*1 I 1914 Freiburg im Breisgau
Edith Picht-Axenfeld – 6th Prize winner, 3rd International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1937). Edith Axenfeld (maiden name) started learning piano at the age of five. Her first teacher was Anna Hirzel-Langenhan, followed by Rudolf Serkin. Axenfeld also studied organ playing with Wolfgang Auler and Albert Schweitzer.
She started her concert career in 1935, notably appearing in Berlin where she was well received by the public and music critics alike. Two years later, she took 6th Prize at the 3rd Chopin Competition in Warsaw (1937). After this success, she appeared in solo recitals and symphony concerts throughout Austria and Germany. The outbreak of World War II halted her stage career. In 1940, she became a music teacher at the Birklehof Boarding School in Hinterzarten (Schwarzwald), where she married the school’s director, Dr W. Picht. From that moment she used the double name Picht-Axenfeld.
After the war, Edith Picht-Axenfeld maintained an intensive touring schedule as a pianist, harpsichordist and chamber performer, appearing throughout Europe, the Near and Far East, the Americas, India and South Africa. She achieved fame for her performance series of Bach’s complete pieces for harpsichord and Beethoven’s complete sonatas.
Her repertoire, however, was not limited to these two composers. She played with great success works by the Romantics (Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Brahms), Impressionist and Expressionist music, and even some 20th-century avant-garde composers such as Ligeti and Nono.
She was also a prolific chamber performer. For many years, she formed a piano trio with violinist Nikolai Chumachenko and cellist Alexander Stein; she accompanied top soloists such as violinists Pina Carmirelli and Henryk Szeryng, flautist Aurèle Nicolet, oboist Heinz Holliger, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. She often appeared with pianist Karl Seemann in a piano duo.
Aside from her concert appearances, she held a piano class at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg im Breisgau from 1947 to 1979, and from 1956 onwards also taught harpsichord and chamber music. She held piano and harpsichord masterclasses in Salzburg, Japan, Mexico and Israel.
In 1995, Edith Picht-Axenfeld returned to Poland after 58 years from her Chopin Competition appearance to perform a recital at the International Chopin Festival in Duszniki. On 13th August she performed Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Chopin’s Ballade in F major, Mazurkas Op. 41 and the Barcarolle in F sharp major.
“The Schumann-Chopin recital given by German pianist [Mrs. Picht-Axenfeld], a lady of over 80 years, winner of the 6th Prize in the 1937 Chopin Competition, was a complete surprise to me [...]. Her interpretation of the Kreisleriana was the most original I have ever heard. Already the storming beginning was enough to confirm that Mrs. Picht-Axenfeld’s Florestan lives in his own world and is not hurried anywhere [...]. She has conjured up her own universe, her own language, which she speaks so fluently that the fabric of her creation never withers. [...] In the Ballade her sound colour and stunning technical coda were a delight. Mazurkas flowed in the rhythm of their own narrative, in which the rhythmic element submitted to the harmonic. [...] The Barcarolle was also beautiful, masterfully constructed in terms of [building] tension, with a natural, seamless phrasing and rocking rhythms.”
In October 1995, Mrs. Picht-Axenfeld sat in the jury of the 13th Chopin Competition in Warsaw.
She made many recordings of piano, harpsichord and chamber music for Deutsche Grammophon, Philips, Erato, Victor International, Aurophon and Camerata Tokyo.