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.
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!)