Memoirs of an Accompanist

Building a Library

Specialist literary publisher Kahn & Averill have a stellar reputation for delivering compelling biographies and autobiographies of interesting and important figures within the classical music world.

I have previously reviewed their biographies of the iconic pianist Dinu Lipatti and more recently the autobiography of filmmaker Christopher Nupen.

And now, hot off the press, comes the autobiography of Helmut Deutsch, one of the most successful and sought-after lieder accompanists of our time.

Deutsch has accompanied, both on stage and in the recording studio, the likes of Hermann Prey, Olaf Bär, Brigitte Fassbaender, Jonas Kaufmann and many others.

His is a career and life in music that will surely yield both insight and a rich seam of anecdote, in the tradition of Gerald Moore’s excellent memoirs, so let’s take a look…


The Memoirs…

The book arrives with a soft, glossy cover with artist photo suitably prominent:


As with the Nupen autobiography a few months back, the inside is beautifully presented, spot colour tastefully included for chapter and other headings. At the centre, 16 pages of (mostly colour) photographs show the author alongside many of the most well-known artists he has collaborated with.

The author, translator (Richard Stokes) and publisher offer their acknowledgments at the start, following which there is a (very short) Foreword by Alfred Brendel.

The rest of the book (which is around 200 pages) is given over to the main text.

Most of the chapters cover Deutsch’s work with specific artists, and as such the book does not present his life story as a singular narrative, even though it is loosely chronological.

Deutsch interleaves personal accounts with reflective chapters covering his thoughts on the art, diplomacy and lifestyle of the accompanist. Subjects such as practising, working with singers, teaching, instruments, performing, recording and competitions are all covered, these sections providing welcome interludes and much food for thought.

The book concludes with a simple chronology, a lengthy list of artists Deutsch has had the privilege of working with, and a select discography of recordings.

…of an Accompanist

With such a long and illustrious career to look back on, it’s no wonder that Deutsch has such plentiful, telling and important insights to share in this book.

His accounts of working with particular artists are always revelatory, not just in their anecdotal interest but in the more general perspicacity and light they shine upon the work of a top accompanist.

The chapters dealing with more general topics could easily have been collected as a primer for aspiring accompanists, covering the main areas of interest with astute observation and offering detailed advice based on the author’s deep and wide professional experience.

The writing is both erudite and approachable, and I quickly and easily found myself drawn into the book. Deutsch has much to say, and indeed, much of significant interest! Hats off too, to translator Richard Stokes for bringing the original German text to life for the English-speaking reader.

Some of Deutsch’s views, for example on teaching, conservatoires and culture, can be described as robust; nor is he reluctant when offering his opinions on both the musical and personal qualities of the many musicians he has worked with. The passages in which he resists the urge to hold back only serve to make the book the more remarkable and engaging.

If there is one area where Deutsch seems more reticent, perhaps, it is in telling his own personal story. Memoirs of an Accompanist is unapologetically a professional autobiography more than an intimate one, the author revealing very little about his childhood or, indeed, his adult and personal life beyond the many engagements that have populated his calendar over the decades.

Conclusion

Memoirs of an Accompanist is a book which will surely appeal to any classical music lover, and in particular those with a penchant for lieder.

Meanwhile pianists, and especially those who practice the art of accompanying, will find that the book offers a plethora of expert insight and valuable understanding. For college students learning this art, and those intent on a portfolio career, the book is absolutely invaluable.

And Kahn & Averill have again delivered a stunning presentation, making this book not only a colourful treasure-trove of musical and professional insight, but a treasure in its own right. Highly recommended!


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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