Remembering Heinrich Schiff

The world-renowned Austrian cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff passed away on Friday. He was 65.

Schiff leaves behind an extensive recorded legacy, including cello concertos of Vivaldi and Haydn, the Brahms Double Concerto with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, and the Shostakovich Cello Concertos, conducted by Maxim Shostakovich (the composer’s son). In 1971, he gave one of the earliest performances of the haunting Cello Concerto by twentieth century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski.

Heinrich Schiff will be remembered, also, for his spectacular 1985 recording of J.S. Bach’s six solo Cello Suites. This is music he credited with saving his life, following a 2008 stroke. Cellist Steven Isserlis told the story in a Slipped Disc interview last year:

One story that he told me really struck home. I was complaining (as usual) about the pressures of performing the Bach suites. He looked at me, and said quietly: ‘Bach saved my life.’ I asked him what he meant; and he told me that a few years ago, he had a serious stroke, and was in danger of losing all mobility on his left side. As soon as he got to hospital, and realised what was happening, he started (almost instinctively, I imagine) to go through the fingerings of the Prelude to Bach’s first suite, moving his fingers ceaselessly to the imaginary music. He did this for about 20 hours a day, he thinks; and gradually his whole body came back to life, powered by those fingerings. It is an amazing story (and he said he was happy for it to be generally known). 

Today you would never guess that he could have been half-paralyzed, possibly even incapable of speech – or worse. The miracle of Bach – and of Heinrich.

In terms of finger coordination and mental agility, this may be some of the most digital music ever written. But listening to the opening Prelude from Suite No.2 in D minor, I was struck by the singing, tunefulness of Schiff’s playing:

The Prelude from Suite No.4 in E flat is a celebration of harmony and vivacious drama:

Listen to the voices and fun-loving sense of dance which emerge from the Fourth Suite’s Bourrée 1 and 2:

Recordings

  • Bach: Cello Suites, Heinrich Schiff iTunes
  • Heinrich Schiff’s complete discography iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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