Seymour Lipkin

Lipkin.jpgSeymour Lipkin (1927–2015) entered the Curtis Institute of Music at 11 years old as a piano student of Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski, graduating in 1947. While still a student, he accompanied Jascha Heifetz on the violinist’s 1945 tour of Europe performing for Allied troops. He enjoyed a successful career both as a concert pianist and conductor, and served as Music Director of Kneisel Hall, Chamber Music School and Festival for 30 years. While studying at Curtis, he attended many of Tabuteau’s classes, eventually assisting him as pianist to fill out orchestral parts in the ensemble classes. Lipkin said that Tabuteau was “an incredible influence who showed us the vital, really central, importance of phrasing and profound methods of its analysis.”

The following 1997 interview of Seymour Lipkin by Laila Storch appears in her book: Marcel Tabuteau: How Do You Expect to Play the Oboe If You Can’t Peel a Mushroom? Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.

Lipkin said that Tabuteau was “an incredible influence who showed us the vital, really central, importance of phrasing and profound methods of its analysis.” In Lipkin’s conversations with Laila Storch, she reports that he told her his favorite Tabuteau story: It was about the car. “You wake up one day and you go into the garage and you turn the key and the car shakes and the car goes hrr—room, hrroom, hrrroom. And the whole garage shakes, h-r—rrrrr, but you do not go anywhere. Nothing! That is your playing. You forgot to put yourself in gear.”

Seymour continued that “Tabuteau’s explanations were very vivid.  The great thing we learned was this intense concentration on the direction of the phrases, where they were going, and the meticulous molding of the phrases. He taught us how to concentrate, and that the music must be a living thing. The music must ‘dance.’ He would be so meticulous about the intensity of each little part of the phrase. ‘It is a finger—it is a wrist, end then the whole thing make an arm.’ It was very vital. Eventually after you pick it apart it has to coalesce into a totality. I learned that you had to concentrate on these things in great detail. I had no idea before. I thought you just played—you sort emoted and it came out. I keep quoting him all the time. Just this week I was in Toronto with a conductor, a gifted fellow who seemed to sort of sit on the music, and I told him that Mr. Tabuteau used to say, ‘you know, you have to let the music take you. Do not impose your mediocrity on the music.’ I find myself being extremely detailed now in talking to my own students. Sometimes I think l am really inhibiting them but then I remember how it was with Tabuteau; at first, terribly inhibiting, but in the long run it is liberating. It allows you to really make these things dance and do what you want them to! He was an incredible influence. My other big influences were Toscanini and Serkin. Serkin never spoke about these things. He talked in grand terms. He did them but he never mentioned them, and with Toscanini—for me, it was just a question of listening.“


Seymour Lipkin faxed the following letter to The Curtis Institute of Music in 2003 as a matter of record:

Tabuteau017 (2).jpg

Marcel Tabuteau Collection (MSS 12), Curtis Institute of Music Archives

More on Seymour Lipkin