Last, but far from least, in Hans Keller‘s now infamous condemnation of the “phoney professions” which forms the first section of his book Criticism [M568.c.95.63], is the teacher (it begins with the poor old viola player). “Self-education”, he says, “is the only education which ultimately counts” [p.72]. But hang on a minute, didn’t Keller teach at both the Menuhin School and the Guildhall School of Music as well as privately? Indeed he did, and it was this aspect of his multi-faceted life, the subject of a fascinating seminar held at the Guildhall last week, that is the topic of this little post.
The event, devised and moderated by Evan Rothstein, Deputy Head of Strings at the Guildhall, set out to explore Keller’s philosophy of self-education not only through his approach to coaching but also through Functional Analysis – the wordless method of musical analysis for which he is probably best remembered.
It was with Functional Analysis (or FA as it is known) that the seminar began. Christopher Wintle, Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London and General Editor of the Hans Keller Archive, gave an enlightening and masterly exposition of the technique in his paper The Functional Analysis of Time. This is not the place to rehearse the detail of FA, but the idea, (which at the time produced a storm of controversy in the letters columns of the musical press) first explored in 1956 in Keller’s chapter on chamber music in the Mozart Companion [M520.c.95.16], is to show how “contrasting themes and movements in a masterpiece are but different aspects of a single, demonstrable basic idea” [“The Musical Analysis of Music”, The Listener, 29 Aug 1957]. There would be no words of explanation, rather all would be conveyed through listening. Wintle also explored the concept of how time functions in the way we listen to music, how when we remember what we have heard it’s rarely in a strictly linear fashion as the mind seeks connections, matches patterns and progressions, and that it is this upon which the foundations of FA are built.
Happily we are now able to appreciate FA for the innovative approach it encapsulates and were able to hear it “in action” in a spirited live performance by current students at the Guildhall of Keller’s very first FA, that of Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K421 (Ionel Manciu, Gabriel Ng, violins; Sophia Rees, viola; Yoanna Prodanova, ‘cello) and of the Piano Sonata in A minor, K.310 by recent Guildhall graduate, pianist Prach Boondiskulchok.
After this, we were treated to two clips of Keller himself, talking about two of the musicians he most admired – his staunch defence of violinist Bronislav Huberman is legendary, as is his championship of the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Both, he felt, displayed an approach which put the music first, second and third and always remained true to its demands. He summed up his admiration for Furtwängler in the documentary by saying simply: “He risked a lot, as every great artist must”.
The final session of the event was an absorbing panel discussion between five internationally-renowned performers, sharing their experiences of being coached by Keller: Levon Chilingirian leader of the Chilingirian Quartet, Charles Sewart who is Head of Strings at the Purcell School and both a violinist and a viola player, the clarinettist Anton Weinberg, David Waterman, ‘cellist of the Endellion Quartet and violinist Boris Kucharsky from the Menuhin School and the Guildhall. Jagdish Mistry of Ensemble Modern also sent a recorded contribution. Whilst their individual experiences were all subtly different, their accounts – all presented with great affection and impossible to do justice to in this short piece – of Hans’s method of listening to a performance and then articulating in forensic and eloquent detail the many perceptive and penetrating points he had noted, particularly on balance, blend, phrasing, tempo, were remarkably similar. They were united in their agreement that, whilst the experience had been challenging in the extreme and an exhausting, emotional journey, Hans had played a seminal role in changing the way in which each of them approached performance subsequently: in essence to empower them to think for themselves as they played.
Levon Chilingirian put it very neatly: “Hans had an ability to encapsulate points as questions enabling the students to reach a solution for themselves…to think music rather than about it…he didn’t tell you how, but made you think about what you were doing and why…” …and that, phoney profession or no, is surely what a good teacher achieves.
I cannot finish without touching on the truly magnificent supporting material: a copy of Christopher Wintle’s paper together with scores of the FAs performed, and a revealing sequence of extended extracts from Keller’s correspondence with Buxton Orr and John Hosier at the Guildhall and Yehudi Menuhin and Peter Norris at the Menuhin School expertly crafted together by Evan Rothstein from materials held in the Hans Keller Archive here at the University Library to build a picture of the principles and beliefs upon which Keller built his “anti-school” approach.
I leave the last words to Keller:
“Thinking about it [music] instead of thinking it is the gravest musical tragedy of our time, in which I won’t take any part.” (Letter to John Hosier, 11 August 1982).
Afterword: The Hans Keller Archive includes the original manuscripts of most of the Functional Analyses [Add.9371/12 – 23], his personal library of books and music, article typescripts, letters, programmes and personal papers. It has been (and continues to be) my privilege to work, gradually, on an annotated handlist of the many hundreds of letters it contains. Enquiries can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.