The ups and downs of the late Peter Katin

The ups and downs of the late Peter Katin


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2015

We are saddened to report the passing of Peter Katin, aged 84.

After a brilliant start and a flurry of recordings in the early stereo era, mostly on Decca, Katin suffered a dip in mid-career. In 1978 he migrated to Canada, returning to Britain in 1984 but finding himself even more out of touch.  ‘I picked up a copy of the Gramophone [magazine] and found naked ladies draped over the cellos,’ he lamented.


The vicissitudes of his career are documented in an excellent first obituary here.


  • Dan P. says:

    Our paths crossed only briefly in the mid 1990s, but he was a very nice person with a great sense of humor. He will be missed.

  • Dan P. says:

    I got to know him as a kid through his recording of the Khachaturian Concerto and that recording of pieces by Beethoven and Chopin supposedly communicated from the beyond the grave and “transcribed” by Rosemary Brown. Our paths crossed only much later – around 1995 or so – but he was a very kind, good natured, and down to earth person. I enjoyed his stories very much.

    RIP Peter.

  • Jean Collen says:

    I am very sorry to hear of the death of Peter Katin. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I stayed at the London Music Club in the mid-sixties. He was a fine pianist and a kind and unassuming man. May he rest in peace.

  • David Wilde says:

    So sorry to hear of the death of Peter Katin. I used to know him well, though more recently we lost touch. A modest and friendly man, he was never more at ease than in the company of colleagues, and I have happy memories of him at gatherings of pianists years ago. He was a superb pianist of great polish and sensibility, equipped with a comprehensive and totally reliable virtuoso technique – in fact a very great artist who was not always appreciated as he fully deserved to be. The musical world is very much the poorer for his passing.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      I admired Peter Katin greatly in my youth, but am going to take this opportunity to say how much I owe to you, Mr Wilde, thanks to your extraordinary 1970’s recording of the Liszt B minor sonata and your kindness when I introduced myself to you at Diana Kacso’s QEH recital in 1977 or thereabouts. May you continue to live long and prosper.

      • David Wilde says:

        I’m so glad you have such positive memories of my Delphian recording of Liszt’s b minor Sonata and of our meeting, and it is most kind of you to write and tell me so.
        Now approaching 83, I’m blessed with excellent health, and living in a beautiful big house on the Edinburgh Road, just over the border from Port Seton to Cockenzie. Though I live alone, having lost my dear wife, Jane, to cancer about 6 years ago, I don’t feel alone, as I have devoted friends – especially Paul Baxter of Delphian Records, whom I have long recorded, and for whom my compositions have also been beautifully recorded by my friends and colleagues, the brilliant Red Note Ensemble of Edinburgh. It’s such a joy to a composer to hear his music so wonderfully played and recorded.

  • geoff radnor says:

    Here he is talking about Prokofiev #3 at the Festival Hall.

  • MacroV says:

    He was on the faculty of the summer music festival I attended in Courtenay, BC in the early 1980s. I recall a lovely Schumann Concerto he played, among other things.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Sad news indeed. I heard him several times and he was a lovely player with a beautiful touch in the manner of the great Romantic players of the past. Through his performances and recordings, he gave much pleasure to many.

    Perhaps his career suffered through a lack of a really big virtuoso technique (which modern audiences and concert promoters certainly favour) and I heard that he found the life of a concert pianist took a toll on him and that he suffered from increased problems with stage fright in his later years.

    A courageous and great artist nevertheless.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Sad news. I heard him several times- a lovely player with a beautiful touch in the manner of the great Romantic pianists of the past.

    Perhaps his career suffered, to some degree, from a lack of a really big virtuoso technique (which audiences and concert promoters seem to favour these days). I also heard on the grapevine, that he found the life of a concert pianist to be increasingly stressful, suffering from memory and stage fright problems. But this may be wrong.

    Anyway- a courageous and great artist who gave much pleasure to many.

  • Hilary says:

    And a much cherished contributor to the BBC Radio3 messagboards.

  • Robert Fisher says:

    We have lost a wonderful pianist. I remember a blistering performance of Tchaikovsky 1 back in the 60’s but best of all were his interpretations of Chopin and Liszt. To hear him play the Chopin F minor Fantasy or 1st Ballade was to be transported to another world. Oh to be able to play as he did!

  • Hilary says:

    33years ago Peter Katin was interviewed by David Dubal. This substantial broadcast is now on YouTube and can be warmly recommended. Many recordings are played including a magical account of Chopin’s dflat major nocturne.

  • Geoffrey Bellamy says:

    I heard Peter Katin play live in Leeds Town Hall in the 70s. I owned most of his recordings on lp and, more recently, some on CD.
    He was a musicians’ musician. His playing put the composer first, himself last, the proper order for a serious musician. His technique, though very fine, was never an end in itself. Listen to his recordings of Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Chopin, to see what this means.

    I emailed him in the last few months, via his website, to tell him how much I admired his recordings. He replied with a kind and lovely message. That was a sign of the man. The world of music is the poorer for his passing. May Peter Katin rest in peace, and know the joy of Eternal Life.

    • Zoran Sulc says:

      I also wrote to him before he died, thanking him for a wonderfully sensistive performance of Chopin’s Berceuse on a Decca Eclipse album – the best I know – and also received a kind reply. If we love someone’s work it is good to tell them if we can – the sensitivity that allows them to produce it can be pained by slights but also cheered by appreciation and gratitude.

  • Leon Whitesell says:

    A splendid musician and human being…I last heard him in a wonderful ” c minor” recital…Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert all in c minor Sonatas! Exquisite and faultless in style and so warmly received. I enjoyed sitting at a dinner in his honor next to him as we engaged in ” shop- talk” …a great joy. A lovely memory…I think his Chopin, especially, was plus ultra!

  • Steven van Staden says:

    I miss him too. I met him after finding I couldn’t get on with the ill-tempered concert pianist who had invited me to be his pupil in London. Peter gave me so many lessons in the ’70s when I faced a difficult predicament and wouldn’t ever accept payment. He even found better digs and a Bechstein for practice. Fortunately I was able to reciprocate to some extent when he toured South Africa on a few occasions and I could help with accommodation, a Steinway D for practice and transport back and forth. He gave a concert here for flood victims on one occasion and took no fee. He was always kind and had a good sense of humour. When I auditioned for him he remarked on my flat fingers, but apparently they worked, so no further mention was made. He was a really good teacher and allowed one to follow one’s own way, sometimes suggesting but never insisting on interpretative changes.

    • Shaun Rautenbach says:

      Hi Steven,

      Hope you are keeping well sorry to here about Peter,s death. i fondly remember his beautiful rendition of the Schubert sonata he played in Pretoria.

      Send regards to Sue and the dogs.

      Best Regards

      Shaun Rautenbach Springs

      • Steven van Staden says:

        Hello Shaun,
        Thanks. I remember you accompanied Peter and me to the recital at the State Theatre, Pretoria, about twenty-five years ago and I remember Peter giving you some advice, over tea at some dreadful nearby hotel, on the A minor variation in the Mozart A major sonata K331 which you were learning at the time! How’s that for a good memory?

        • Shaun Rautenbach says:

          Hi Steven,

          Only picked this up recently , hope thing are going well with you and Susan,

          Was thinking of you this evening listening to the 2nd movement of the Mozart Piano Sonata No 9, the Pianist I am really enjoying listening to is Maria Joao Pires she really plays it with such depth Tell Sue she is doing great work with the dogs. My contact details are as follows mobile no 0828378811 E mail amk@


  • Graham says:

    I met Peter at one of his favourite Hotels in Scotland in the mid 70s. At that time i had no idea of his fame, he was just a great person to chat to and drink whiskey with

  • David Wilde says:

    Mark Mortimer’s suggestion that Peter Katin lacked a really virtuoso technique puzzles me; you can’t play pieces like Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto without a tremendous virtuoso technique – it simply can’t be done – and Peter was outstanding in just such hugely difficult music. Perhaps he means that Peter used his technique to serve the music, rather than, as in some cases [I could mention some very famous names – one in particular] using the music to show off his technique; that is certainly true, and very much to Peter’s credit.

  • Barry Smith says:

    I agree with David Wilde. There are many performers today who, using their often formidable technique, exploit the instrument they play with a determination to make this the focus of the listener’s attention. Then there are those who somehow “bypass the whole performing mechanism” in such a way as to allow the listener to become involved with the music itself (as Glenn Gould once said when describing Sviatoslav Richter’s playing).

    Subsequent to performing in a master class mentored by Peter Katin in the early 1970’s, he invited me to take piano lessons with him at his home in Croydon. At the same time as being a gracious and kindly man he was also quietly critical. Armed with my Associated Board of Beethoven Piano Sonatas I was advised to obtain a more authentic “urtext” edition. He then proceeded to take, from his extensive library of facsimile originals, a copy of the sonata upon which I was working to illustrate the discrepancies of phrasing, and occasionally notation, between the original and the modern edited copy.

    There was nothing technically lacking in Peter’s performances of Liszt’s B minor and Dante Sonatas as well as the Rachmaninov Preludes and 3rd Concerto to mention but a few “Warhorses” in his repertoire.

    Peter eschewed commercialism and I believe the partial demise of his success on the concert platform in latter years was largely down to media expectation. Those who enjoy genuine and honest musical performances will miss him.

  • Nigel Hawkes says:

    The finest performance I ever heard of the Chopin Sonata 3 (op. 58-B minor) was by Peter at Sutton library in the early ’80s. I attended several of his recitals over the years, including some Croydon Fairfield lunchtime events and one at Woodmansterne church hall which was, I recall, in aid of a Chernobyl charity. Quite frankly, I would prefer hearing musicians like Peter than some of the “names”.

    He did an extremely interesting talk on R3 about 10 years from the Hatchlands piano museum.

    Very much a musician’s musician. I miss him greatly.

  • Geoffrey Bellamy says:

    I have recently acquired a CD of Peter playing two Schubert Sonatas. What radiance and musicianship! I have posted a review on Amazon, including a few personal comments about Peter the man and the musician.

  • Martin Jacklin says:

    Wonderful sound : texture, dynamics, always sensitive to the endless layers of the music. I’m listening to his 1972 recording of the Rachmaninov ‘Paganini’ with Susskind : perfect example.