Meet the Artist – Burkard Schliessmann, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was inspired from music and art from my first life and birth. My Grandmother, Katharina, bought a Steinway on the occasion of my birth, and I still have the original receipt from this purchase. During my birth, music by Chopin had been played. I began to play at the early age of 3. Still  From a young age, I played pieces from memory. To study music and piano was self-evident.

The most important influences in my career are first, as already pointed out, my grandmother; later my teachers Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Poldi Mildner, Shura Cherkassky and Herbert Seidel. Through them I’m a representative and guardian of the great Romantic Tradition – a tradition, which I preserve for myself, but also pass on to my students.

Today, being a recipient of the renowned ‘Goethe-Prize of Frankfurt/Main, presented to me in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt in January 2020, was another decisive challenge and turning point in my career.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

My latest project, ‘Chronological Chopin’ (Divine Art label ddc 25752), and my current project ‘Fantasies’ with major works by Robert Schumann (also with Divine Art)

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

‘Chronological Chopin’ and the Goldberg-Variations (Bayer), but also the Chopin – Schumann Anniversary Edition 2010 (MSR-Classics), Schumann: Kreisleriana Op. 16 and the Symphonic Etudes Op. 13, including the Variations posthumes (Bayer), Schumann – Liszt: Fantasie in C major Op. 17 and Sonata in B minor (Bayer), Scriabin: Piano Works, Opp. 2 – 74 (Bayer), and the DVD with Liszt: Piano Transcriptions of Schubert Songs and Godowsky Symphonic Metamorphoses on Waltzes and Themes of Johann Strauss (Arthaus), produced by WDR-Television. These productions have been broadcast on all major tv-channels since 1997, and today they are available on Fidelio, a new tv-channel from ORF and UNITEL.

But I’m also proud of and happy that the highlights of my ‘Chronological Chopin’ enjoyed a re-release in 2018 on a luxury 2-vinyl-edition from‘Divine Art.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Bach: Partita in C minor, BWV 826, Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, Italian Concerto, BWV 971

Weber: Rondo brilliant, Op. 62

Franck: Prelude, Choral and Fugue

Chopin: Prélude in C sharp minor, Op. 45, Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47, Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49, Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54, Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57, Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61

Mendelssohn: Variations sérieueses, Op. 54

Schumann: Kreisleriana Op. 16, Fantasy C-major, Op. 17, Arabeske Op. 18, Fantasies Op. 12

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Hugo Shirley in ‘International Piano’ (February 2020) described me as a “multifaceted pianist”, who “unites intellectual clarity with an intuitive sense of colour, influenced by his artistic upbringing and his parallel life as a scuba diver”. Yes, I’m inspired in my parallel life by the experiences from the underwater world. As a ‘PADI Master Instructor’ I can refer to more than 8500 logged dives on the oceans all over the world and have visited countries even in out-of-the-way areas. I’m also certified to teach classes for Underwater-Photography and Videography, and I’m the official Ambassador of the PADI Project Aware Foundation for the “Protecting of Our Ocean Planet.” (If interested, one can visit my site under: www.diving-adventure.org

The inspiration of the variety of colours of the underwater world I convert into differentiated sounds in my artistic interpretations, a phenomenon called synesthesia.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to be at home in all epochs and styles of music, to cover the whole literature. But mainly I like to focus on Bach, Chopin and the German Romantics

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Yes, indeed I have: Carnegie Hall, New York. The acoustics are unique and outstanding. And of course also the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Besides the acoustics, the hall there has a singular mood and atmosphere.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I fear losing the tradition; this has already begun in school for children with a false “system of learning”. Back to the roots of learning, that the experience and realization of values is a way to the future …

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Japan, Tokyo: Bunka Kaikan and Suntory Hall

USA, New York: Here I once played a sensational ‘American STEINWAY D’ number ‘207’; I had the chance to selected this piano for a recital in New York City in the concert basement of Steinway Hall on 57th street, assisted by my longtime friend Peter Goodrich, who was chief of the concert and artists department of Steinway NY. In my career, I have played and performed on countless excellent and singular instruments, but I never will forget the number, and the unique and warm sound of this instrument, the ‘207’… Now I’m sure I made a major mistake not to have purchased this gem….it was “love at first sight”.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

True success is connected and bounded to the truth of interpretation. There begins and starts a long lasting experience: the chance that the artistry of a true artist will live on for generations, and will influence other epochs. This is the meaning of artistic integrity – and the definition of success.

Related to this, one could ask “what  is talent?”, to which I would immediately answer: “To have the strength, power, endurance, courage and stamina to start new after each setback.”

These characters blend into one: Virtue

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I would like to rephrase the question: What I would not impart to aspiring musicians? If they are not authentic and true to themselves, if they do not express the music in a proper and thoughtful way.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

To be even more successful and to achieve “musical heaven”, which would mean artistic truth

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being on stage and to feel at one with the (art)work and the audience

What is your most treasured possession?

My two very special Steinway D-274 pianos, which I use for all my recordings and important recitals/concerts.

Also my intelligence, the alertness of my mind and my indefensible intuition, which provides me a special view of life and art, and my visual memory

To lose both, or even only one of this indispensable unit, would mean the end of my life; it really would kill me

What is your present state of mind?

Inspired, vigilant, alert and ambitious for more artistic ideas and inspiration, eagerly looking forward to my upcoming projects.


Burkard Schliessmann, recipient of the renowned Goethe-Prize of Frankfurt/Main 2019/20, Germany, is one of the most compelling pianists and artists of the modern era.

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8 Comments

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  1. Schliessmann and Chopin: Rarely does any pianist communicate the essence of Chopin with such an individual conviction as I hear in these stunning performances. These late works are probably some of the greatest ever composed for the piano. To perform them well requires both exceptional pianistic skills and a remarkable intellect. Schliessmann arrives at his own unique interpretations, with reverence for the past (Cortot, Michelangeli, Rubinstein, and Horszowski especially). While each phrase is impeccably shaped, there is an overall thrust to each work that holds everything together. He uses rubato sparingly, and while he embraces the virtuosity in the music, it never overrides other musical content. After a half century of listening to a number of these works, I must say that Schliessmann shed new light on most of them. His is rarefied Chopin and needs to be heard by all music lovers. (James Harrington, American Record Guide, USA – Volume 74, No. 6—November / December 2011, “Critics’ Choice 2010”)

  2. I first knew Burkard’s work from his recordings of Schumann piano music years ago. Though I am not a fan of the very high romantic style, I recognized his brilliant playing in every piece at once. A few years later, when I learned he was going to record the Goldberg Variations, I was a bit worried. That is probably my favorite music ever written, and Burkard’s playing in the Schumann was so romantic. But the minute I heard his interpretation it went to the absolute top of my list, and I listened to it daily for well over a month. Burkard is without a doubt one of the top 5 pianists performing and recording today. His answers in the interview certainly reveal his deep intellect and careful thought about his art. Bravo Burkard, I look forward to your next project eagerly!

  3. Great interview, really impressive thoughts, what a deep understanding of the art of playing the piano and understanding music. As a private person Burkard is a warm hearted, reliable and deeply human being.

  4. Schliessmann’s “Definition of success”: YES, absolutely! THIS is the way! Therefore he seperates (in positive way) from others and his interpretations and artistry are so authentic. Thanks to Frances Wilson for this series.

  5. Burkard is inseparable from his artistic mission-to merge piano playing and inspiration into revered interpretation…a master exponent of the Romantic Tradition…

  6. As the head of MSR, I had the pleasure of working directly with Burkhard Schliessmann on his 2-SACD release from 2010 that featured works by J.S. Bach, Chopin and Schumann. From accompanying Schliessmann as he auditioned instruments in New York, to developing the SACD product package together, and ultimately to hearing his performances of this great music, I consider myself a minor expert on, and a major fan of, this musician. Schliessmann has the rare ability to combine intellect with inspiration – his music-making is something special, and I’m glad to call him “friend”.

  7. Schliessmann is an extraordinary and really “multi-faceted artist”, his interpretations are highly personal and reflect his unique view on life. This Interview delivers an vivid and authentic impression who Schliessmann lives “insight” of all he is doing…

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