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Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
#3050530 11/28/20 03:14 PM
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Hi everyone! Long time lurker, first post. I am working on an end-of-year project for high school, and wish to compile all the anecdotes and stories (with sources/citations) that I can.

Which famous composers and pianists learned by themselves, or with minimal lessons?

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050542 11/28/20 03:55 PM
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Virtually none of the great classical pianists that I know of. Maybe Godowsky? I suggest posting also on the non classical forum since there may be a few great jazz pianists who were mostly self taught.

For classical composers, check bios of Mussorgsky and Charles Ives, although I'm not at all sure about those two.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050546 11/28/20 04:10 PM
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Sviatoslav Richter was “largely self taught”. When he finally started with Neuhaus at 22, the latter said he taught him “almost nothing”. Quotes from Wikipedia.


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Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
pianoloverus #3050547 11/28/20 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Virtually none of the great classical pianists that I know of. Maybe Godowsky? I suggest posting also on the non classical forum since there may be a few great jazz pianists who were mostly self taught.

For classical composers, check bios of Mussorgsky and Charles Ives, although I'm not at all sure about those two.

What about this?:

Quote
Fryderyk mastered the instrument so rapidly that before he turned six, he could play every melody he had ever heard, and began to improvise. He had essentially learned the piano by himself, including harmonizing melodies with simple chords, but his parents concluded that henceforth he should be taught music seriously and systematically. Żywny’s greatest contribution to the history of music was that he recognized that he was in the presence of genius and did not attempt to improve on it.

- Tad Szulc (“Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer”)

Last edited by piano_adoring; 11/28/20 04:11 PM.
Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050553 11/28/20 04:16 PM
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Originally Posted by CyberGene
Sviatoslav Richter was “largely self taught”. When he finally started with Neuhaus at 22, the latter said he taught him “almost nothing”. Quotes from Wikipedia.

Great! Thanks for this!

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050569 11/28/20 04:49 PM
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George Gershwin was a composer who had very little formal musical training yet he was able to establish his name in the worlds of orchestral music and popular music.
Irving Berlin was another composer who had very little if any formal training. He is firmly established in the world of popular music.
Among the famous pianists lacking formal education look for Eroll Garner. Art Tatum, perhaps the greatest jazz pianist was largely self taught.
Hope this helps.


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Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050582 11/28/20 05:15 PM
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Georg Philipp Telemann was largely self taught. He learnt keyboard, violin and composition by himself and composed his first opera at age 12. He studied music later on, but to a large extent he was an autodidact.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
Henderson Hall #3050586 11/28/20 05:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Henderson Hall
George Gershwin was a composer who had very little formal musical training yet he was able to establish his name in the worlds of orchestral music and popular music.
Irving Berlin was another composer who had very little if any formal training. He is firmly established in the world of popular music.
Among the famous pianists lacking formal education look for Eroll Garner. Art Tatum, perhaps the greatest jazz pianist was largely self taught.
Hope this helps.

Thank you so much!!!

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
Henderson Hall #3050596 11/28/20 06:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Henderson Hall
George Gershwin was a composer who had very little formal musical training yet he was able to establish his name in the worlds of orchestral music and popular music.
Irving Berlin was another composer who had very little if any formal training. He is firmly established in the world of popular music.
Among the famous pianists lacking formal education look for Eroll Garner. Art Tatum, perhaps the greatest jazz pianist was largely self taught.
Hope this helps.
I believe Tatum had classical piano lessons for quite some time.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050597 11/28/20 06:10 PM
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Elgar and Havergal Brian had next to no tuition and Delius had very little formal training.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050602 11/28/20 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by piano_adoring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Virtually none of the great classical pianists that I know of. Maybe Godowsky? I suggest posting also on the non classical forum since there may be a few great jazz pianists who were mostly self taught.

For classical composers, check bios of Mussorgsky and Charles Ives, although I'm not at all sure about those two.

What about this?:

Quote
Fryderyk mastered the instrument so rapidly that before he turned six, he could play every melody he had ever heard, and began to improvise. He had essentially learned the piano by himself, including harmonizing melodies with simple chords, but his parents concluded that henceforth he should be taught music seriously and systematically. Żywny’s greatest contribution to the history of music was that he recognized that he was in the presence of genius and did not attempt to improve on it.

- Tad Szulc (“Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer”)

Chopin had many music teachers. From Wiki:
"Fryderyk may have had some piano instruction from his mother, but his first professional music tutor, from 1816 to 1821, was the Czech pianist Wojciech Żywny.[16]
From September 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where he received organ lessons from the Czech musician Wilhelm Würfel during his first year. In the autumn of 1826 he began a three-year course under the Silesian composer Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, studying music theory, figured bass, and composition."

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
pianoloverus #3050603 11/28/20 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I believe Tatum had classical piano lessons for quite some time.

Oh? So Art's genius is attributable to someone else? How do you figure “classical” piano lessons helped him? (Especially given that Art was blind?)

How do you define “classical” piano lessons?

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Oscar Peterson
Actually, with Art, you know, it’s amazing—even in this day and age—here’s a man that has unfortunately passed away, and I still marvel at the fact that so many musicians (not just pianists) still revere him so highly. And I think that’s, you know, the greatest tribute to his genius that he could have.

André Previn
I also remember once that Horowitz used to love Tatum. He used to go and hear him all the time, and he actually was influenced to the degree where Horowitz used to play for an encore—he had two arrangements that he made: one was on themes from [Bizet’s] Carmen and the other was “The Star and Stripes Forever,” and they were really scary, I mean, they were unbelievable. And Horowitz decided he would do “Tea for Two.” No, it’s a true story! And he went and he worked for months writing out these phenomenally difficult virtuoso variations on Tea for Two, and then he called Tatum and asked him up and he played it for him.

And Tatum said, “Yeah, you know, terrific! Marvelous! You know… unbelievably difficult.” And then [Tatum] said, “Would you like me to play Tea for Two?” And Horowitz said, “Yeah.”

So Tatum then played Tea for Two until Horowitz stopped him.

Oscar Peterson
[laughs]

André Previn
You know, I mean—he just went on and on and on and on! And Horowitz said, “Well, when did you figure that out?” And Tatum said, “Well, just now!”

See, and that, of course—that is of course the big trick and the big secret.

Oscar Peterson [nodding]
Instant!

Source: Oscar Peterson and André Previn Discuss Art Tatum

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050611 11/28/20 06:33 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by piano_adoring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Virtually none of the great classical pianists that I know of. Maybe Godowsky? I suggest posting also on the non classical forum since there may be a few great jazz pianists who were mostly self taught.

For classical composers, check bios of Mussorgsky and Charles Ives, although I'm not at all sure about those two.

What about this?:

Quote
Fryderyk mastered the instrument so rapidly that before he turned six, he could play every melody he had ever heard, and began to improvise. He had essentially learned the piano by himself, including harmonizing melodies with simple chords, but his parents concluded that henceforth he should be taught music seriously and systematically. Żywny’s greatest contribution to the history of music was that he recognized that he was in the presence of genius and did not attempt to improve on it.

- Tad Szulc (“Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer”)

Chopin had many music teachers. From Wiki:
"Fryderyk may have had some piano instruction from his mother, but his first professional music tutor, from 1816 to 1821, was the Czech pianist Wojciech Żywny.[16]
From September 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where he received organ lessons from the Czech musician Wilhelm Würfel during his first year. In the autumn of 1826 he began a three-year course under the Silesian composer Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, studying music theory, figured bass, and composition."

How do you explain the fact that Frédéric François Chopin vastly eclipsed his mother and every single one of his teachers when it came music creation? Was his ability to create what he did attributable to them? I guess they showed him how to do that, pianoloverus?

Sounds to me like you have a vested interest in selling piano lessons. wink

By the way—a few notes on the “Father of Music” himself:

Quote
Bach was self-taught, and as such had an aversion to all learned theories. Clavier-playing, organ-playing, harmony, composition,—he had learnt them all by himself; his sole teachers had been untiring work and incessant experiment. [...] The self-taught Bach thus belonged to no school. No preconceived opinions guided him in his studies. [...] To the end of his days, he was, like all the great self-taught men, very receptive, and sure that he could always learn something from others.

- Albert Schweitzer (“J.S. Bach - Volume 1”)

Quote
In his discussion of Bach’s education and achievements, Carl tended to extol his father as a self-taught genius. From the outset, he believed, it was Bach’s “love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature” that urged him to move beyond the limits set by others.”
[...]
“Like the Obituary, which emphasizes that Bach was largely self-taught as a composer, Forkel stresses that he started essentially “without a guide” to conduct him “from step to step” and, therefore, began as a “finger composer” who liked “to run or leap up and down the instrument, to take both hands as full as all the five fingers will allow, and to proceed in this wild manner till they by chance find a resting place.”
[...]
“So it appears that uncovering secrets implicated in harmony was a veritable passion that had its roots in the youth of this essentially self-taught composer, whose “own study and reflection alone” made him such a “pure and strong fugue writer.”

- Christoph Wolff (“Johann Sebastian Bach”)

Quote
Bach was essentially a self-taught musician and in his day he was not considered particularly special. Little of his music was published or performed after his death. He was by no means considered to be a sophisticated intellectual and he knew little beyond music and theology. However, he came from a dynasty of professional musicians in north Germany, his own father being a respected violinist. Bach's musical aptitude was taken for granted and so he received little systematic training in his youth. It is said that at the age of nine, he almost ruined his eyesight by secretly copying out by moonlight an entire library of instrumental scores to which he had been denied access.

Bach: from a self-taught musician, who was not considered to be particularly special to "a benevolent god, to whom musicians should offer a prayer before setting to work so that they may be preserved from mediocrity" (Debussy)

- Daily Hit of Music (“Johann Sebastian Bach - Violin Sonata No.3 for Solo Violin”)

Quote
Bach is often regarded as being self-taught to a large extent and relatively uneducated.

- mfiles (“Johann Sebastian Bach”)

Quote
Johann Sebastian Bach remains one of the most compelling figures in the history of classical music. In this major study of the composer's life and work, Martin Geck follows the course of Bach's career in rich detail--from his humble beginnings as an organ tuner and self-taught court musician to his role as Kapellmeister and cantor of St. Thomas's Church in Leipzig.

- Martin Geck (“Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work”)

Quote
Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach testifies that Bach considered himself a self-taught composer. There was no guaranteed composition lessons. The instruction with his brother in Ohrdruf "may well have reproached an organist, and so on. nothing else "(C. Ph. E. Bach 1775). Even to Bach's stay at Buxtehude, which lasts several months, there is no evidence that he had received composition lessons on this occasion. Forkel reports Bach's statement: "I must have been diligent; whoever is so diligent, will be able to do so well."

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050614 11/28/20 06:40 PM
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Originally Posted by piano_adoring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by piano_adoring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Virtually none of the great classical pianists that I know of. Maybe Godowsky? I suggest posting also on the non classical forum since there may be a few great jazz pianists who were mostly self taught.

For classical composers, check bios of Mussorgsky and Charles Ives, although I'm not at all sure about those two.

What about this?:

Quote
Fryderyk mastered the instrument so rapidly that before he turned six, he could play every melody he had ever heard, and began to improvise. He had essentially learned the piano by himself, including harmonizing melodies with simple chords, but his parents concluded that henceforth he should be taught music seriously and systematically. Żywny’s greatest contribution to the history of music was that he recognized that he was in the presence of genius and did not attempt to improve on it.

- Tad Szulc (“Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer”)

Chopin had many music teachers. From Wiki:
"Fryderyk may have had some piano instruction from his mother, but his first professional music tutor, from 1816 to 1821, was the Czech pianist Wojciech Żywny.[16]
From September 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where he received organ lessons from the Czech musician Wilhelm Würfel during his first year. In the autumn of 1826 he began a three-year course under the Silesian composer Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, studying music theory, figured bass, and composition."

How do you explain the fact that Frédéric François Chopin vastly eclipsed his mother and every single one of his teachers when it came music creation? Was his ability to create what he did attributable to them? I guess they showed him how to do that, pianoloverus?
Just because a composer or a pianist becomes greater than his teachers doesn't mean they are self taught. If you use that kind of criteria to judge if a composer was self taught, then almost every great composer would be considered to be self taught.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
Henderson Hall #3050617 11/28/20 06:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Henderson Hall
George Gershwin was a composer who had very little formal musical training yet he was able to establish his name in the worlds of orchestral music and popular music.
From Wiki:"Gershwin studied piano under Charles Hambitzer and composition with Rubin Goldmark, Henry Cowell, and Joseph Brody." "George once said that Charles was his first major musical influence in life."

This doesn't mean he didn't learn a lot by himself. In fact, I believe I read he learned how to play piano by either watching a player piano or putting his fingers on the keyboard while the piano played.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 11/28/20 06:50 PM.
Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
pianoloverus #3050620 11/28/20 06:53 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Just because a composer or a pianist becomes greater than his teachers doesn't mean they are self taught. If you use that kind of criteria to judge if a composer was self taught, then almost every great composer would be considered to be self taught.

The thing that made the great musicians (“composers,” as you say) of days past great was indeed a self-taught process. Very often with heavy inspiration from the great musicians preceding them. (Not the “teachers.”)

With your messaging, we run the risk of believing that the greatness of the greats is attributable to lessons. That is not the case. I've got a massive list of “composers,” all of whom have biographies citing their self-taught abilities as the reasons for their greatness.

Thanks for contributing though. Godowsky was indeed self taught. (Had him already.)

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I suggest posting also on the non classical forum since there may be a few great jazz pianists who were mostly self taught.

No thank you. I specifically posted here to find more Baroque, Classical, and Romantic era greats who were autodidactic.

Cheers.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050622 11/28/20 06:59 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I believe I read [George Gershwin] learned how to play piano by either watching a player piano or putting his fingers on the keyboard while the piano played.

A deaf person can do that. The music came from within Gershwin... not from mimicking piano key depressions...

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050625 11/28/20 07:09 PM
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Originally Posted by piano_adoring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Just because a composer or a pianist becomes greater than his teachers doesn't mean they are self taught. If you use that kind of criteria to judge if a composer was self taught, then almost every great composer would be considered to be self taught.

The thing that made the great musicians (“composers,” as you say) of days past great was indeed a self-taught process. Very often with heavy inspiration from the great musicians preceding them. (Not the “teachers.”)

With your messaging, we run the risk of believing that the greatness of the greats is attributable to lessons. That is not the case. I've got a massive list of “composers,” all of whom have biographies citing their self-taught abilities as the reasons for their greatness.
Not at all. It's obvious that most of the greatest composers and some of the great pianists became far greater at composition or playing paino than any of their teachers. No one said their greatness was attributable mostly to their lessons. But that is not the same thing as saying they were self taught or that they had no musical training. And that was what your original post asked.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
piano_adoring #3050626 11/28/20 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by piano_adoring
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I believe I read [George Gershwin] learned how to play piano by either watching a player piano or putting his fingers on the keyboard while the piano played.

A deaf person can do that. The music came from within Gershwin... not from mimicking piano key depressions...
My comment was about how Gershwin learned, in least at part, to play the piano not about his composing. There is the story of him putting his fingers on a player piano that played Rubinstein's Melody in F.

Re: Legendary self-taught pianists & composers?
pianoloverus #3050628 11/28/20 07:13 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
It's obvious that most of the greatest composers and some of the great pianists became far greater at composition or playing paino than any of their teachers. No one said their greatness was attributable mostly to their lessons. But that is not the same thing as saying they were self taught or that they had no musical training. And that was what your original post asked.

I think we can agree on this: The very best material produced by the greats was their own, and that material was self-taught. (It had to be.)

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