Archive for the ‘Alfred Cortot’ Tag

There Was A Most Amazing Storm Last Night   2 comments

There really was a tremendous storm last night here in Calgary.  storm

The day before Canada Day, Mother Nature provided better fireworks than we’re likely to see tonight. As a friend of mine put it, “it was like my apartment was in the middle of a thundercloud.” I felt the same in mine.

There was a most amazing storm last night . . . such a statement, which you can see from the photo I wrote in my journal this morning, might be quite unremarkable in and of itself, but listen to this:

When I was a music major at the University of Regina for a brief time in the 1970’s, I studied piano with a marvelously eccentric and talented pianist named Thomas Manshardt. I have drawn heavily on what I remember of Tom, all these years later, for both the narrator and his teacher Alfred in my novel The Piano Teacher.

Tom was one of the last students of the venerable Alfred Cortot in Paris. Through Cortot, Tom could trace his pianistic lineage back to Czerny – and I guess, by extension, so can I!

In those days before Political Correctness has reared its ugly head, it was not uncommon for a prof to invite a student over for a drink, and it was not uncommon for me to show up at Tom’s apartment for a glass or two of Pernod to talk about art and music and life and everything in between.

Tom’s apartment is memorable for a few things as I look back some 40 years. One, it had a commanding view of Regina’s beautiful Wascana Park. And it was entirely bereft of any furniture whatsoever, unless we consider book shelves to be furniture. There were plenty of books, plenty of open space, but not a chair or table or couch to be seen.

Once during this time, there was a tremendous thunderstorm in Regina, far worse than the one we saw in Calgary last night. It caused havoc and destruction throughout the city. Even my own parents’ basement flooded in that storm, and the house was hardly on low land.

That night I was over at Tom’s and saw that his journal was lying open. On the journal, his Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen, just as mine is in the photo above. He had written at the top of the page, as I have done all 4 decades later –

“There was a most amazing storm last night.”

In many ways you could say my life began that night, the moment I read those words . . . .

Thanks for reading. Happy Canada Day!

Here’s Cortot . . .





Mentors Series: Thomas Manshardt   4 comments

As artists, none of us just evolves under a cabbage and then suddenly enters into the world fully formed like Zarathustra emerging from his cave. Most of us undergo (and endure) years and years of training at the hands (or at the knees) of those who have gone the way before. Some are teachers, but a select few become our true mentors. In my life, I was lucky enough to have three mentors who stand out above the rest. They’re all dead now, God love them.  After a reminder about one of them by way of a chance conversation with an old friend on Facebook last night, I thought I should spill a little cyber ink on all three of them.

In the mid -70’s – the time of disco and long before the advent of digitization, I put down my basketball and decided to study music at the University of Regina. This led to one of the most unlikely pairings in the history of education, when I was taken under the tutelage of Thomas Manshardt, pictured here.

I was a raw unsophisticated kid from the old north end of Regina. I don’t know that we really use the term “good ol’ boy” in Canada, but that would give you an idea. Tom was easily the most sophisticated and cultured person I have ever met, which is a polite way of saying he was a total snob, and not always a very nice one. But he was exotic, unlike anyone I had ever met before, and before long I came totally under his spell.

He was the last pupil of the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot, which put him, and by extension me, in a lineage once can trace directly back to Chopin. To learn how to play Chopin from Tom was to learn if, a few times removed, from Chopin himself. (I’ve included a somewhat surreal video of Cortot at the end of this post.)

How he found his way from les grands salons of Europe to mid-70’s Regina is beyond comprehension, really. I can’t even imagine what the place seemed like to him. I’m sure he went to his grave with no awareness at all of the Roughriders or any of the rest of it. But It was a job, one that paid him well and allowed him to spend his days playing the piano, probably more wonderfully than anyone else I have ever heard.

I don’t know that I had ever encountered an actual gay person before I met Tom, although the fact that my best friend growing up, Roy, was gay was common knowledge, although never talked about. (Roy eventually came clean years later in a gay bar in Toronto, but that’s another story.) It may be that Tom was attracted to me. Certainly we spent many an evening sitting on the carpet of his Regina apartment (he possessed no furniture), drinking huge tumblers of Pernod with water, listening to Cortot and other masters of a bygone age.  Maybe it was at times a tad potentially promiscuous and I was just too naïve to recognize it, I don’t know. But those evenings spent listening to Tom talk about art and music and life in general probably shaped me as an artist and even as a human being than any other person or situation ever would.

It was Tom who said again and again that art is a way of life. That may not seem like an earth-shattering notion now, but to a young man from a working class neighbourhood, it was news indeed. He showed me there was another way to live my life than the one that was expected of me. If I am an artist today, it is due to Tom’s influence.

The most obvious and persistent influence Tom had on me concerns my enduring love for fountain pens. He used a Montblanc Meisterstuck 149, which is still in my estimation one of the most beautiful objects on the planet. Tom kept a daily journal, as I do to this day. In fact, it could be said that my interest in keeping the journal grew greater than my interest in music, and so there came a day when I had to bid Tom adieu and get on with my life.

I would be a writer, it seemed, and not a musician. But either way, I would be an artist, trained not so much in the piano but in life studies by one of the finest artists I ever had the chance to meet and work with.

Tom came to a senseless end a few years ago. His legacy of music excellence lives on through his long time partner Lawrence Amundrud.

Adieu, mon cher ami . . .

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