(b Łańcut, Galicia, 22 June 1830; d Dresden, 14 Nov 1915). Polish pianist, teacher and composer. His father held the position of music teacher to a minor branch of the Potocki family at Łańcut in Austrian Poland, and was his son’s first teacher. Leschetizky made his début at the age of nine in Lemberg playing a Czerny concertino (the conductor was Franz Xaver Mozart) and shortly after this the family moved to Vienna, where he became a pupil of Czerny himself. From 1842 to 1848 Leschetizky undertook tours as a virtuoso, but also studied law and had lessons in counterpoint from Sechter. In September 1852 he went to St Petersburg and played before Nicholas I, and then lived in the city for the next 26 years. Having been a piano teacher from his teenage years, he greatly expanded this activity during his sojourn in Russia, while not neglecting his career as a pianist. He became director of music at the court of the Grand Duchess Helen, sister-in-law of the Tsar, and it was under her patronage that Anton Rubinstein founded the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1862, with Leschetizky as head of the piano department. He held the post until 1878, when he returned to Vienna.
His home rapidly became a focus both for aspiring pianists and for various visiting musicians of the day, many of whom would be persuaded to play at the famed fortnightly group classes. In 1878, following the end of an unhappy 22-year marriage to a Russian singer, Leschetizky married his pupil Anna Esipova, and she became the first of his students to make a European reputation. Paderewski began studying with him in 1885, and it was his success, particularly in the USA, that established Leschetizky as the pre-eminent teacher of his day. Many young ladies crossed the Atlantic with the hope of having lessons with him, but were mostly passed on to his assistants and would only have the chance of playing to him very occasionally. Leschetizky was divorced from Esipova in 1892 and successively married two other pupils. His activity as a pianist effectively terminated with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at Frankfurt in 1887.
During a career that lasted 75 years, in excess of 1200 pianists are known to have studied with him. Horszowski, who had been his pupil, gave his last recital in 1991, so that from Esipova’s successes in the 1880s, Leschetizky’s students were active on the concert stage for almost all of the 20th century. Other major figures who were his pupils were Schnabel, Gabrilovich, Friedman, Ney, Moiseiwitsch, Hambourg, Brailowsky, Bloomfield-Zeisler and Goodson. Safonov, Vengerova, Esipova and Langenhan-Hirzel themselves all became well-known teachers.
The impact of having heard the salon composer Julius Schulhoff play in Vienna during the 1840s led Leschetizky to develop a special attention to tone quality, both in his playing and teaching. He considered Schulhoff’s ability to put a beautifully phrased quasi-vocal melodic line into bold relief above a subordinated accompaniment to be a simply effective and modern style of playing that revealed new expressive possibilities. His assimilation of this influence, together with a concern that virtuosic passages should always be integrated within the overall structure of the music, enabled him to develop a style that, while retaining the elegance of the Czerny school, consolidated the substance and intended impact of a work. In matters of repertory, Leschetizky concentrated much on Beethoven, with whose music he felt a special affinity owing to his study with Czerny, although the Romantics, particularly Chopin, Schumann and Liszt, also featured highly. It was undoubtedly Leschetizky’s advocacy of the Schubert piano sonatas that resulted in these largely forgotten works being introduced into the repertory, most notably by Schnabel.
His inventive and flexible approach to teaching arose from a deep-felt commitment to developing the potential of each student. This extended to him taking a genuine interest in their personal lives. He was a man of unflagging energy and emotional gusto, and it was typical of his personality that much of the advice given was in the form of metaphor and anecdote, yet always specific to the case in point. It was chiefly Leschetizky’s assistants (at the height of his fame he employed four) who were responsible for establishing the myth of the ‘Leschetizky Method’, which, as a specific schedule of technical training, did not exist. ‘As far as method is concerned’, Leschetizky said, ‘I teach exactly as Czerny taught me; I have added nothing, changed nothing’. Unlike many teachers of the day he did not insist on long hours of repetitive practice, but encouraged pupils to prepare the music mentally, so that they should have a clear idea of what they wished to achieve. It was the combination of Leschetizky’s profound musicality, his wealth of experience in teaching and his ability, through sheer force of personality, to communicate with the pupil that led to his unassailable status as having been the greatest piano teacher of the modern era.
His compositions, which include an early single-movement Piano Concerto in C minor op.9 and a comic opera Die erste Falte (1867, Prague), consist for the main part of well-crafted virtuoso works for piano, mostly in a light vein.