Memoirs of an Accompanist

Helmut Deutsch
Foreword by Alfred Brendel
Translated by Richard Stokes

Pianist Helmut Deutsch relates his journey from unknown repetiteur to one of the most refined and sought-after accompanists of the modern era. In this book, he gives, with humour and modesty, fascinating insights into pianistic technique, repertoire, performance, interpersonal relationships, and the special qualities required for his profession.






During a career spanning more than 50 years, pianist Helmut Deutsch has accompanied over 100 singers, including Ian Bostridge, Grace Bumbry, Diana Damrau, Brigitte Fassbaender, Jonas Kaufmann, Angelika Kirchschlager, Camilla Nylund, Christoph Pregardien, Mauro Peter, Hermann Prey, Thomas Quasthoff, Yumiko Samejima, Peter Schreier, Irmgard Seefried and Anne Sofie von Otter. Translated from the German by Richard Stokes, professor of lieder at the Royal Academy of Music, this memoir describes, with humour, honesty and intelligence, Helmut Deutsch’s journey from unknown repetiteur to one of the most refined and sought-after accompanists of the modern era, respected by the leading singers of our time, who make music with him and revere him as a great artist and strong musical partner. In this engaging and entertaining account, Deutsch offers fascinating insights into pianistic technique, repertoire, performance, interpersonal relationships, and the special qualities required for his profession: empathy, flexibility, sensitivity, patience and the ability to stand back in the service of others. Deutsch is a captivating narrator, frank and entertaining. From out of tune pianos to jealous singers, his memoir teems with anecdotes and reflections on his multi-faceted life as a musician, offering readers a glimpse of unforgettable moments on and off stage without a trace of vanity.


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About the Author

Helmut Deutsch ranks among the finest song recital accompanists in the world. Born in Vienna, he studied at the Conservatoire, Music Academy and the University. He was awarded the Composition Prize of Vienna in 1965, was appointed professor at the age of twenty-four, and continued his teaching primarily in Munich at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater, where he worked as a professor of song interpretation for twenty-eight years. Although he has performed with leading instrumentalists as a chamber musician, Helmut Deutsch has concentrated primarily on accompanying song recitals. At the beginning of his career he worked with the soprano Irmgard Seefried, and accompanied Hermann Prey as a permanent partner for twelve years. Subsequently he has worked with many of the greatest recital singers and played in the world’s major music centres.

His collaborations with Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau, Piotr Beczała and Michael Volle are among his most notable. The young Swiss tenor Mauro Peter was one of his last students in Munich and has become one of his favourite recital partners.


Foreword by Alfred Brendel
Translator’s note
1. Hermann Prey. The first concert
2. ‘ . . . and dream a blissful dream.’ Japan
3. ‘What a dream profession!’ The years with Hermann Prey
4. Even Karajan had to laugh. Childhood and adolescence
5. The right partnership. Early years as a song accompanist. Ileana Cotrubas, Irmgard Seefried, Rita Streich
6. Hermann Prey. Winterreisen and anecdotes
7. Yumiko Samejima
8. Josef Protschka
9. Olaf Bar
10. Brigitte Fassbaender
11. Practising
12. Working with the singer
13. Bo Skovhus
14. Bernd Weikl
15. Peter Schreier
16. Thomas Quasthoff
17. Teaching
18. Juliane Banse
19. Dietrich Henschel
20. Jonas Kaufmann
21. Stefanie Iranyi
22. Mauro Peter
23. Of pianos and concert-grands
24. The day of the concert
25. The concert
26. Page-turners
27. After the concert
28. Barbara Bonney
29. Angelika Kirchschlager
30. Programmes
31. Andreas Schmidt
32. Recordings
33. Grace Bumbry
34. Matthias Goerne
35. The press
36. Werktreue and liberties
37. Michael Volle
38. Diana Damrau
39. Competitions
40. Piotr Beczała
41. Camilla Nylund
42. Singers and accompanists
43. The Liederabend – past and future
44. Epilogue
Contributor biographies
The singers
Selected discography
Index of names


Deutsch’s insights into musical preparation, the role of the pianist in lieder, and the historical development of the accompanist since late 20th century prove most fascinating. Memoirs of an Accompanist makes for uplifting reading. Deutsch has much of interest and fascination to share.
Murray McLachlan – International Piano

Meanwhile pianists, and especially those who practice the art of accompanying, will find that the book offers a plethora of expert insight and valuable understanding. For college students learning this art, and those intent on a portfolio career, the book is absolutely invaluable. Read the full review
Andrew Eales – Pianodao

For all ambitious pianists and singers who aspire to concert careers, and for all serious-minded and amateur musicians alike, this is a “must-read”, exemplary in glorifying the aesthetics of poetry set to song, and applauding the value of team work. It is also incredibly educational and inspirational, while brimming with abundant wisdom as well as delightful anecdotes. Read the full review
Ellen Wong Tso –

All lovers of song will want this book, it illuminates with wit what it is to be an accompanist, and provides a clear-sighted view from 50 years partnering singers. Read the full review
Robert Hugill – Planet Hugill

One of the most acclaimed lieder pianists of our time, Deutsch combines bluntness and a distinct, and it could be argued, old-world Viennese elegance, to his approach to the art-work-life trinity, and most wonderfully expressed in Memoirs Of An Accompanist. Richard Stokes, who is Professor of Lieder at the Royal Academy of Music, provides a sparkling English-language translation.
Catherine Kustanczy –

The translation is very readable, as one might expect from Stokes whose Lieder translations are widely considered the gold standard.
Entertaining as well as illuminating, the memoirs make good reading for those who appreciate the art of the Lied. They may help to raise the profile of the lieder accompanist (a term he still welcomes).
Stephen Matthews – The Schubertian

This volume is simply treasure-trove: required reading for all those devoted to Lieder, and a wonderfully tasty appetizer for those as yet unfamiliar with the genre
Rotary Magazine

Outstanding. How often does one read a book from the first page to the last without putting it down? And feel sad when one has finished?
Ingrid Wanja – OperaLounge

Deutsch speaks his mind, calls a spade a spade, writes in a lively, refreshing style, often with subtle irony. There are many instructive insights into what goes on behind the scenes – without a trace of vanity. Highly recommended’
Karl Masek – Online Merker

This autobiography should be on the bookshelves of every singer and pianist, and everyone for whom classical music is more than just a hobby
Martin Hoffmeister – MDR Kultur

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