MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 1, JULY 2000  
Online Journal

FEATURE ARTICLE
Stanislav Heller 1924-2000

Musicologist and lecturer, David Ledbetter, pays a personal tribute to his friend and teacher, harpsichordist Stanislav Heller, who died in January at the age of 76

Stanislav was born in Brno, the modern capital of Moravia and the second city of the then Czechoslovakia, on 15 September 1924. Brno had a good, if not great, musical tradition. The Organ School there had been founded and run by Janácek until 1920 when he moved to Prague. Janácek died in 1928, so Stan's life overlapped slightly with the great Czech composer's. Stan's family was reasonably well off. His father was a lawyer and they survived in Brno up to the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia after the war.

Apart from his parents, a very important person for Stan was his brother Karel. They both shared high artistic tastes, and this was the basis for Stan's lifelong passion for fine furniture, painting, architecture, and also for the intellectual history behind the works of art. Over the years, my life has been immensely enriched by Stan's interests. It was Stan who introduced me to Frances Yates and Edgar Wind, and almost to the end, every contact with him brought some new enthusiasm and more insights.

Stanislav with David Ledbetter
Stanislav with David Ledbetter

After the war, Karel and their parents emigrated to South America where Karel ran an antique dealers in Buenos Aires. Stan spent long periods there and that is where he got his extraordinary knowledge of Spanish, which he spoke extremely well. He had a great affinity with the Latin temperament. It was the perfect antidote to the more sober English and German worlds where he functioned most of the time. I was always amazed how Stan was able to transpose himself so naturally into so many different languages and mentalities. One of my first memories of him, when I went to Freiburg as a raw student from Ireland, was of this distinguished German professor who also spoke excellent English, suddenly transformed when he met Spanish people. It wasn't just that he spoke the language well. He was completely in tune with the Spanish mentality. Stan had a voracious appetite for people, and curiosity about them. The Spanish Stan accumulated many Latin American friends, particularly in Mexico. And this feeling for the Latin temperament, with its warmth and its sinuous, irrational movements and hypnotic rhythms made Stan a great player of Scarlatti in his heyday. I remember him often playing that mysterious, subtle Sonata in B minor K87 with infinite finesse of rhythm and a wonderful singing sound. Very few players from Northern Europe or the States could approach him in that.

Stan got a magical sound from the harpsichord. Even in the last few years he came several times to Manchester and gave masterclasses to some very talented young friends of mine. What they all said was how much better the instrument sounded when he played it than when other people did. I think that this has a lot to do with his being a brilliant improviser, on the harpsichord, the organ, and specially the clavichord. He worked first of all with pure sound, rather than with visually inspired concepts from written notes.



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