Saturday, August 05, 2006

Frieda Manes, a distinguished pianist and a beloved music teacher in Buffalo for almost 40 years, died Sunday morning after an illness of several months. She was 66.

Born Frieda Green in Melbourne, Australia, Mrs. Manes graduated from the Melbourne Conservatorium. At 18, she came to the United States hoping to audition for the Juilliard School. She was accepted, studying with Irwin Freundlich.

At Juilliard she met her husband, Stephen Manes, who also was a student of Freundlich's. Married in 1963, they lived in Vienna, Austria, and then in New York City. They moved to Buffalo in 1968, when Stephen Manes, currently the outgoing chairman of the University at Buffalo's music department, was offered a position at UB.

Mrs. Manes' virtuosity, enthusiasm for music and quiet sense of humor made her a sought-after piano teacher. She taught for a year at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and, after moving to Buffalo, at Daemen College. She had a large roster of private piano students.

On the concert stage, she became especially well-known for the lively, intuitive performances she and her husband gave of piano music for four hands. Playing sometimes on two pianos but more often on one, they explored a wide repertoire ranging from Schubert and Mozart to Ravel, Poulenc and contemporary masters. They recorded the complete four-hand piano music of Beethoven for Spectrum Records and performed together around the world.

Mrs. Manes put her solo career largely on hold to raise a family, saying her husband's career should come first. "We were married," she told The Buffalo News in 1979. "I was his wife, and I simply went with him."

Still, she found time to give occasional concerts both in a chamber music setting and as a soloist, most notably locally with the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. For almost every summer since 1973, she was resident pianist at theSebago-Long Lake Region Chamber Music Festival in Maine.

I only studied with her for a year, but Mrs. Manes was, without a doubt, the best piano teacher I have ever had. she had a way of making you to do more than you thought you could without realizing it. she never got raised her voice, never got impatient, but always got her point across. she actually made me stop playing for a whole month so she could fix my technique 'the right way' - and not many people could pull that off. at the competitions, you could tell the difference between her students and everyone else's because even her youngest students made music. as the best teacher in buffalo, she had every right to be selective with her students and no reason to agree to teach me, knowing that I would be gone in a year and that it was unlikely I would pursue a career in music, but she did anyway. besides being a fantastic teacher and incredible performer, she was a really kind person. she took the time to talk to her students, even after they grew up and left home. if more piano teacher were like Mrs. Manes, the world would be full of music lovers, concert pianists, and good people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have in my hands a copy of the Violin, A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument, while picking up on the instrument as we (as parents) contemplate a return to classical music as introduced by this long serenade to Europe and Britain as America's foremost authors of the classical violin. There are some doubts: for instance, why we should deal with the heartache, the long hours of dedication, the society, the job security, and the travel hours of classical music on a "serious" instrument, when any coda on the local sport team can teach you just as much about power and its still pictures of lost description. I hesitate to break into British solipcism, but Frieda Mannes taught me about power and language, mostly when Buffalo schools were still hesitant to accord that virtuosity to the task of argument. Now a lawyer and ethnomusicologist (in my spare time), I cannot say for any truth of it that a life without music is a life without beauty, or some such Russian learned nonsense. What I loved about Frieda the most was her ability to make nonsense in between the hard sessions of practice in her spare time; that music was the Danube to Alice in Wonderland, and like Dodgson, Frieda had no trouble with Asian or Chinese students. Have I betrayed my identity? For Frieda, music had a role in every emotion in someone's life, and we used to play "tone-touch" for the prospects of China, as a great nation, coming up into attention of supergiants like the United States and Germany. When there was pressure about teaching a Chinese student who acted like any other on the sport field, Frieda told me to imagine the many modes that China would take to become that superego -- compassionately conservative though in touch and transcription. What we were excited about was that China possessed a versatility to transform any era of Europe's epoch and enlightenments to music about politics -- and made politics, like Russia, about soul. Stephen used to argue that piano was the instrument of modernism, while Frieda held back -- I have no idea if she predicted the violin, but that instrument is the closest to me in translating the fluidity and lyricism of Central Asian musics. As I go about in my career, I feel as though I've lost a surefire friend in decoding its mysteries of philology and epigrammatic belonging. Frieda was as instrumental to me in literature as she was in music, having proscribed Gide and Thomas Mann long before that became easy reading or college assigned 60-100 pagers per week. "Students are always part of legacy," Frieda reassured me once. I am not sure how to face the prospects "down the rabbit-hole" of academic career, but we agree on one thing, "France is always universal" in its composers and perhaps less so with its picky and prickly writers, and thus the legibility strives towards that end. The violin to my piano teacher was always an accompaniment; how to take that instrument for its thousandth words and silences?