleriana. I can tell you that he went far beyond, in terms of depth, poetry, and spontaneity, all the recordings he had ever made of these pieces, which we knew so well. It was a revelation! It was so moving! All the pianists who were there agreed. When Cortot and Fischer were on the right foot, it was perfect, in terms of the cleanness of their playing, and not just from an emotional or spiritual point of view...
  • Alfred Cortot was always a controversial pianist. Some listeners revered his playing, particularly of Chopin, as the embodiment of essential Gallic virtues, intelligence, clarity and elegance. Others thought it pallid, mannered and inaccurate, particularly in his later years.
    • Cyril Ehrlich, The Musical Times (Jan., 1981)
  • The outstanding exponent of the French school after Pugno was Alfred Cortot, a remarkable and unusual pianist. … After graduating from the Conservatoire, Cortot plunged into the musical life of Europe, and not only as a pianist. …
    How could he possibly find time to keep his fingers in shape? The answer is simple: he didn't. Cortot was always making mistakes or having memory slips. These would have been fatal with a lesser man. With Cortot they made no difference. One accepted them, as one accepts scars or defects in a painting by an old master. …
    There was in his playing a combination of intellectual authority, aristocracy, masculinity and poetry. Cortot had a unique style, and a Cortot performance could always (and still can be recognized from his records; he made hundreds) by its sharpness, point, clarity of line, unmistakable rubato, sheer intelligence—yes, and by its wrong notes, too.
    • Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists

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