Piano Technique and Education with Alexander Siloti


Traces of Rubinstein and Liszt

Liszt's favorite student and friend, Rachmaninoff's relative, famous Russian pianist Alexander Siloti walks our streets, visits our concert halls and – we hope – feels at home in the new continent!

Stating that she cannot speak English, Siloti has no problems with German. The language issue is of great importance because what they have to say is as valuable as gold.

“My studentPleasant and tiring times were spent with master Liszt in Weimar. I was only 19 years old and had just finished the conservatory. The year I finished school, I started taking lessons from Anton Rubinstein. This giant would make time for me every time he visited Moscow to conduct symphony concerts. In the simplest terms; The lessons were quite challenging.

He asked me to prepare four works for my first lesson. These are: Schumann's Kreisleriana, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 and Sonata in Opus No. 110, and Chopin's Sonata in B minor!

I had only 6 weeks to prepare with not knowing any of these works. Studying 7 to 8 hours a day, I learned the notes, and I had nothing to do with musicality.

I remember our first lesson very well. Master Rubinstein was not alone, he was with a few ladies of the society. When he entered the room, he said "-Play".

The first work I started with the fear of being stopped was Kreisleriana. I stole the entire piece without a single intervention from Rubinstein. When the work was finished, he got up and came to me and said, “- Kreisler was a wonderful person. It had a poetic feel. What you have to do is play in a way that evokes that feeling in all listeners.” said.

He went to the piano and played the piece himself once. It was here that young Siloti had disappeared.

We have done many lessons like this; When I look back now, every single one of them feels like a nightmare. I can say that the only reason I didn't quit my piano education is because of my positive production.

I had the opportunity to go abroad so that I could do further studies. Even Rubinstein agreed that being accepted as Liszt's student was the best thing that could have happened to me.

We traveled to Leipsiz for the Music Festival with a few of my friends. He would be at the festival in Liszt. I met him and he invited me to Weimar.

As soon as the festival was over, my friends took me to Weimar and rented an apartment. I missed my country very much at that time and I didn't know a word of German.

From my first lessons with Master Liszt, this feeling disappeared and I found myself immersed in the wonderful atmosphere of the lessons. I have had the privilege of working with Liszt for the past three years and the chance to be his student and friend.”

About Liszt's Work

“There is a question I am asked quite often. And that's how Liszt plays and why his touch is so great? Answering this question is not easy for some reason. Liszt's piano tone was not too big or too loud. It could even be said that he was quite close with some of us. However, the point where it is quite superior in our opinion can be expressed as follows; extraordinarily penetrating and touching. I can say as I've never heard of it.

It would not be correct to say 'He plays the piano', it should be said 'He plays the music'.

He would sit at the piano, where we, the students, were sitting and ruined by our playing, and he would produce unimaginable music from this unreliable piano.

Liszt once shared a story about Rubinstein with me, and now, in the meantime, let me tell you.

Rubinstein attends a banquet in his name at the end of his historic concert series in Vienna. It's there in Liszt.

When the glasses are raised for Rubinstein, the weary maester stands up and says: “What do you mean a toast to my health while Liszt sits between us? We are the corporal, he is the general!”

Anyone who has heard and had the opportunity to listen to Anton Rubinstein must have listened to a great artist. As someone who has worked with him, I must express that we are pygmy and he is a giant.

But if someone starts talking about Liszt, then Rubinstein disappears into the shadows in prominence. Rubinstein becomes a pygmy and Liszt becomes a giant.

Rubinstein is known for its tonal quality, but Liszt's touch is unforgettable. I will never forget how Beethoven tuned the first part of the moonlight sonata.

I strive to create the same in every work I do.

Teacher Liszt

He had a very different way of teaching compared to all other teachers. Standing behind the student or in front of the piano – right in front of you! – would stop. He expected you to understand your mistakes from the expressions on his face during your performance and to correct them immediately.

I attended classes with the class for the first few months, then we started doing one-on-one lessons.

I don't think there is any other pianist who can express musical expressions and emotions the way he expresses them with his face and gestures. Liszt thought that if he couldn't tell a student what had to happen the first time, he would never be able to tell them later.

He did not give parts himself, his students could choose what they wanted. But three pieces were not allowed to enter the classroom: “Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, his own Rhapsody 2 and Chopin's Scherzo in B flat minor. This would happen if he made fun of Scherzo as "Nanny Scherzo".

Apart from all these, any piece could be played. He enjoyed hearing Chopin's preludes. He was insistent on poetic performance. Playing the grouped little notes too quickly irritated him.

Bach's Music

He admired the music of Liszt Bach. He would advise us all to love this music. Speaking for myself, I am still a student in Bach's music.

Nowadays, pianists include Bach in their concert programs. However, if the pianist is young, his life experience is insufficient to play these works. Not in his thirties. At the age of forties, you begin to understand, and at the age of forty-five, you understand life.

My advice to people who love Bach's music is to study deeper. When the soil is ready, your tree will bear true and wonderful fruit!

Working style

“Yes, I work at a slow pace. The fast paced work of young pianists will be their greatest disaster. Work with slow to medium strength.

I no longer practice scales or finger exercises. Instead, I examine the difficult parts of the pieces. For example, Bach's prelude in C sharp major (Well Tempered Clavier) is a great finger exercise. Certain parts of Chopin's preludes, Tchaikovsky's octaves, or any other piece that works as many muscles as possible.

A pianist must always study, there is no escape from that.”

About Music Education

“I have pretty definite ideas about teaching music. Let me tell you how we do this in Russia, in those big conservatories.

Everything proceeds according to the system. We divide students into two categories; lower and upper class. We also have two categories for teachers.

Students who are new to music education need to learn the basics of this business very well. It is expected that the student will come to a certain level from the first beginning and have gained the skills to pass to the upper class.

It doesn't matter if the lower class teachers are pianists or not. It is sufficient to teach the basics comprehensively, it is not necessary to be a pianist who has given a concert in front of the audience.

Upper class teachers are called Professors. Must be a concert pianist who has given/given concerts in career or currently.

The professor's aim is to build artistic and musical skills on the foundation given by the assistant teacher… Advanced repertoire is covered by the Professor.

It is part of a certain systematic in the repertoire. For example, they cannot play any of Chopin's works without two years of musical training.”

Music Schools

“Music schools in Europe are not run for financial profit. They make a loss at the end of each year. The school is sustained either by the state or by donations from wealthy individuals.

Art comes first in Russia. We do not start with the question of how much money can be made from students.

In America, the situation is different. The priority of financial fundamentals is clear. The school generates income.

I talked to the administrators of the major schools in your country. All said their schools are on solid financial foundations. I replied to them, 'It is impossible to make a profit by treating a school with high ideals fairly by treating its professors and students'.

It's the same with orchestras. It is not possible for them to make a profit, they must have a financial support behind them. Let me explain with an example:

I had organized a large-scale orchestral performance. The costs of musicians' fees, hall rent, advertising and rehearsals amounted to 11.000 rubles. Our box office ticket revenue was 5.500 rubles. I had to cover the rest from my own pocket.

Now let me repeat, you can't make money by giving concerts to wealthy community members or running music schools with ideals.”


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