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Part 1. The "Viennese Piano-school" - does it Exist at all?

Aktualisiert: 22. Feb. 2022

Traditions in the musical education in Vienna

o.Univ.-Prof. Manfred Wagner-Artzt

Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien


Hi, welcome to this video in which I will try to explain the characteristics of piano-playing and

piano-teaching in Vienna.

I have often been asked whether there exists a typical Viennese piano-school as we know it e.g. from Russia, France, Hungaria and some others.

Therefore it is perhaps necessary to define first how does it come that we can speak of a „school“

At my opinion it needs

  • first a very consistent technical and musical educational program with clearly defined necessities, with what one has to learn in the first, the second, the third year and so on. This is usually verified by a commission in an exam at the end of every academic year,

  • and second: Of course each school has also it’s special priorities concerning interpretation and repertoire.

The first of these two parts does not exist in Vienna. Nor does there exist a strict program what one has to learn each year, nor are there exams at the end of each academic year. In our studies there are only two commissional exams: The Bachelor and the Master exam. For these exams of course we have detailed requirements of the program which has to be elaborated during the years of studying, but which allows however a great flexibility in the choice of the compositions. The main focus lies on the tradition and on the repertoire in which the Viennese Classic has of course a high value.

So at my opinion there does not exist a „Viennese piano-school“. This has perhaps something to do with the fact, that e.g. in Moscow and Saint Petersburg most of the teachers were Russians, in France French, in Hungaria Hungarians etc. In Vienna we have a long tradition of teachers coming from different countries, from different ethnic origin. This may be a consequence of the multilateral Austrian-Hungarian Empire. And this constellation has not changed. In my piano department at the Vienna University of Music there are about 25 teachers from 10 different countries teaching, in our second piano department there are even more foreign teachers than Austrians.

However there is a VIENNESE TRADITION

of playing and teaching piano.

How is this possible? Many people from all over the world are coming to Vienna to study music here. The more time they are spending in Vienna the more they are beginning to take over traditions of our musical education.

The best example is perhaps the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, where nowadays there are many members who have come from other countries. Nevertheless the New Years Concert – and of course not only this – sounds still the same as it sounded 50 years ago. There is a kind of tradition which all members of the orchestra lern to adapt to.

The same thing happens in the piano education. So this „school“ ist not a school of a special

technique, of a special virtuosity, of a special shaping a unique sound, but there is a kind of

approach to music and to interpretation of music which may be called characteristic.

How did this tradition develope?

Just an example:

Alexander JENNER, my second piano teacher at the former Academy of Music (todays University) and me we have both been pupils of Richard HAUSER. Hauser has studied piano with Paul WEINGARTEN, a pupil of Emil von SAUER, who himself was a pupil of Franz LISZT. Now we know that Liszt has learned to play the piano with Carl CZERNY who studied piano with BEETHOVEN.

This is just one example, of course there exist many others.

But this may explain, why the teaching of tradition has a special value in our education. What’s the kind of this tradition? We should not believe that we really know, how Beethoven wanted his

compositions to be played. The reports of e.g. his pupils Ries and Schindler are too contradictious to permit us to believe in being able to create an „authentic“ interpretation.

So let us think rather of two of the most prestigious Austrian pianists as representatives,

ALFRED BRENDEL and PAUL BADURA-SKODA then we are able to work out some common characteristics and they concern their intellectual approach to music.

Manfred Wagner-Artzt und Paul Badura-Skoda. Das Foto aus dem Privatarchiv von Manfred Wagner-Artzt.
Manfred Wagner-Artzt und Paul Badura-Skoda

The following criterions are therefore of great importance:

stylistic characteristics

phrasing in connection with the spoken language

articulation in connection with the spoken language

the detailed analyses of formal specialities in a composition

the knowledge about motivical connections within a piece right down to the smallest details finally to get as close as possible to the intentions of a composer.

That’s why the so called „Urtext“- editions are a must in our interpretations. It’s striking that – as far as I know – the special word „Urtext“ exists only in the German language. Sometimes in the English language the german word „urtext“ can be found, but usually we find „original text“, in French „version originale“ in Italian „versione originale“ and as far as I know also in the Russian language there is no special word for it, as there aren’t in other languages.

That shows that an as much as possible exact reproduction of a piece has an essential meaning for us. We use editions from Universal Edition, Henle, Bärenreiter, Breitkopf & Härtel, etc. - to point out just the main important ones – and it is remarkable, that these editions are all coming from German-speaking countries. Of course today you can find reprints and licensed editions all over the world, but the scientific elaboration is mainly done in this above mentioned area.

These Urtext-editions are also the absolut necessary sources for a detailed analyses of the


The consideration with stylistic questions is a logical consequence. Again we use a lot of German sources – not forgetting that also in other cultural centres we can find very important sources, as e.g in France François Couperin, but in total they are in a minority – The main books we are using are the ones of Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH, Leopold MOZART, Johann Joachim QUANTZ, Daniel Gottlob TÜRK, Friedrich Wilhelm MARPURG, etc.

One of the most important sections in these sources is always dedicated to the so called „Artikulation“. The musical „Artikulation“ is again a word for which there does not exist an exact translation in other languages. It has something to do with special manners of speaking, the so called „prosody“, which includes all characteristics of a language. So the sound of a speech is completely different if you speak German, English, French, Italian or Russian. We realize that there is a complete different way of binding words or syllabes together or not. The German language is separating much more than e.g. the French one. But also punctuation marks as a comma are pronounced in another way in German than in other languages. The connecting of words, setting of punctuations, generating of phrases, pauses, accents, vowels, consonants, etc. these all can be transposed to music, and these all are making the characteristics of what we call „Tonsprache“.


In connection with the articulation, we also concentrate on phrasing. This has an essential meaning in our way of performing music. In one of the main sources about performing music of the 18th and 19th century Gottlob Daniel Türk gives us a wonderful example how the changement of just

one comma turns the same word order into the opposite meaning. Unfortunetly it is impossible to translate it the same way into another language:

The German sentences are:

Gottlob Daniel Türk

Er verlor sein Leben nicht, nur sein Vermögen

Er verlor sein Leben, nicht nur sein Vermögen

The first one says: He did not loose his life, just his fortune.

The second one means: He also lost his life, not only his fortune.

Alfred Brendel. Vortrag an der MDW, am 12. Mai 2017. Das Foto aus dem Privatarchiv von Manfred Wagner-Artzt.
Alfred Brendel. Vortrag an der MDW

And therefore phrasing by means of „Artikulation“ seems to us so important in the interpretation of music.

Inseparable with this is the analysing of a piece and of its motives. Coming back to Alfred Brendel in one of his books we can find a comparing of motives in Schuberts last three piano sonatas, and this takes about 40 (!) pages in this book.

Paul Badura-Skoda he too has written books about all these details (especially about Bach and Mozart) and these books are highly appreciated all over the world.

But even the German composer Johannes Brahms set high value on these criterias, as we can read in a biography:

He strongly insisted that his pupils, if they wanted to become composers, have to deconstruct especially sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven meticulously and that they have to analyse the construction of these compositions on to the smallest details as well as to get aware of the musical sense of each little note. … This should sharpen the feeling of understanding, to refine the musical perception and the sense of formal structures.


This all characterises our approach to interpretation, what does not mean, that technique and virtuosity are placed in the background in our education. But we prefer to subordinate technique to the musical expression based on stylisic criterias, articulation and phrasing, technique is not the end in itself. Technique serves in the best way possible the necessities of the parameters mentioned above. Of course also the shaping of sound is important but perhaps not in the same way as e.g. in the French school.

A citation of Arnold Schönberg may explain this. He demanded: „Music shall not beautify, music has first of all to be true“.

The main aim of the composers of the first „Viennese School“ of composing, like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and the second one like Schönberg, Berg, Webern was to express psychological conditions and their immanent conflictive tensions. Therefore Haydn, Mozart and especially Beethoven and Schubert have made the first steps to „Expressionismus“.

The main aim of the composers of the first „Viennese School“ of composing, like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and the second one like Schönberg, Berg, Webern was to express psychological conditions and their immanent conflictive tensions. Therefore Haydn, Mozart and especially Beethoven and Schubert have made the first steps to „Expressionismus“.

Already Robert Schumann said: „Beethoven and Schubert are those masters who were able to translate each state of life into musical language.“

Apart from all these facts, what’s the special Viennese approach? I think it is the sense of an instrumental "joie de vivre". Of course we take all these knowledge seriously but we don’t want to

demonstrate „listen, what I know about this piece“. Finally the emotions, based on this knowledge have nevertheless to be spontaneous, intellect and emotion have to come into an equilibrated harmony.

This doesn’t at all mean that there aren’t similar efforts in other schools and in other cultural environments, but the difference at my opinion may be, that by the same premises we are making another distinction of the perspectives and the evaluation. In the following video I will give a few examples in which I will try to point out some of these aspects mentioned above.

o.Univ.-Prof. Manfred Wagner-Artzt

February 2021

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