1. Piano playing with care and love

Reger in his music-room in Meiningen

Was he a real piano virtuoso? He could, unlike Bach or Mozart, not play his own Piano Concerto (opus 114) and never played his Telemann- or Bach-Variations in concerts. But there are numerous accounts of him playing his Beethoven-Variations for two pianos opus 86. These variations are also no easy stuff to play! In his Wiesbaden-time, he also studied many piano works by Busoni, Beethoven and Brahms. He was indeed a considerable piano player!
One of his duo-players in the Beethoven variations (and also in the introduction, Passacaglia and fugue opus 96) was Willi Jinkertz (1878-1943), who published a book about Reger ("Mit Reger an zwei Flügeln"). In this book, he is giving account of Reger's special way of playing the piano: Reger had access to all kind of colouring, unheard of at the time. He mentiones especially typical flute-like Staccato-effects, and the crystal-clearness of his playing. In the last years of his life, Reger seems to have played nearly only Bach in solo-concerts. Jinkertz names Reger "the pianoplaying genius, but not the born pianist" (page 17). As these are first-hand observations acquired from numerous concerts given together with Max Reger, it is certainly a contribution to the portrait of Reger as piano player.

Jinkertz also provides us with an insight in the way Reger wanted his own works to be played (page 20-21). The main points are:

  1. Study the structure of the music before playing it.
  2. Search for the main line in the harmonic substance.
  3. Try to accentuate this line in your playing by using a very differentiated touch.
  4. Do never play to fast. Especially the fugues should start much more slower than would be expected now.
  5. You should have affinity with the music.
Although these points are interesting, they do not reveal very much. A much better (the best) introduction to the piano music of Reger is undoubtedly the book of Helmut Brauss (published 1994, nowadys easily to aquire via internet). He devotes a separate chapter to the way Reger should be played at the piano (5. The Interpretative Factor). This book is an excellent introduction to Reger, as Brauss also discusses Reger's general traits. He repeatedly incurres Reger's own playing characteristics.

The Dutch pianist Willem Andriessen (my father's teacher) met Reger in Amsterdam (March 1916) and also explicitly mentioned in his memoires the glass-clear toucher of Reger. Reger never got tired that evening from playing his, then newly written, Telemann-variations opus 134 until deep in the night. Andriessen also noticed that playing was not Reger's first commitment: while playing his own music he seemed to be rather busy with other things in his head.

To all contemporary accounts, he played the piano with a hitherto unknown tenderness and clarity. The Welte - Mignon recordings of 1905 even tody reflect some of the qualities of Reger's piano playing. The newest release (Tacet, May 2006) of these recordings is a must for everyone interested in this field.

Reger in his music-room in Meiningen

The photographs here were taken in Reger's music-room in Meiningen by S. Hoenisch (Leipzig), who also pencilled the sympathetic drawing in 1910.
Reger is looking kindly, almost happily. I know of no other photograph which so clearly shows his tenderness in playing and his total dedication to music.

A virtuoso? Maybe not, but a piano playing Genius with enormous possibilities? Yes!

Drawing of Reger in his music-room in Meiningen