Weekend watch: The greatest pianist of our time

Weekend watch: The greatest pianist of our time


norman lebrecht

September 09, 2016

New on Youtube: John Ogdon, between triumph and tragedy.






  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    I turned pages for him near the end of his life. What an artist, what a kind, gentle man.

  • Michael Endres says:

    One of the many superb recordings of this pianistic genius : a spellbinding version of Busoni’s “Turandot’s Boudoir” .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXFGLLYF8GM ( in blooming LP sound ! )

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    I don’t know about greatest pianist of our time (there’s a helluva lot of competition)-but he was certainly a remarkable player. I once heard his Liszt/Busoni Campanella and thought it was Horowitz but better! But he was equally fine in more serious & intellectual repertoire.

    Amazing that he managed to give so much to so many within the confines of his deeply troubled life & appalling struggle with Bipolar- which ultimately claimed him far too young.

    Incidentally- his only ever professorship was at Indiana University in the 1970’s. My conducting tutor who knew him well said he was a poor teacher who gave little practical advice to his more advanced pupils aiming for concert careers. I find this difficult to believe given the apparent generosity of the man.

    • Respect says:

      I’m afraid the assessment of Ogdon as a teacher was correct, he was endlessly fascinating as a musician and pianist but had no organized idea of how to pass on his breathtaking ability. Much missed, getting to watch him play often was one of life’s great thrills.

      • Keane Southard says:

        My piano teacher in college also studied briefly with Ogdon at Indiana and said the same thing–not a good teacher but an amazing musician.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      You can have the best of intentions, and know a lot about your subject, but it does not mean that you know how to teach what you know to your students.

  • Milka says:

    Generosity has little to do with teaching skills

  • Simon Evnine says:

    Ogdon was so much better than the other British finalists – Lill, Donohoe and Douglas

    • Peter Donohoe says:

      You are probably right, Simon. He was certainly an inspiration to all three of us – and many many others too.

    • Peter Donohoe says:

      Thank you Richard S. Greatly appreciated! Actually I now feel remiss for presumptuously posting on behalf of Barry Douglas and John Lill (and actually some not named by Mr. Evnine – Terence Judd, Frederick Kemp, and possibly others), who may well have been offended by his remark. The main point of course is that John Ogdon was indeed an extraordinary natural talent, who inspired more than a generation of younger British pianists, and a very tragic loss – none of us would deny it.

  • Nick says:

    As I watched the documentary, I found it somewhat bewildering that some made it clear they believed the extraordinarily tiring schedule of engagements that Emmie Tillett agreed for him was in part responsible for his breakdown – and yet there were no medical experts to back this up. I wonder if anyone knows whether a less hectic schedule would have delayed its onset or whether with bipolar disorder it was always going to,appear roughly when it did,

    • La Verita says:

      For god’s sake, Emmie Tillett didn’t make John Ogdon bi-polar. And she certainly didn’t agree to any engagements without getting his approval. Such folks as Ogdon are born with a missing chip, and so it’s bound to manifest itself sooner or later, irrespective of life’s travails.

      • Hilary says:

        Besides the agents, Brenda Lucas has received flak as well.
        I err slightly more towards the missing chip view propsed by La Verita.
        There’s another excellent documentary (SouthBank Show) on Ogdon featuring a host of luminaries including Alexander Goehr who sounds uncannily similar to Will Self and Julian Anderson.

  • William Boughton says:

    Brings back memories of our UK Tour (either 87 or 88) in which John played the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings with the ESO. This lonely, bemused, bankrupt figure brought audiences to their feet at every performance and kept us on our toes accompanying him in this enigmatic and abstract work, bringing a spontaneity with different twists and turns in every concert. He was one of the greatest artists that I’ve had the pleasure of working will and will think of him when I perform the piece again in a few weeks.

  • David Osborne says:

    The true nature of the connection between music and mental illness has never been properly explored, possibly due to the unlikelihood of ever finding any definitive answers. He came across as a very charming, slightly lost and distracted man and yes could play a bit and all, but do we really need all this Busoni ? Looking at the concert footage, I find myself focusing on the audience. All those dour, grim faces, so much privilege but nobody is having any fun. Mr Ogden seems more comfortable with the other residents of the halfway house.

  • pidget says:

    can someone explain to me, why does his playing always sound mechanical and bland to me? i mean, his playing is so perfect that even the most difficult passages is played so evenly and so quick that sound almost like it is striken out by piano rolls and this really strikes me as inhuman. why, and should this be considered an advantage or an disadvantage?

    • Milka says:

      Because in the “everyday” sense of virtuoso players who are trying to connect with
      the printed page and bring some meaning to what they are playing he is not .
      He dazzles, amazes, but is not involved other than being on the surface like
      an ice skater.Much like those odd children who are paraded about for their ability
      to repeat a work note perfect after one hearing .In the moment he is quite
      persuasive and brilliant, on reflection you realize he has not connected to the
      music ,much the opposite to Gould who could be quite perverse to the printed page .
      Each having their loyal followers.