The pianist Heinrich Barth (1847-1922)
Besides his performances with his colleagues de Ahna and Hausmann in a Piano Trio, Heinrich Barth (12.07.1847-23.12.1922) had a solo career, although he never became as famous as his students Wilhelm Kempff, Heinrich Neuhaus, or Arthur Rubinstein.
Barth’s training included study with Liszt’s two best students, Hans von Bülow and Carl Tausig.1A good source for information on Barth is Dietmar Schenk, Die Hochschule für Musik zu Berlin: Preussens Konservatorium zwischen romantischem Klassizismus und neuer Musik, 1869-1932/33 (Berlin: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004). He began at the Hochschule as an instructor in 1871, coming over from the Stern Conservatory where he had been teaching since 1868.2Pianisten in Berlin : Klavierspiel und Klavierausbildung seit dem 19. Jahrhundert (European Piano Forum ’99) HDK-Archiv ; Berlin, 1999.
Barth and Brahms
His speciality became Brahms’s piano concertos, chamber music and solo works. As part of the Trio’s concerts he played the first performance in Berlin of the C major Piano Trio Op. 87 in January of 1883. The Brahms chamber music with piano was a mainstay of the Piano Trio’s concerts during their thirty years of existence.
Starting in 1878, Barth travelled to Britain for concerts, often at first with Joseph and Amalie Joachim. He played the Handel Variations that year, and in 1880 he performed the D minor Piano Concerto and the Paganini Variations, with the latter said to be played “for the first time” at the Popular Concerts. He played a recital with Robert Hausmann in London in 1881 which included the Brahms E minor Cello Sonata, and in November 1883 he played Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto on a Saturday popular concert at Crystal Palace.
When Brahms died, he represented the Conservatory at the funeral (the Joachim Quartet was in England at the time). At the Beethoven-Haus Bonn Festival in 1897, which was a memorial for Brahms that year, Barth played the Handel Variations.
Hanslick reviewed his debut in Vienna favorably in 1881:
The genuine Germanic appearance of this blond-bearded, bursting-with-strength (“kraftstrotzende”) artist may arouse in anxious spirits the concern that he could wreck the piano. All the more pleasantly was one surprised when Herr Barth unfolded a completely subtle, elegant and tasteful style that, without being weak, pleased precisely because of its moderation and calm grace.
In 1890 Barth gave three concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, playing two piano concertos on each:
Beethoven No. 3 in C minor and Saint-Saëns No. 2 in G minor;
Henselt Concerto in F minor and Schumann Concerto in a minor;
Brahms No. 1 in D minor and Beethoven No. 4 in G major.
In 1893 an American student studying in Berlin reported that ”’Barth says he knows a hundred concertos, any of which he can play at two days notice!’”
By the end of the century Barth had become one of Berlin’s most feared and respected professors. Wilhelm Kempff’s recollections of the “old East Prussian giant” were of incredibly high standards —“nothing got past his ear”—and a way of showing his displeasure that caused students to cry as they left his studio.
Another profile of the pianist described: “He looks to be professor of anything but music. He is over six feet tall, of powerful build, and well proportioned; his head is large and finely modeled; his forehead, rising to an eminent height, bespeaks an unusual mind.”3Henry G. Garrot, “Professor Heinrich Barth and his Teaching,” Music: A monthly magazine 17 (1909): 499. Arthur Rubinstein described him when he was in his fifties as “more than six feet tall and heavily built, but still quite quick on his feet. His grayish hair showed just a touch of baldness. A long Brahmsian beard, the color of salt and pepper, and a bushy mustache covered a rather weak mouth and chin; but his gold-rimmed glasses gave him a look of uncompromising severity. I was terrified by him.”4Quoted in Harvey Sachs, Rubinstein: A Life (Grove Press, 1995):27. Nevertheless, Rubinstein had lessons with him twice a week for six school years. By the time of Kempff and Rubinstein, he had stopped concertizing for he most part, but Kempff recalled that “it was said of him that he could do a series of six concerts without dropping a single note under the piano.”5Sachs, 26.
Barth was also described as having complete dedication to Beethoven and Bach in the same way critics wrote about Joachim. An article on Barth in 1909 emphasized that “while playing he seems to lose all thought of self, to subjugate his own personality to that of the composer–especially when he is playing the works of Beethoven and Bach.”6Henry G. Garrot, “Professor Heinrich Barth and his Teaching,” Music: A monthly magazine 17 (1909): 499.