Friday, 3 October 2008

Britten, Wittgenstein and Cash

Further to my review of the new Britten Piano & Orchestra CD, I received an email from Herr Martin Koch-Neutz. He gave me some very interesting information about Wittgenstein and the works that he commissioned. I quote the relevant section of my review from MusicWeb International:- “A number of works were written for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Concerto by Maurice Ravel. However, there were other works by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Richard Strauss, Bohuslav Martinu and Franz Schmidt. Moreover, the story of Prokofiev’s Fourth Concerto is well known: when presented with the score of the new piece, Wittgenstein handed the work back to the composer saying –“thank-you for the concerto, but I do not understand a single note and I shall not play it.”


Paul Wittgenstein approached Britten’s publishers in 1940 with a proposal that he should write him a piece. Arrangements were finalised between the “somewhat imperious” pianist and the composer over dinner. Britten wrote to his sister, “I’ve been commissioned by a man called Wittgenstein – a one armed pianist- to write him a concerto. He pays gold so I’ll do it.” By October 1940 it was more or less complete: it was premiered on the 16 January 1942..."

Herr Koch-Neutz noted my citation of Britten concerning the payment "... He pays gold so I’ll do it." He pointed me in the direction of research by So Young Kim-Park (written in German with title "Paul Wittgenstein und die für ihn komponierten Klavierkonzerte für die linke Hand"): the relevant section of this dissertation noted that the fees for the most important compositions had been

Korngold (1923) $3000
Strauss - Parergon (1925) $25000 (who has been well known for his greediness)
Ravel (1930) $6000
Prokofiev (1931) $5000
Britten (1941) $700 -which seems to have been nearly half of Britten's total income in 1941!

Another composer who wrote a concerto for the pianist was Norman Demuth. He is not a name that is on the tip of every listeners tongue, with virtually no recorded music, yet somehow I feel that this piece would make an interesting discovery? One wonders how much he received for his contribution?

3 comments:

Can Bass 1 said...

Refusing to play? The fellow sounds as nutty as his brother, Ludwig.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Fascinating about the varied fees Wittgenstein paid for these works. Have you seen Alexander Waugh's interesting-looking new book The House of Wittgenstein, which deals with Paul, Ludwig, and the rest of the family?

John France said...

Thanks. No I have not...will keep my eyes open for it at Foyles!!