Léonie Sonning Prize 1997

András Schiff

The pianist András Schiff received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 300,000 at a concert held at 7.30pm on Friday, 30 May 1997 in Tivoli Concert Hall.

The music prize was presented by the pianist, Assistant Professor Amalie Malling, who said:

“Here in Denmark we are proud of having a more than twenty-year connection between you and our country. In 1976 you played for the first time here in Copenhagen – and since then both orchestras and many music societies throughout the country have been favoured with your visits. [...] For you the main thing is to seek out the intentions of the music while always subordinating your musical perfection to the message of the music. The crucial thing for you is always the close spiritual link to your audience. That is because for you music is more than anything else the expression of the soul, a language that communicates feelings and wakens emotions in the listener.

For almost half of your life you have had a close friendship with Denmark, and we know that Denmark has a special place in your heart. You have also won a large place in the hearts of your Danish listeners and also for that reason we are extremely happy this evening to award you the Léonie Sonning Music Prize.

András Schiff replied: Just a few words to say how moved I am, and really truly honoured – I know it is a very great honour to receive this prize – I am too young for it! (at this point the audience all laughed heartily) – normally one has to be 70 or 80. Thank you, however, for your belief and trust in me – I hope I will not disappoint you in the years to come, if I am granted the good fortune from above to live a long life. So many, many thanks!”

You can listen to the speech here:

The programme

Franz Schubert Piano sonata in A minor
  Wanderer Fantasy
  Piano sonata in A major

Motivation

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize for 1997 is awarded to the pianist András Schiff as one of the great musical personalities of his generation. With his exceptional artistic overview and vision combined with a sure sense of style, imagination and poetry is capable of enchanting his listeners in both small, simple movements and the main works of piano literature.

András Schiff and Denmark

"Let me repeat how deeply moved I was to receive the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. Thank you for this honour and for your great hospitality.

Denmark has always had a very special place in my heart, ever since the first time 25 years ago. I hope to return to your lovely country many more time, out of friendship and so that – in my own small way – I can contribute to Danish cultural life."

That was how András Schiff expressed himself when, two days after having received this year’s music prize, he wrote from his hotel room in Copenhagen a letter to the chairman of the Music Foundation. Although András Schiff was only 45 when he received the music prize, he had – even though he was one of the world’s greatest pianists – become a natural part of Danish musical life over the previous twenty years.

After Schiff’s first concert in Denmark in 1976, the Hungarian star pianist became a regular visitor to Denmark. In 1983 he played Chopin’s second piano concerto in Tivoli; two years later, Brahms’ second piano concerto; and in the 1990s he gave five concerts that included Schubert sonatas, Beethoven, Janácek, Schumann and chamber music by Dvorak and Smetana. He also travelled around the country for a while with Anton Kontra, who played sonatas. Schiff got to know a great many people and came again year after year.

What really concerns András Schiff is cultural integrity in young people and in society in general, and his advice to young people – also those dreaming of a life as a musician – is similar to that of Anne-Sophie Mutter. He says: "It is a problem that young people focus on competitions and the mechanical aspects of musicmaking, but rarely read a good book or see a good theatre performance. We must know our cultural roots, which are highly valuable and deep – we must never forget them when we try to create a united Europe. I am not a nationalist [...] I am a Central European [...] a European."

Selected Music by András Schiff

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"One does not have to hesitate in calling András Schiff a genius on the piano. His technique is highly cultivated, his feeling for the soul of the music is overwhelming [...]

Schiff’s playing of Schubert, however, left no doubt that it is his qualifications as a musician that have ensured him the prize. His Wanderer Fantasy was unusually musically coherent. Expressive and yet controlled at one and the same time. Both the sadly cheerful and the dramatic aspects of Schubert were illuminated, so that all the liberties in Schiff’s refined modulations of sound and pulse felt as if they came from inside the music, not from outside. His sound is an enchanting world of nuances [...]"

(Thomas Michelsen, Information, 2 June 1997)

"András Schiff brings out images and feelings in Schubert’s music so that time almost seems to stand still, while small stories and points queue up to reach the surface of consciousness. A hidden middle voice emerges and assumes its true nature, and one senses an imperceptible retrospective shift of consciousness – how it has been there the whole time. Or a neutral alternate bass become the main point of interest. Or light becomes shadow with small shifts of weight in the chords, where each note is chosen with a meticulousness that places great demands on the pianist’s technique and sense of timbre [...]"

(Thorkil Kjems, Jyllands Posten, 1 June 1997)