Annie Marchand Sherter (1935-2015)
Annie Marchand Sherter was born in Kyoto, Japan, to French parents. Her musical aptitude began to make itself evident when at the age of three she attended her first public piano recital. Upon hearing Franck's Prelude, Choral, and Fugue, the little girl slipped out of her nanny's arms, rushed the stage, seated herself at the piano, and immediately tried to reproduce the sounds and motions that she had heard and seen, including the hand crossovers in the Choral. It was clear that the child needed music, and from that moment the piano was to be an integral part of Annie's life.
As a young woman of fourteen or fifteen, she was accepted into the class of distinguished pianist and pedagogue Vlado Perlemuter at the Paris Conservatoire, under whose tutelage she earned her Premiere Prix. With Perlemuter, Annie made extensive study of the French piano repertoire including the majority of Debussy’s and Ravel's keyboard output, the latter of which Perlemuter had studied with the composer himself. Fauré and Dukas were two other composers with whom Perlemuter had coached, and Annie was a beneficiary of this first-hand knowledge. In addition to French music, Annie learned the entire Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart sonatas and concerti, Beethoven “Eroica” Variations op.35, Sonatas op. 81a, op. 106, and others, a huge amount of Chopin including the études, four Ballades, f minor Concerto op. 21, and others, Schumann Kreisleriana op. 16 and Concerto op. 54, Liszt Variations on a theme of Bach (“Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen”), and Schubert Sonata in B-flat, D. 960. This partial repertoire list represents Annie's time at the Conservatoire and thus only a small fraction of her performing repertoire. As more information is gathered, I hope to be able to provide a complete repertoire list and discography.
In order to win her premiere prix, Annie was assigned a demanding program to be learned in less than two weeks: Beethoven op. 81a, Schumann Toccata op.7, Liszt "La campanella," and a Bach prelude and fugue. Upon successful completion of her studies with Perlemuter at the Conservatoire, Annie entered the Piano Concours de Genève in 1957. She had prepared the majority of her program alone, as Perlemuter was away on concert tours. I remember her telling me that the Schubert B-flat sonata, Dukas Variations, Interlude et Finale, a sizeable work by Bach, and some Ravel were included in her solo program. When she left the stage on completing the demanding semifinal recital, Perlemuter was waiting in the wings to castigate her on various tempi, interpretive choices, dynamic shading, etc. As Annie broke down in tears for the first time in front of Perlemuter, Roland Manuel, a distinguished musicologist and member of the jury, interrupted to inform Annie that she had been chosen as one of the finalists. Perlemuter was duly chastened, but unfortunately that kind of behavior was representative of his relationship to his gifted students, of whom he was frequently jealous. Annie performed the Chopin f minor Concerto in the final round and received a silver medal, tying for second with a close friend from the Conservatoire. That year's winner was a young Argentinian pianist, Martha Argerich, who upon hearing Annie's concerto performance said, "I wish I played it as well as you do..."
The following year brought the historic 1958 Tchaikovsky competition. She met and befriended Jerome Lowenthal on the plane to Moscow, and they remained lifelong friends and colleagues. She told me that Jerome played "the best Bartok 'out of doors' I have ever heard before or since..." While she had played well in the first round, she was eliminated by a quarter of a point, something that the jury had not intended. Annie was relieved, as the rest of her program, according to her, was not ready. (" I would have had to jump out of the 6th-story window if I had advanced...") This was not the end of the story, though. After hearing her performance, Sviatoslav Richter called a Russian friend of hers and asked to set up a meeting with Annie. Nervous and bewildered as to what the great artist would have to say to her, she went with her friend to meet Richter. He asked Annie whether she could reach a tenth, to which she replied affirmatively. There was then a brief exchange between Richter and Annie's friend in Russian, after which her friend said," He wants to know if you would like to study with him." The reply: "Oui, Oui, Oui, Oui!" Sadly this was not to be. As politics and circumstances intervened, the exchange program through which Annie would have studied with Richter was discontinued. Nonetheless, they did meet again in Los Angeles after Richter's recital, and he warmly embraced her. She knew that her favorite pianist had heard something important that he responded to and wanted to develop, and I believe that while the missed connection was heartbreaking, his affirmation sustained her during difficult times of self-doubt and inactivity.
This was one of several missed connections that feature in Annie's story, and they undoubtedly impacted the road that she was to travel that eventually led to her charming home in Geneva, Illinois, where she would teach for the rest of her life. Among the pianists with whom she was supposed to have studied are Lipatti, Edwin Fischer, Richter as mentioned above, and Yves Nat. Perlemuter's instruction was deeply scrupulous and exacting, but ultimately destructive from a psychological standpoint. Very few of his students went on to major careers, and Annie told me that she felt this mental terrorism was partially to blame. Perlemuter, himself a nervous performer and by his own admission a pianist without limitless amounts of facility, was a respected and admired (if not loved) performer who delivered music in a direct and unobtrusive manner. Annie told me on numerous occasions that it was during evening studio class when Perlemuter was too tired to be nervous or willful that he played his best. At his best, according to her, he was equal to just about anyone on the concert platform at that time. In terms of his gift to her pianism, there is no doubt that with him she cultivated a great sensitivity to color and sonority, detailed listening and subtlety of pedaling, a deep and unforced sound, and a flexible technique that emulated Cortot's approach to playing from the larger muscles, an extremely supple wrist, and fingers of steel. For the rest of her life, I could see that her feelings about her own great teacher were a mix of gratitude and resentment, admiration, and a crystal- clear awareness of the limitations that inspired his venomous outbursts at her expense.
Annie did intersect in some form or another with many other great artists, all of whom contributed to her artistic development and musical culture. She was friends with a student in Yves Nat's class and was present when he performed Schumann's Fantasie op.17 for the students in preparation for a recording session. The class was in tears by the end of the piece, and Nat's recording remains one of the most passionate and moving versions of the work. Annie's great admiration for Clara Haskil's artistry (She had about ten different recorded versions of Haskil's Schubert B-flat sonata) was confirmed when she was taken to hear Haskil perform a Mozart Concerto live. Perlemuter introduced Annie to Haskil, an artist whose natural gifts were staggering; Haskil supposedly learn Liszt's fearsomely difficult 'Feux Follets' by ear after hearing Perlemuter play it at a salon concert several weeks earlier. Other greats that Annie heard live included Annie Fischer (whom she adored), Gilels, Richter, Gieseking ("I learned a lot from his recital, but he played Debussy and Ravel with exactly the same sound..."), Cortot (with whom she played for in masterclass and private lessons), Rubinstein (for whom she also played), Rosalyn Tureck, and many others. We shared a lively discourse on recordings, and she was always eager and enthusiastic to discover someone she had not heard previously.
As I begin to sift through her own recordings – precious to me on a personal level, worthy of attention by any listener in my opinion – I am struck by the relative scarcity of their number. I am hoping to unearth more, but at present Annie's discography can fit on four or five CD's. In the coming weeks, I will be uploading many of them, and I have already posted her performance of Debussy's Preludes Book I on Youtube. It is my hope that this site, devoted to her memory and her search for musical truth, will inspire others to make their own search for truth in whatever way is right for them. For me, it started with her.
Jeffrey LaDeur, June 2015