Rafael Joseffy

1853 – 1915

Rafael Joseffy spent twenty-seven years of his life in Europe and thirty-six in America. So long has been his residence in this country and so great has been his influence upon the art of pianoforte playing in the United States that with his passing on June 25th, the musicians of this country felt that they had lostone of their most valued brothers in art.

Joseffy was afflicted with what his friends conceded to be a serious mental condition and a bad nervous breakdown about a year or so ago. Mr. James Huneker, who knew the pianist as intimately as any American music worker, despaired of his life. In fact it was whispered about that Joseffy was no more. Since then he recovered so that he was able to attend to all of his regular professional duties better than he had been able to do so for years. He attributed his recovery to Christian Science. Shortly before his death he was attacked with ptomaine poisoning, from the effects of which he was unable to rally. His vast number of friends and pupils were terribly shocked, as they had hoped that his life might be prolonged for many years of useful work.

Rafael Joseffy was born at Hunfalu, Hungary, July 3, 1852. He studied in Budapesth with Brauer, the teacher of Stephen Heller. In 1866 he went to Leipsic, where his teachers were Moscheles and Wenzel. In 1868 he became a pupil of Tausig in Berlin, remaining with him for two years. Later he spent two summers with Liszt in Weimar.

He made his debut in Berlin in 1872 and was immediately recognized as a master pianist of great brilliance. He came to the United States in 1879 and since then has made his home in New York in the winter and at Tarrytown on the Hudson in the summer. His style was broad and comprehensive, yet his playing had a certain incisiveness which those who heard him will never forget.

In his earlier years he produced some very attractive compositions for the pianoforte. Later in life he virtually retired from the concert platform and devoted his attention to teaching. He was abnormally retiring in his disposition. The late Henry Wolfsohn told the present writer that he had offered Joseffy huge sums for concert tours but that the pianist found concert life so severe upon his nerves that he could not be brought to accept. He preferred the smaller income of the teacher with its other compensations to the glare of the footlights. Joseffy was sincere in his convictions to the last extreme. He care absolutely nothing for fame or applause. To him his art was supreme and other things mattered little. American gave him his home and he conferred unmeasured honor upon the whole musical history of his adopted country.