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The three memories of Liselotte Weiss

The Fantasy in C Minor is the most heartfelt and expressive piece Mozart wrote for solo piano, says Liselotte Weiss. The well-travelled pianist has learned about life through music. We pay a visit to the 79-year-old artist and Helvetia customer in Oberägeri.

24 July 2016, text: Isabella Awad, photos: Dan Cermak, video: Katrin Meier

At the coffee table in the living room of her home in Oberägeri, Liselotte Weiss talks about the love of her life – music. As a child she felt alien in this world, she remembers, but then she decided: “Well if I’m here, I’m going to make the best of it.” She was eight years old when she had her first piano lesson with a stationer in the village. “Something clicked and I discovered the piano to be ‘my vehicle’! I learned about life through music.”

Piano lessons in New York

She was 19 and had just graduated from high school when she heard Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau at a concert in Paris, and she instantly knew she wanted to train with him. “I simply approached him and he accepted me.” She asked him where he taught: “New York”, came the response. And so the young musician spent two years studying in New York with one of the greatest in the field. Even after returning to Germany she stayed in touch with Claudio Arrau for many years; he always taught her when he toured in Germany and she travelled to join him all over Europe. At 24 the headstrong Liselotte Weiss decided to stand on her own two feet “musically” from then on.

Someone who can listen

She laughs out loud when asked how she met her husband, the Swedish publisher Sven-Erik Bergh. “At a carnival party given by a mutual friend in Düsseldorf.” Bergh, already a publisher, had travelled on business from Malmö. “We danced. He wanted to know more about me. I said: ‘My thing is music, you have to listen.’” They spent an entire afternoon in a piano shop; she played and he listened. “I said to my parents: he spent four hours listening – it could be serious.” And it did get serious: they married in 1970, and their twin girls Bettina and Sylvia were born in 1976.

It all happens automatically

In the pavilion, an outbuilding of sorts, there is an enormous Bösendorfer grand piano. Liselotte Weiss lifts the black lid and immediately has an idea: Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor. “It’s the most heartfelt and expressive piece Mozart ever wrote for solo piano.” One of her favourites? She’s always particularly loved the piece, she says, which she has just been studying. “I’m like an actress, I take great care to learn notes, to feel the atmosphere and to practice. Then I go on stage and simply represent it – at that point it no longer has anything to do with me as a person. It all happens automatically.”

The fingers play of their own accord

You can listen to Liselotte Weiss for hours, and not only when she’s playing the piano. In her life she has met interesting people, experienced thrilling situations and seen magnificent places; she lets her listeners in on all of this and remembers it all as if it happened yesterday. And on the subject of memory, there are three kinds, she explains: in the beginning she goes to great pains to learn the notes and establish the fingering. She repeats short sections, she says, until the fingers work automatically – that’s the physical memory. The acoustic memory enables you to hear whether the tones are right or wrong. And the most certain of all is the visual memory: “I mentally photograph the notes and when I’m not sure of something, I can picture that section to myself.” Finally, she senses the soulful, emotional content of the relevant piece of music.

Roger O. Karlen

Roger O. Karlen

Roger O. Karlen advises pianist Liselotte Weiss on insurance matters. He is a qualified insurance specialist and works as a Customer Advisor at the Helvetia General Agency for Zurich Altstetten.

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