“Every sincere compliment that comes to my mind as a fitting tribute to the unparalleled Steinway has been beautifully expressed time and again by the greatest masters of our beloved art.”
Abram Chasins (1903-1987) was a musical virtuoso whose talents ranged from performing to writing and whose professional relationships involved the greatest artists of this century.
Born in Manhattan, New York, he attended the Ethical Culture schools and undertook additional studies through the Columbia University Extension School. He studied piano with Ernest Hutcheson and composition with Rubin Goldmark at the Juilliard School of Music before proceeding to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. There, he undertook further piano studies with Józef Hofmann. He became a protege of Hofmann, then dean of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, who made him a member of the Curtis faculty when Chasins was only 23. In 1931, he studied music analysis with Sir Donald Tovey in London.
Chasins' career as a pianist lasted from 1927 until 1947. He gave many solo recitals and performed with major orchestras in the United States, Canada, South America and Europe. On January 1, 1929, he made his debut playing his Piano Concerto No 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Ossip Gabrilowitsch. From 1926 to 1935, Chasins taught piano as a member of the faculty of the Curtis Institute. He was associated with the radio station WQXR from 1941 to 1965, becoming the music director in 1946. His radio series, "Piano Pointers,” ran from 1932 to 1939, for which he used his own E flat minor Prelude as the program's theme.
Judges for his school contests - in which young musicians competed against musical criteria rather than each other - included such giants as Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin, Jascha Heifetz and a young Van Cliburn. Most of those chosen for the shows never went on to professional music careers, Chasins liked to say, but their experiences made music a lasting part of their lives. He also was exceptionally proud when the Elvis Presley Fan Club of Chicago became the Van Cliburn Fan Club in the 1950s because of those performances.
"They (the broadcasts) made the music students as glamorous as the school athletes," he said, calling it one of his major accomplishments.
He was the first American composer to have his works premiered by Arturo Toscanini ("Flirtation in a Chinese Garden" and "Parade" in 1931); achieved an even earlier success with "Three Chinese Pieces" in the 1920s (a piano piece de resistance used as encore material by such keyboard giants as Josef Hofmann and Josef Lhevinne) and became a teacher of such aspiring pianists as Jorge Bolet and Constance Keene (whom he married in 1949).
He played four-handed piano with George Gershwin, performed for Leopold Stokowski, studied with Hofmann, and numbered Sergei Rachmaninoff among the admirers of his music.
His books included "The Van Cliburn Legend," which described the young pianist's extraordinary claiming of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow; "The Appreciation of Music," "Music at the Crossroads" and "Leopold Stokowski: A Profile." He wrote for Saturday Review and the New York Times Magazine in recent years and wrote of his celebrated friends in "Speaking of Pianists" in earlier ones.
His "Three Chinese Pieces," which he described as "written with all the expertise of one who had never been near the Orient," brought him acclaim from his peers, and he moved from performing to teaching - at Berkshire Center in Tanglewood at the invitation of Serge Koussevitzky. Among those listening to his lectures on Bach's "B Minor Mass" was future composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein.
Chasins was honored twice by the National Federation of Music Clubs for "outstanding service to American music," in 1976 and 1951.