“In moving further into the 21st century it becomes increasingly important to try to preserve the artistic treasures that are our heritage. As past eras recede further into the distance, and tangible links with them become increasingly rare, any attempt to document our heritage for the benefit of future generations is an important and worthwhile undertaking.”
Keyboard Giants .com






John Vallier


“He possesses a reliable virtuoso technique and a touch that can sing sweetly  and also  thunder with impressive force.” [New York Times]



Virtuoso pianist, composer, musicologist and one-time child prodigy, John Vallier was, perhaps more than most musicians, inseparable from his background.  As one London critic put it:

"John Vallier has a musical pedigree of incomparable distinction.  His mother was Adela Verne, a student and even a rival of Paderewski.  His father was the famous French bass, Jean Vallier.  His aunt and main teacher, Mathilde Verne, was Clara Schumann’s greatest pupil.  He himself has also studied with Edwin Fischer and Alfred Cortot.  He not only has authenticity but seeks it; his scores of Schumann are annotated by Clara; he has done research on the Chopin manuscripts and given the premieres of a number of newly-discovered pieces or versions”.  [Financial Times, London]

John Vallier was born in London and grew up in a world saturated with legendary musical figures and gargantuan achievements.  Paderewski, Pachmann, Rosenthal, Hofmann, Ysaye, Saint­Saëns, Melba, Tetrazzini and many of the world’s great conductors were friends of the family.  His father, who toured widely and sang for many years with the Opera in Paris, went to school with Debussy and Ravel; his mother, the first British artist to give a solo recital at the Royal Albert Hall, (and who gave the first performance in Great Britain of César Franck’s Symphonic Variations and, with [Sir] Henry Wood, the first promenade concert performance of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto) toured Europe, North and South America, Australia and many other countries, and was hailed as the greatest woman pianist of her generation.

John Vallier made his first public appearance at the Wigmore Hall, London, aged 4.  Like Adela Verne, his mother, he studied principally with her eldest sister, Mathilde, who, although a very fine pianist herself, and the greatest of Clara Schumann’s pupils (considered as such even by her contemporaries, such as Fanny Davies) was best known as a teacher, through whose School of Pianoforte in Cromwell Road, London, passed a host of illustrious students including the pianist Solomon, for whose later success Mathilde Verne was largely responsible.

John Vallier was regarded by Mathilde Verne as her own finest pupil (a judgement made quite independently of the family connection) and received from his aunt the same rigorous training she had received from Clara Schumann.  He was heard by Moritz Rosenthal, (Liszt’s great pupil) who expressed great interest in his playing and musicianship; Alfred Cortot, too, proclaimed him a brilliant musician.  Vallier also later studied in Vienna with Walter Kersch­baumer, an eminent pupil of Busoni.

John Vallier’s unique musical and personal links with the Schumann family and, through them, with Chopin, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Liszt and others, were important, for handed down to him through Mathilde Verne was the distinctive art of legato playing which embodies a round, warm, singing tone, a principal characteristic of Clara Schumann’s teaching.  Mr. Vallier studied from scores which contain the personal annotations of Clara Schumann, wife and inspiration of the composer and acknowledged authority on his works as well as those of other great composers.  He also inherited the teachings - and annotated scores - of Paderewski through Adela Verne, who studied frequently with this great Polish pianist (and was even accepted as one of his family).  

Vallier's musical inheritance thus comprised explicit documentation combined with equally explicit oral instructions and guidelines passed on to him through his family and teachers, and, as a result, his interpretations and performances were of rare authenticity.  Mr. Vallier was the recipient of the major pianistic traditions of the 19th century, and through these could claim direct musical links with both Beethoven and Mozart.

He made a great study of Chopin’s music; his various musicological studies resulted in his giving world premières and first broadcasts of (then) newly-discovered Chopin works, including the Waltz in A minor, B. 1 50 (1955), Souvenir de Paganini (1956), the complete version of the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4* (1958) and the authentic version of the posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor.  These were published in an Edition for the Oxford University Press.

Other more technical hallmarks of his playing, consistently remarked upon by critics and musicians alike, included the effortless, reserved manner at the keyboard, wide range of dynamics and tone, subtle pedal technique and ‘orchestral’ approach to interpretation.

All this had a practical bearing on his concerts and helped to explain, for instance, the admiration of audiences on hearing John Vallier’s performance of so well-known a work as the Schumann Piano Concerto.  For John Vallier is one of only two pianists (the other was his mother) ever to have studied the Concerto with Mathilde Verne, who herself learnt it with Clara Schumann.

Another facet of Mr. Vallier’s art was his ability to improvise, that is, to create and perform spontaneously at the keyboard music with form and structure.  This gift, once thought of as being indispensable to any musician, allowed John Vallier’s spontaneous invention of cadenzas to concertos or, in recitals, his improvisations on themes suggested by the audience.  Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were all noted for their prowess in improvisation and, during the nineteenth century, Chopin and Liszt were the supreme exponents of this art on the piano (with Paganini for the violin), and were the foremost representatives of what was then considered to be an indispensable part of a concert pianist’s claim to musicianship.

*John Vallier was the first to reconstruct the central section of the previously incomplete Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4.  This reconstruction was undertaken in the early 1950’s shortly after the central section had been discovered by Arthur Hedley.  John Vallier gave the first performance of the complete Mazurka in 1958 and broadcast the same for the BBC in October of that year. Others subsequently attempted various reconstructions. John Vallier recorded the Original Complete Version of the Mazurka in 1980.


     ©  Copyright KeyboardGiants.com   All rights reserved