Chess and Music Part 3: Parratt and Goldenweiser

This time you’ll get the chance to meet two keyboard players who also excelled at chess.

Sir Walter Parratt (10 February 1841 – 27 March 1924) was an English organist who was to become Master of the Queen’s (later King’s) Musick. The son of an organist, he was a child prodigy pianist before becoming organist at Magdalen College Oxford in 1872, and, ten years later, organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where Queen Victoria and her family worshipped regularly. He was also in great demand as an organ teacher, becoming Heather Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1908. In 1893 he received the ultimate accolade of being appointed Master of the Queen’s Musick. On his death he would be succeeded in that post (by then King’s, not Queen’s) by his friend Sir Edward Elgar, who, as you saw last week, was also a friend of Adolph Brodsky. He also wrote a small amount of church music: you can hear a psalm setting here and a hymn tune here. (A brief note: the post of Master of the King’s/Queen’s Musick originally involved composing music for royal occasions, and since Elgar’s day this has also been true, but for most of the 19th century it was more to do with organising music within the royal household rather than composing.)

Sir Walter inherited both his passions from his father, Thomas, who, apart from being the organist at Huddersfield Parish Church, was involved in the foundation of the Yorkshire Chess Association in 1841. Young Walter was active in competitive chess in the late 1850s and throughout the 1860s. He doesn’t appear on Chessmetrics but Rod Edwards gives him a highest EDO rating of 2310 in 1869, with a world ranking of 53rd. His speciality was playing blindfold chess and the piano at the same time.

When he moved to Oxford he became involved in chess there. In 1873 he played on board 1 in the first Oxford v Cambridge chess match, and may possibly have been involved in its foundation and organisation. He won both his games against John de Soyres, who would later become a clergyman and emigrate to Canada. In the first game de Soyres made an unsound combination while the second, given below, was an exciting encounter with missed opportunities on both sides. Finally de Soyres erred in a rook ending, and the game, which was unfinished at the close of play, was adjudicated a win by Steinitz. In 1874, by now president of the University Chess Club, he faced the same opponent. This time three games were played, and his opponent extracted his revenge, winning two games and losing one.

The following February saw Parratt drawing with Steinitz in a blindfold simul, although in the final position Steinitz had an extra pawn and much the better position. But he declined the opportunity to take part in the University Match that year, citing lack of practice. And that, as far as I know, was the end of his chess career. Or almost the end. In 1921 the Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, himself a strong chess player, who was visiting Windsor Castle, wanted a game of chess. Sir Walter was summoned to play him. “Isn’t he a bit old?”, asked the PM when meeting his elderly opponent? After an hour’s play Sir Walter announced checkmate. “Not at all”, said Bonar Law. “I have seven moves.” Sir Walter then demonstrated how he would force checkmate in each variation. Towards the end of his life he agreed to represent Oxford Past in a match against Cambridge Past, but had to withdraw due to ill health.

Given the popularity of both chess and music in Russia it’s hardly surprising that many of the great Soviet musicians were also strong chess players. One of the strongest was the celebrated pianist, teacher and composer Alexander Goldenweiser (10 March 1875 – 26 November 1961). It’s only in recent decades, with the release of many previously unknown Soviet recordings, that we’ve started to appreciate the importance of the Russian piano school, of which Goldenweiser was a leading member, both as a pianist and as a highly influential teacher. His pupils included such legendary names as Grigory Ginzburg, Lazar Berman, Samuil Feinberg, Dmitry Kabalevsky and Tatiana Nikolayeva. You can hear him play Beethoven’s great Waldstein Sonata here, hear some of his most celebrated pupils here, and hear one of his own compositions here.

As a young man Goldenweiser was a friend and regular chess opponent of Leo Tolstoy, also a strong player. If you believe a rather inaccurate Hungarian book on chess playing celebs, he won games in simuls against Chigorin, Lasker and Alekhine, and drew with Capablanca, Botvinnik and Rubinstein. I haven’t yet been able to discover whether or not he played any competitive chess, but it seems he was, like Sir Walter Parratt, a very strong amateur.

Her’s a win against Chigorin, who plays a theoretical opening involving a rook sacrifice, but goes wrong on move 10 (the right move was 10. fxe5, and if 10… fxe5, 11. Rf1).

Your homework before next week is to listen to the music and study the games. See you then.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.