Egon Petri

Picture of Egon Petri

Egon Petri was a Dutch pianist, well out of the run of popular pianists although he was that too who gave us a recital of the works of Busoni on 11th November 1931. It is one of my great regrets that I was in bed with flu at the time, and had to miss hearing this remarkable Busoni programme. I had heard Egon Petri play in Moscow at a Max Mossel concert, and many times on the radio; I was tremendously impressed with him, particularly with the six recitals he gave of music by Charles Alkan. Alkan was a well-known virtuoso pianist by the time he was 17, and belonged to the artistic circle in Paris which included Victor Hugo and Chopin. Liszt frequently visited him and it was said that Alkan was the only musician in the world, in front of whom Liszt felt nervous. His masterpiece is the two sets of piano studies in major and minor keys. Some of the movements are linked together forming a Concerto and a symphony. I myself transcribed the piano symphony for a string orchestra.

Petri was a Busoni piano pupil who acquired much of his master’s brilliant technical equipment and intellectual interpretive ability: moreover, like most of Busoni’s pupils, he became infected with the inevitable Busoni virus, firmly believing in the greatness of Busoni the composer, and all his life did what he could to advance Busoni’s compositions. This is why he played for us for a fifteen pound fee instead of his usual 100 guineas one. It was disappointing that the Petri - Busoni recital drew only a half house. D.C. Parker, the Glasgow Evening Times critic, wrote: "Busoni, the creator, as we saw him in a representative selection of his works, was an eager, restless, profound, meditative and speculative spirit. He had an affinity with the older classics, and enthusiasm for, and an insight into Bach, Mozart and Liszt. The subject of counterpoint absorbed much of his time. He looked for new horizons and fresh methods. Characteristic of him is the remark that the classics had been “killed with respect” In his original compositions, he showed himself an expert craftsman, gifted with imagination of the purely intellectual order. The prevailing dryness and lack of emotional warmth cannot be overlooked."

Now, Percy Gordon, writing in the "Glasgow Herald":
"The most impressive work of the evening was the Fantasia Contrappuntistica. This is music made by a fine mind, working brilliantly. As an example of his piano writing it is always admirable and its craftsmanship is wonderful. Mr. Petri’s playing cannot be praised too highly. The beauty and range of his tone quality, the artistry of his playing and the ease with which the many pianistic problems were solved were alike remarkable, but not more so than the perfect clarity with which he presented the intricacies of the Fantasia."

Among the lighter pieces on the all Busoni programme was the "Fantasia on themes from Carmen." Here now, to finish this session is the Busoni-Bizet "Carmen Fantasia", played by Egon Petri in 1937.