Robert Helps,
Piano guru

As a piano teacher (he hated the term pedagogue), Robert Helps was nothing less than a guru. His understanding of the mental and physical workings involved in piano playing was legendary. The ”level“ of pianists who studied with him interested him very little. A technical problem from a cadenza in the Busoni Piano Concerto brought to him by a platform professional or rhythmic inaccuracies in Debussy’s Première Arabesque stuttered by a beginner would receive the same serious consideration from Helps. He had a nearly-miraculous (although for him, there were no secret formulae) ability to identify pianistic problems at their root.

One of Helps’ famous outlines for Chopin’s Etude op. 10 no. 2

Sometimes his solutions seems appallingly simplistic. ”You would try his suggestions, without really believing; then, as your body suddenly and nonchalantly avoided the error you were trapped in for months, you would feel like crying. Why does this work??? And why didn’t I think of it??“

Helps studied piano with influential educator Abby Whiteside in New York. Her ideas about physical rhythm and large-muscular coordination were based of observations of the great virtuoso pianists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century: Friedman, Cortot, Hoffman, Novaes, Myra Hess, Schnabel, Godowsky, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, et al.

Helps vividly recounted the thrill of attending concerts by some of these masters with Whiteside. (His pianistic memory was infallible – he was able to describe a rubato choice, daring pedalling, or spicy voicing 60 years after hearing it!)