Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
The mistaken belief that talent will be recognised while living! [laughs] Actually, it is a difficult question because I remember when I was a child I couldn’t understand why people listened to music. Then I started learning the acoustic guitar, and I asked my grandfather to help me build an electric guitar. A few months later I wanted to start a rock band with my school friends in a city where almost no one knew rock’n’roll. I got my friends together and taught them what I knew. We got cheap instruments and started the band.
After some little time, I decided to learn the piano to teach someone to play the keyboards in my band – and this was the period when I had my first contact with the piano. At that time I first listened to Bach’s organ Toccata and Fugue in d minor and soon the rock band was less and less interesting as I drove deeper into my classical piano music studies. I couldn’t believe that Buxtehude and Bach would be more rock’n’roll for me than any famous rock band.
I used to say my taste developed rapidly after that – often I say taste is the enemy of art, and my taste is not necessarily out of this “rule” – at those times playing a single string from a guitar, using pedal effects or playing fast scales was not enough for me any more. Since I dedicated almost all my time to studying music, I developed my skills quite fast, and after 3 months I was playing the very difficult Carl Tausig’s transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue; at the time I had no idea on how difficult it was to do what I was doing. At the same time, I started to improvise and try to write some new music, without much knowledge of counterpoint, harmony, musical forms and orchestration. Two years later I already had composed 50 new piano pieces and the first chamber and orchestral sketches (mostly of no musical interest to me today). Later I discovered several theory books on compositional themes and I started to study them all, finally finding my musical voice, which, I say, is always under development. With all these things in mind, there was no doubt that a musical career would be the next step to follow.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
For me: Franz Liszt, Alexander Scriabin, Igor Stravinsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Victor Hugo, Mario Quintana, Dimitri Cervo, Leandro Faber and Kenneth Derus. I also must mention Bach, Beethoven, Tausig, Zichy, Busoni, Godowsky and Sorabji.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I would say the most difficult thing is getting my music in front of the right audience. To accomplish this I would need to spend money on marketing or use contacts that I simply don’t have. The fact is that a career in music often follows good contacts, an attractive visual ‘product’ or as a tool for politics. I’m not the stereotype for any of these options and have struggled to make myself known to the world. So, at the moment I am trying to find a new way to become known – I’m not sure I will find it, but I must try. I guess all musicians struggle with the mentality of some people that believe artists do not need money for living because they are doing what they love – it is somewhat like they expect that artists can drink sunlight and eat applause.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I think it is my Tausig CD as it was a long-awaited project and the first time some of these pieces where recorded. I researched Tausig in-depth: I obtained and studied his letters, history and beliefs. I coupled these ideas with the steps from my own book “Scientific System of Interpretation or Musical Hermeneutics”. The recording was made without stopping and editing, so it is truly a live performance with my heartbeat as my metronome.
I’m always happy when I can make recordings of my compositions. I had the chance to record my first CD in Australia in 2011. I was fortunate to have a sponsor for this CD and they specifically requested that I do not record standard repertoire (Chopin, Mozart Beethoven, etc). So I used this opportunity to experiment and explore the 102 keys and 4 pedal piano by Stuart & Sons. I included some original compositions for this keyboard range and the pedal effects, I also played other compositions and paraphrases I had composed earlier.
There is also one CD I love, which was published in 2017 by Acte Prealable and it is dedicated entirely for my compositions. But I have made many CDs: The Piano works by Alexander Michalowski, 2 CDs of Geza Zichy’s left hand music, 2 CDs with Tivadar Szanto’s compositions, Jozef Wieniawski’s 24 Etudes Op.44, 3 CDs with Theodore Dubois music, 2 CDs with Barrozo Netto, a triple CD with Mereaux 60 Etudes Op.63 and even a CD by the living Polish composer Aleksandra Garbal which includes some educational works and an Etude-Polonaise the composer dedicated to me.
And I’m very happy to have recently recorded two CDs by my friend Chen-Hsin Su, a psychiatrist from Taiwan who dedicates his free time to composing interesting music inspired by moods and pathologies from his psychiatric studies combined with a romantic musical language. These two CDs will be released soon and I hope to be a life-long interpreter of his works. Doctor Su has become a very helpful friend in difficult times, despite the long distance between Taiwan and Brazil.
I could say I’m proud of all my recordings, because, somewhat similar to what was said by Horowitz, if there are mistakes then these are really “my” own mistakes, not a faithful copy of others.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Especially because of the content of my book (Scientific System of Interpretation) I noticed several works like Liszt’s Sonata, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata Op.13, Waldstein Op.53, and many others, were played with misread interpretations which became a recording tradition over the past 100 years. So, today to me it is difficult to listen to Beethoven or Liszt’s music by any standard interpreter.
To give an introduction for those who never heard about my work, I believe it would be a good introduction to listen to my explanations on Beethoven’s Grande Sonata Pathetique Op.13 available at this link: http://opusdissonus.com.br/master-class_001_cimirro-beethoven-op13.mp3
Also, the recording of the entire sonata is available for listening in the same website, and the same kind of studio master-class was made for Liszt’s b minor Sonata, available in this link: http://opusdissonus.com.br/master-class_002_cimirro-liszt-sonata.mp3
I’m pretty sure those interested will find some surprising concepts there.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I’m not the kind of person who loves playing the same programme repeatedly; I prefer to explore different repertoires for each concert. I love to include unknown composers who are as good as the great names but who lack the necessary marketing or luck in their life. But the most important thing to me is playing something I feel comfortable with. I’m not much interested in playing my compositions in my concerts, but sometimes it is important to add one or two. Probably it is easier to me to say what I would NOT play as this would be a smaller list which would include any Gershwin, Kapustin, Piazzolla, Cage, Glass, Pärt, Feldman, Satie, Rzewski and few other similar names that I don’t find especially inspiring.
I would love to programme works such as Messiaen’s Modes de Valeurs et d’intensités and Boulez Sonata No. 2, however, these are not suitable for the main public. From time to time I add Villa-Lobos Rudepoema in my programmes, which is a very difficult work for the public but works nicely if well introduced with a a few words about it. I understand that some pianists dedicate their entire careers for these “complex-to-listen” repertoires, but I feel that this is a heavy burden for the market and not possible for my career at this time.
I also plan to make the Interactive Improvisation project in the form of recitals. In this project, I invite people to suggest five numbers selected from 1 to 12 (because in a musical chromatic scale we have 12 notes from C to B) and I must improvise using these “numbers” as the main theme and build a full “impromptu” with around one minute of length. With the interactive Improvisation in its recital form, any people from the public will be able to suggest the “theme” selecting some of the twelve numbers and I’ll do the improvisation “live”.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Yes! My home, as it is by far my favourite place to play [laughs] – it will be much better if one day I can get a piano especially built for me, or a decent concert grand to deal with. I would love to have a place where friends and the people interested in the piano could go, meet and share experiences – my concert venue.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Probably the most curious one was in a farm shed in Timaru (New Zealand) where I played the 5.7m “Alexander Piano” in 2011, lovely place and, believe me, there was very good acoustics in this “improvised concert hall”! The people there were very kind and I had to make two recitals on the same day because many people were travelling from different parts of New Zealand to watch my concert.
There are some other places where the public made me feel at home, and this is something I care a lot. One example is in Brasilia, at the Casa Thomas Jefferson (a private English school where they had a wonderful piano). Also, recently, in Slovenia, as I was invited to test the “Piano Harp Pedal” and they organized a recital in Ormož and several “soirées” around. Wonderful people with brilliant ideas, I made new life-long friends there!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Today when people start to hate you without reason, then you are probably heading in the right direction [laughs]. I would consider it a huge success if I could build a house where it would be possible to organize concerts and welcome students and professionals from all over the world. I would be happy to stay there all my life. Of course, this must happen in a country where there is classical music as part of the culture; this is not going to happen in Brazil as here there is no help nor future for classical music since the monarchy ended in 1889.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
First, you must be sure of what do you want, and the effect this can have on your life. You must be ready to hear criticism and understand, as I have come to realise that taste is the enemy of art. Finally, and this is the most difficult, you must have something to say with your music, otherwise you will be like a clone or confusing ideas from a mixture of different musicians. The rest comes with study, interest and luck (or a lot of money).
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
At my new home, FAR from Brazil, playing on a concert grand piano built especially for me.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
In the very last moment of my life, I want to have the sincere thought that I have felt every possible feeling from the height of happiness to the deepest sadness, then I know I would have lived life to the full.
What is your most treasured possession?
Cassette tape in its original box given as birthday gift by my late grandfather just before he died. He had almost no money at those times but he wanted to give me something to remember my birthday. It was his way of wanting me to smile, and I do every time I see the packaging.
What is your present state of mind?
I am content taking care of my wife, and two cats while piano playing, composing, transcribing, studying, researching, learning, writing and recording. When there is a rare moment of free time I enjoy going back to where it all started, my guitars! I’m a productive and very busy guy!
Artur Cimirro performs music by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov in the Master Music Festival at Clarendon Muse, Watford on 28 March. Further information and tickets
Artur Cimirro is a composer, arranger, pianist, writer and art critic. He has composed works for piano, orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, opera and ballet. His transcriptions and arrangements, dedicated to the left hand, deal with the exploration of new horizons in piano technique and include notably ambitious projects, such as Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes for the left hand alone and the recent project of complete Beethoven’s Symphonies and Sonatas for the left hand alone.