One of the nice things about doing this blog is that I occasionally discover a musician about whom I knew nothing. Magda Tagliaferro is one of those musicians. She is sometimes placed in the category of a “forgotten musician”. I don’t understand why that is the case as she was a musician of extraordinary talent, especially in the French repertoire. She knew most of the major French composers at the turn of the early 1900s, and thus her interpretations can be taken as examples of what the composers themselves would have played. There is a great number of her recordings on the internet. If you like what you hear here, she is still ready to play for you.
Magda Tagliaferro’s parents were French, of Alsatian and Bavarian origin. Her father, was a professor of singing and piano at São Paulo Conservatory, and he was young Magda’s first teacher. Tagliaferro played in public for the first time at the age of nine, she and was heard by cellist Pablo Casals who encouraged her to continue her studies in France.
Tagliaferro enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire, receiving a premier prix eight months later at the age of fourteen. Camille Saint-Saëns presented the award, and Isaac Albéniz, who was also on the jury, wrote of her as an ‘…exceptionally gifted, remarkable technician, already an artist and one with an enviable future’. However, after winning this prize and making her adult debut at the Salle Érard in Paris, Tagliaferro became one of the first students of Alfred Cortot ‘for the rest of her days’. He was the most important pianistic influence on Tagliaferro and she became part of his circle, often playing with violinist Jacques Thibaud and cellist Pablo Casals, as well as with the Capet Quartet.
Having begun her concert career in 1908 at the age of fifteen with a recital at the Salle Érard in Paris, not long afterwards Fauré selected Tagliaferro to tour with him, performing his works. During the 1920s and 1930s, Tagliaferro championed the music of French composers whom she knew personally, including Vincent d’Indy, Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc and Gabriel Fauré. One of her closest associations was with composer Reynaldo Hahn, and she gave première performances of many of his works including his Piano Concerto in 1930. A year earlier, her compatriot Heitor Villa-Lobos dedicated his Momoprecoce for piano and orchestra to her. Tagliaferro performed with many great conductors including Wilhelm Furtwängler, Ernest Ansermet, Charles Munch, Pierre Monteux, Felix Weingartner and Paul Paray.
In the years preceding World War II Tagliaferro taught at the Paris Conservatoire, but at the outbreak of the war, she was sent by the French government to New York on a propaganda mission to promote French music abroad. She gave her debut at Carnegie Hall and continued on to Brazil, remaining there for nine years and founding schools in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. After returning to Paris from Brazil in 1949, Tagliaferro divided her time between the two cities. At a music school she opened in Paris in 1956, Tagliaferro would give master-classes for more than thirty years, and at this time she founded a competition bearing her name. She was also active on many juries of piano competitions, and between 1937 and 1965 served on the jury of the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, being vice-president of the jury in 1955. Tagliaferro loved to perform and teach, and at the age of eighty-six, she returned to New York and gave a recital that included Schumann’s Carnaval Op. 9. At the age of ninety Tagliaferro was giving concerts in London, Paris and New York, and even in the year of her death, when she was ninety-three, she was still performing.
Tagliaferro’s recording career spanned more than fifty years, from 1928 to 1981.