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COUP 007 - Johanna Martzy



Bach Sonata and Partita

Johann Sebastian Bach - Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001; Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006.

With kind permission of Hauptabteilung Musik, Funkhaus Berlin (track 1); Bayerischen Rundfunk (track 2).

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Johanna Martzy: Bach

Most readers of these notes will be aware of the high esteem in which Johanna Martzy's Columbia recordings of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas are held. However, had it not been for the uncanny timing of the notorious EMI producer and head-hunter Walter Legge, she would, in all likelihood, have recorded them for Deutsche Grammophon with whom she originally signed in 1950.

When her contract with them was up for renewal on September thirtieth 1953, she owed DGG two Bach sonatas and the Tchaikovsky with Fricsay, recordings she had postponed due to illness. Béla de Csilléry, her first husband, was visiting Johanna in their little flat over the Post Office in Ayer-Anniviers. It was the second week in September, nearing the end of the summer holidays and he would soon have to return to his teaching post in Scotland. The new contract had arrived, and after a little negotiation over the telephone, Johanna signed it and posted it downstairs. A couple of hours later a telegram arrived from Walter Legge urging her to meet with him in Luzern the next evening to discuss a possible contract with EMI. He was in Switzerland with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who had just sung in a performance of Verdi's Requiem. What should they do? Béla, for mixed reasons, strongly promoted Legge. On arriving at the decision to at least hear what he had to say, they ran downstairs and asked the postmistress (their landlady), to give them back the DGG letter. So they drove down to Luzern, for dinner with Legge and his bride to be.

They were captivated by Legge's imposing manner and it didn't take him long to persuade Johanna that by joining Columbia and its impressive roster of artists, she would be stepping onto the world stage. Though Johanna and Schwarzkopf did not exactly hit it off, Legge clinched the deal with the promise of recording the Brahms. What neither Johanna nor her husband appreciated was that she had caused ripples of interest within EMI since her appearance with the Liverpool Philharmonic the previous January. In particular, Mrs. Dorle Soria, co-founder of EMI's American division, Angel, had also been keeping a close watch on Johanna's career in Europe, and there was much speculation over her position with DGG.

On September fifteenth, Gwen Mathias, head of International Artistes Department for Columbia received a message from Legge in Zurich stating that the DGG contract had expired. He asked that a contract be prepared and sent to Johanna in his name. On the sixteenth it had been drafted. "You know she is absolutely essential to the Columbia mark", stated Legge in an internal memorandum, "Soria is counting particularly on having her records". After a few alterations were negotiated, the contract was finally signed on the eleventh of November.

During the Brahms recordings with Kletzki and the Philharmonia in February, Johanna wrote to friends, "Legge is an outstanding musician. He wants to make music, not records. I'm really so happy to have come here." Johanna began the Bach sessions on the first of June 1954, eventually completing them in May the following year. Sadly her opinion of Legge was not to remain so high.

The Gramophone reviews that appeared as the recordings were issued, between October '55 and March '56, are extremely complementary. Perhaps more interesting though are the comparisons made with interpretations by other renowned players of the day, Heifetz, Menuhin and Milstein. Summing up his review of the 1957 Heifetz set, Denis Stevens provides what could be considered the general consensus, "For those who admire his playing these sonatas and partitas will provide a wealth of enjoyment; but I feel that the true Bach-lover will fall for the performance by Johanna Martzy".

© Glenn Armstrong / Coup d'Archet 1999

Recorded May 4th 1962

A recording of DeutschlandRadio/RIAS Berlin. Reproduced with the permission of Hauptabteilung Musik, Funkhaus Berlin.

Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006 

  1. Preludio
  2. Loure
  3. Gavotte en Rondeau
  4. Menuet 1, Menuet 2
  5. Bourée
  6. Gigue

 Recorded June 20th 1955

Reproduced with the permission of Bayerischen Rundfunk.

Johann Sebastian Bach

  1. Adagio
  2. Fuga
  3. Sicilliano
  4. Presto

Track listing

Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001




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