Edwin Fischer was an eminent Swiss classical pianist, conductor and pedagogue. He is widely regarded as one of the great pianists of the 20th century, particularly in the traditional Germanic repertoire of such composers as J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven and F. Schubert. He is also regarded as one of the finest piano teachers of modern times.
Edwin Fischer studied music from 1894 to 1904 at the Basle Conservatory, where his teacher was Hans Huber. Before pursuing his studies at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin with Martin Krause (1904-1905). Subsequently he was a faculty member there from 1905 to 1914. On the embarking of World War I in 1914, he returned to Switzerland.
Edwin Fischer first came to prominence as a pianist following World War I. He established himself as one of the finest pianists of his generation after the war. He became particularly associated with the major works of the great German masters, including J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms. From 1926 to 1928 he was conductor of the Lübeck Musikverein in Lübeck, and from 1928 to 1932 he conducted in Munich, as director of the Bachverein there. In 1932 he formed his own chamber orchestra, and was one of the first to be interested in presenting music of the Baroque in an historically accurate way. Though his performances were not particularly historically accurate when compared to similar performances today, he did conduct concertos by the likes of Bach and W.A. Mozart from the keyboard, which at the time was most unusual. While his concept of the music of that era, even of Bach, remained essentially Romantic in concept, he sought to recover the classical purity of his favoured composers, de-emphasising excessive emotionalism and shifts in the basic pulse. He eschewed the role of the virtuoso in order to probe the intellectual content of the score in hand. As a result, he was typed as an intellectual pianist.
In 1932 Edwin Fischer returned once again to Berlin, succeeding Artur Schnabel in a teaching role at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. In 1942 he returned to his homeland. As well as solo recitals, concerto performances, and conducting orchestral works, Edwin Fischer also played chamber music. He formed in Switzerland the highly regarded piano trio with the cellist Enrico Mainardi and the violinist Georg Kulenkampff (who was replaced by Wolfgang Schneiderhan after his death). He put temporarily his career on hold through World War II.
After the war, Edwin Fischer resumed appearing in chamber music and solo performance throughout Europe. The master-classes he gave in Lucerne from 1945 to 1958 were in high demand. He founded a foundation, the Edwin-Fischer-Stiftung, to support the beginning of promising young musicians' careers and to aid other needy musicians. His master-classes were attended by a number of later prominent pianists, Alfred Brendel and Daniel Barenboim among them.
As an academic and pedagogue, Edwin Fischer published valuable books on musical interpretation and teaching. He also edited works by J.S. Bach. W.A. Mozart and L.v. Beethoven, composers he championed. Among his books were: J.S. Bach (Potsdam, 1945), Musikalische Betrachtungen (Wiesbaden, 1949; English translation, 1951, as Reflections on Music), Ludwig van Beethovens Klaviersonaten (Wiesbaden, 1956; English translation, 1959), and Von den Aufgaben des Musikers (Wiesbaden, 1960).
Edwin Fischer also made a number of recordings, including the first complete recording of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, recorded by EMI between 1933 and 1936. This is one of the landmarks of J.S. Bach discography, admired in part because he does not use the resources of the modern instrument artificially to embellish the score. This recording of the Bach "48" remains the yardstick against which all pianists measure themselves.