Clara Haskil (1895-1960)

This winter is especially cold and wet. On a dismal day like today, playing my Mozart records by the side of my (electric) fireplace is all  that I wanted to do.  The fragility, innocence and joyfulness of the piano sounds by Clara Haskil have always given me solace when the world seems crashing down on me.

Clara Haskil, a Romanian-born Sefardic Jewess, was one of the most extraordinary pianists of the 1930- 60s.

It’s hard to avoid the temptation to relate Clara Haskil’s art to her difficult life. She suffered most of her life from various ailments: brain tumour, scoliosis and attendant self-esteem/stage-fright problems. She went unrecognized most of her life but for her last few years enjoyed a glowing international reputation. Her end was also tragic: she fell down a flight of steps in the Brussels railway station where she arrived for a concert with Arthur Grumiaux and died from her injuries. Her unexpected death at the age of 65 had bewildered her friends and the whole musical world. How could it be that, having at last reached the summit of her international glory, she disappeared for ever?

Her difficult life story ( albeit in Korean ) can be accessed on Woman Ahead Time – Clara Haskil (클라라 하스킬) .

She is a pianist with a liquid sound. Just as the Chinese saying, this is like the sound from a fresh flowing spring. Her interpretation of Mozart piano pieces is unsurpassed. I could forever listen to her Mozart Piano Concerto K.466-2, Clara Haskil at Montreux

Karl Schumann described her as “dematerialized and free from anything in the least earthy, … belonging to a different, spiritual world.” Maybe, her piano music can be described as minimalistic; this is what you get by taking all the earthly elements out of it.

An esteemed friend of Haskil, Charlie Chaplin, described her talent by saying “In my lifetime I have met three geniuses; Professor Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Clara Haskil. I am not a trained musician but I can only say that her touch was exquisite, her expression wonderful, and her technique extraordinary.”

It is unfortunate that many of her recordings were made before the age of stereo sound (started in 1957). However, her untimely death was somewhat mitigated by the legacy of her precious recordings that she left us . . . . . the world (and I) would be so much poorer without them!