On Being a Musician in Her 107th Year
October 27, 2010
What the video doesn’t touch on is Alice’s extraordinary connections: her mother was a childhood friend of Mahler; she herself studied with Conrad Ansorge, making her a grand-student of Liszt; her elder sister was married to a close friend of Kafka, who would take Alice and her twin sister out into the woods and tell them stories — “We were like three little children”, Alice told me (as two of them were, of course); “He had zese great big eyes”; and she knew Zemlinsky — as well, obviously, as the composers incarcerated with her in Terezín. I did ask her if Ansorge had communicated any playing tips from Liszt, but “No, nothing like that”.
The co-author of her biography (it is sentimental, which Alice certainly isn’t) brought out a CD to coincide with the German edition of the book which revealed her as a great pianist — really: that’s an adjective I use very sparingly. I got to know Alice in her late 90s, long after she had stopped playing in public (she still plays at home every day), and so took her musicianship on trust. So I was bowled over when I heard this CD — private recordings from her 70s and 80s, on her out-of-tune upright at home,
with the sparrows singing in the background. She’s playing Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Bach (IIRC), and the sense of pulse is absolutely secure; she understood the very core of the music — I’d put her on a par with, say, Serkin and Horszowski in terms of her depth of insight. An enormous loss, then, that as far as I’m aware, she never had recording
career of any sort.