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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 4 January 2007

Remembering Charles Reiner (1924- 2006)

by Ludwig Sťmerjian / January 4, 2007


This summer saw the passing of Professor Charles Reiner. A fixture of Montrealís musical scene for over fifty years, Charles Reiner embodied all that was noble and joyous in music and in life. But his story had not always been a happy one. Persecuted by the Nazis (he spent time in concentration camps) then by the Communists, Reiner left his native Hungary, settling in Montreal, where his pianistic talents and sensitive musicianship quickly garnered him a prominent place in the fertile artistic milieu of the city. He was best known as one of the finest accompanists of his time. Names of artists with whom he worked would be too long to list though his happiest partnership was perhaps with the great Polish-born violinist Henryk Szeryng, with whom he formed a long and fruitful musical relationship that ended only with the violinistís death in 1988.

Despite his success on the concert stage, Charles Reinerís greatest legacy will be as a peerless teacher. His almost forty years as professor of piano at McGill Universityís Faculty of Music helped shape the futures of three generations of aspiring musicians. My own personal acquaintance with him goes back to when I was just ten years old. My parents, having heard of Reinerís reputation as a pedagogue, took me to see the great man at his Greene Avenue apartment. After I had played part of a Mozart piano sonata for him, Reiner turned to my mother and, with the straightest of faces said, ďI regret to inform you, Madame, that your son will grow up to be a musician.Ē It was this combination of grace and humour that I so fondly remember from my time under his tutelage at McGill. There, he provided his pupils with an invaluable link to the great mid-century European tradition of piano playing, stressing above all quality of tone and singing lines. It was a great source of pride to be a student of Charles Reinerís, for his having studied under DohnŠny and Bartůk enabled us to boast that our musical genealogy could be traced back to Franz Liszt and thus to Czerny, Beethoven and ultimately to Mozart himself!

Charles Reinerís students almost constituted a club (we would jokingly refer to ourselves as Charlieís Angels), for Reiner was, despite the trials of his early years, a true bon vivant enjoying wine, women and song, usually in that order. He would remind us that good music making didnít just require hard work, but also fun and fantasy. One of my fondest memories is an evening spent improvising with another one of his students on the two grand pianos in Professor Reinerís studio, which he had so graciously given us access to after school hours. We taped our improvisations on the vintage reel-to-reel recorder that was on his desk and the results were surprising and wonderful. It was this sense of experimentation and curiosity that he passed on to all of us who were lucky enough to enter his sphere of influence. For this we owe him our eternal gratitude.

I can still see him now, the amiable silver-haired gentleman with the flashing eyes and trademark turtleneck sweater briskly walking down the halls of the music building with a jaunty spring in his step that seemed to personify the joy with which he approached all aspects of life.

He will be missed.


(c) La Scena Musicale