Victor Schiøler was born in 1899 into a musical family, the son
of Victor Bendix, a composer and conductor whose name is also to be
found in the Danacord catalogue, and Augusta Schiøler, a pianist.
Apart from his mother his teachers included Ignaz Friedman and Arthur
Schnabel and he made his debut in 1914 (I should point out that I am
dependent for my information on the booklet notes which are full, readable
and very interesting). He pursued an energetic career as pianist, conductor
and musical organiser, which was interrupted during the rise of Nazism
(he was living in Germany in 1933) and the German occupation of Denmark.
He firmly resisted any collaboration with the Nazi powers and the hiatus
allowed him to develop another interest, that of medicine, in which
he graduated. In 1943 he fled to Sweden with his wife and resumed concert
work. Concert tours dominated his life once more until, at a rather
late age, he succeeded in having a son and cut back on his concert work
in order to dedicate himself as much as possible to his family. He died
in 1967 at no very great age. He was a much valued teacher and the first
Danish pianist to make discs (the 1924 Chopin included here).
Though I deplore nothing more than the attitude "If
I havenít heard of him he canít be any good", on being faced with
an album boldly entitled "The Great Danish Pianist Victor Schiøler"
I couldnít help muttering "Iíll be the judge of that", or
words to the same effect. I began with the solo disc and as I heard
first the upper line and then the middle voice in bar 4 of the Beethoven
sonata sing warmly but without exaggeration it was immediately evident
that I was listening at the very least to an extremely fine pianist.
The Allegretto second movement seemed a little slow at the start but
this is a problematical movement and this songful approach finds more
in it than many. The finale has much finely controlled Beethovenian
The Scarlatti/Tausig emerge Ė as was usual at that
time Ė as romantic tone pictures but allow further appreciation of Schiølerís
warmly rounded tone, always luminous and natural, never hardening at
climaxes or when under technical pressure. This consistently beautiful
sound seems to emerge unscathed whether it reaches us via pre-electric
recordings of the mid-20s or early LPs which could hardly have been
state-of-the-art even in their day. Danacordís transfer philosophy is,
as always, that of the unvarnished truth; maybe a Mike Dutton or a Ward
Marston or a Mark Obert-Thorn could get more out of them, but at least
they have not been damaged by well-intentioned computer processes and
for this relief much thanks.
In his cultivation of a beautiful sound Schiøler
owes little to his one mentor Schnabel; on the other hand his disciplined
approach to musical structure is a far cry from the wayward genius of
his other master Friedman. Of all the great pianists, the one he most
resembles is Solomon, I thought as I listened to his Brahms which is
polished, idiomatic, supremely musical a well-structured, with just
a hint, as could happen with Solomon too, that his inner self is occasionally
looking the other way. At the opposite pole to Moiseiwitschís joyously
free-wheeling performance (indispensable on Naxos) but worth knowing.
I am not convinced that Chopin was his composer. It
was a neat idea to have the study and Godowskyís paraphrase of it on
a single 78 side, but the study is merely neatly despatched as if it
were a prelude for the real business in hand, the Godowsky. The op.
33/1 mazurka has too much indoor elegance to realise convincingly that
most difficult of Polish dance-forms. On the other hand op. 68/2, while
not erasing memories of Friedman, is definitely a mazurka. The Valse
has nice touches without the dancersí feet quite ever leaving the floor,
but the Berceuse is very beautifully done (some perceptive inner voicings)
and is a version worth keeping to hand. Schiølerís obvious sympathy
for Sibelius cannot wholly override the composerís sometimes clumsy
None of this had prepared me for the really perfect
performance of the Scriabin. The interplay between melody and accompaniment
is beautifully realised and there is a sense of romantic freedom in
the context of a basic rhythmic discipline. I canít imagine a finer
We get two versions of the Rachmaninov G minor prelude,
that from 1929 tossed off a little too briskly, the 1951 performance
only 23 seconds longer but seemingly having all the time in the world
to bring out the lyrical lines of the middle section. Another very fine
performance, as is that of Friedmanís charming little piece, where Schiøler
evidently feels free for once to indulge in the sort of rhythmic inflexions
the master himself might have given it.
It is clear by now that Schiølerís special qualities
were as an interpreter of late romantic composers, whom he performed
with a natural warmth and a beauty of tone coupled with an inner discipline
which never worked against freedom of expression. In the three concertos
he displays all this combined with a keyboard flair and authority which
bring out all that is most genuine in each work. You will hear many
a more barnstorming version of the Liszt but you will scarcely find
one which allows the workís purely musical qualities to glow more brightly.
I listened entranced.
It would be too much to expect anyone to efface memories
of Rubinsteinís shaping of certain phrases in the Saint-Saëns (especially
the second movement) but this is a beautiful performance nonetheless,
and finest of all is the Grieg. Listen to how he takes up the main theme
of the first movement after Tuxenís brightly perky presentation of it
and you will appreciate how deeply personal his inflexion of the music
is without any distortion; itís all in the sound and the phrasing. This
is wonderful musicianship. It is a performance of great freshness, finding
affection for the slower themes while keeping them moving more than
usual and with particularly close support from Tuxen (but he is fortunate
in all three conductors even if the Danish orchestra sometimes offers
some suspect wind intonation). I donít think Iíve ever heard better
and this effortlessly joins the historical versions from the late-shellac/early
vinyl period by Lipatti, Solomon and Curzon. And I canít say more than
"To the Spring" presumably filled a spare
side. Untrammelled by the need to cope with an orchestra the engineers
have brought the piano in closer and Schiølerís glorious sound
can be heard in a performance which seems to me absolute perfection
in its combination of warmth, poetry and ardour. If he recorded any
other solo music by Grieg I hope I shall hear it one day.
At this point my concurrence with the headline "The
Great Danish Pianist Victor Schiøler" would appear self-evident.
I am quite convinced he deserves that accolade even though I have not
yet a clear idea of the range of his art; for this I need to hear more.
With orchestra he recorded Tchaikovsky 1 (twice), the "Emperor"
and the Liszt Hungarian Fantasia; I have no idea how extensive his solo
recordings were. A complete edition would be most welcome.