Isidor (first name sometimes spelled Isidore) Edmond Philipp (September 2, 1863 –February 20, 1958) was a French pianist, composer, and pedagogue of Jewish Hungarian descent. He was born on September 2, 1863, in Budapest, Hungary. Beginning at the age of 16, Philipp studied piano under Georges Mathias (a pupil of Frédéric Chopin and Friedrich Kalkbrenner) at the Conservatoire de Paris and won First Prize in piano performance in 1883. Philipp worked with Mathias what the latter had worked with Chopin. Because of his studies with Mathias and other prominent teachers, Philipp was best equipped to carry on the Chopin philosophy of teaching and by the age of 30 was recognized as the supreme authority on the piano and its literature. Other teachers included Camille Saint-Saëns, Stephen Heller (a pupil of Carl Czerny, one of Beethoven’s students) and Théodore Ritter (a pupil of Franz Liszt). At the Conservatoire, he met fellow student Claude Debussy. They remained lifelong friends, and Philipp often played his compositions. After Debussy’s death, Philipp was regarded as the leading authority on his piano music.
After graduating from the Conservatoire, Philipp commenced a career which took him to various European countries, and he was a regular performer at the Colonne, Lamoureux, and Conservatoire concerts in Paris. He was able to hear concerts, recitals, or master classes by many of the leading pianists of the day, including Liszt and Anton Rubinstein. He knew Charles-Valentin Alkan and was a pall-bearer at the latter’s funeral in 1888; he subsequently edited many of Alkan’s works for republication. In 1890 Philipp formed a trio with Loeb and Bertelier which toured for about a decade. He revived the Société des Instruments à Vent from 1896 to 1901. However, he eventually curtailed his concertizing, as he found lasting satisfaction in teaching. He returned to the Conservatoire de Paris, where he was a pre-eminent professor of piano from 1893 to 1934, one of the youngest ever appointed to that institution. From 1921 to 1933, Philipp was also the head of the piano section at the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau, which became famous for starting the careers of many notable American composers. His home in Paris contained many ancient and unusual instruments and other musical artifacts. When the Nazis entered Paris in World War II and Philipp fled to the United States in 1940, the Nazis confiscated the contents of his apartment.
As a performer, Philipp’s repertoire was wide, from the earliest keyboard masters to contemporary composers. Philipp recorded several works by his teacher Saint-Saëns: these include chamber music and the Scherzo for two pianos Op. 87, with his assistant Marcelle Herrenschmidt (1895–1974). Additionally, he recorded the Saint-Saëns Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor Op. 75 and Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 for the Pearl label, as well as a collection of his own pieces and works of Italian masters of the renaissance. There exists a recording of Philipp playing the piano in the Bach 5th Brandenburg Concerto, which aired by the NBC Symphony Orchestra in the early 1930s and was made by recording off the radio. And the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K. 459 can be heard, which is likely a radio broadcast made when he was 90 years old. The list of Isidor Philipp’s students who became notable pianists, composers or conductors is very long, and includes Stell Andersen, Dwight Anderson, Grace Barnes, Emma Boynet, Harold Bradley, John Buttrick, Serge Conus, Aaron Copland, Jeanne-Marie Darré, Pierre Dervaux, Ania Dorfmann, Rolande Falcinelli, Felix Fox, Jean Françaix, Henri Gagnon, Youra Guller, Georges Hugon, Fernando Laires, Malvina Leshock, Yvonne Loriod, Nikita Magaloff, Federico Mompou, Léo-Pol Morin, Guiomar Novaes, Ozan Marsh, Wilfrid Pelletier, Émile Poillot, Harrison Potter, noted philosopher Albert Schweitzer, Phyllis Sellick, Soulima Stravinsky, Louise Talma, Alexander Tcherepnin, Beveridge Webster, and Victor Young.
Philipp’s compositions include Rêverie mélancolique and Sérénade humoristique for orchestra, a concertino for three pianos (which has been recently performed in the USA), The Fantasmorgories Suite, Suite for Two Pianos, 6 Concert Studies after Chopin’s Études, Concert Étude after Chopin’s Minute Waltz, 2 Valse-Caprices on Themes of Schubert, 4 Valse-Caprices on themes of Strauss, and arrangements and transcriptions such as the Scherzo from Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for two pianos, and a large number of works by Bach transcribed for one or two pianos. He wrote a considerable number of transcriptions for the left hand. He is best known for his technical exercises and educational works” such as “The Complete School of Piano Technique,” published by Theodore Presser. Additionally, he published an anthology of French music from the 17th century to the end of the 19th. He was a regular contributor to The Étude, Le Ménéstral, The Musician, and Le Courrier Musical magazines, and published several short books on technique, including “Some Thoughts on Piano Playing.” He also edited music by Albéniz, Alkan, Bizet, Chabrier, Chaminade, Couperin, Debussy, Delibes, Dvořák, Fauré, Franck, Godard, Gouvy, d’Indy, Kabalevsky, Khachaturian, Lully, Massenet, Mozart, Pierné, Prokofiev, Pugno, Rachmaninoff, Rameau, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Scarlatti, Schumann, Widor, and others. Most of these edited works, especially the piano concertos, remain the standard interpretations today and have not been improved upon or updated.
Philipp left for the United States in 1941 and taught in New York and L’Alliance Francais in Louiseville, Quebec, Canada. During the war, he taught piano in New York City and at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. While he was in New York, he gave recitals with the violinist John Corigliano, Sr. Corigliano was the longtime concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. After the war, he spent the rest of his life between New York City and Paris. On March 20 1955, at the age of 91, he played the piano part in both Saint-Saëns’ D minor Sonata and César Franck’s Violin Sonata in New York, returning to Paris a year later. He gave his farewell recital at the age of 92, in Paris. He died in Paris, France on February 20, 1958, at the age of 94 after a fall on the Paris metro. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery. In the 1970s the Isidor Philipp Archives were deposited at the University of Louisville by the American Liszt Society. They gathered his compositions for the piano, his exercises and studies, his editions of the works of Franz Liszt, as well as exercises, studies and works on other composers, recordings, correspondence, photographs, and other artifacts. The University of Louisville Isidor Philipp Archive is held at the Dwight Anderson Music Library in Louisville, Kentucky.
My collection includes the following work by Isidor Philipp: