How a man from Glarus fooled Switzerland as a fake pianist
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
The audience did not know whether to applaud the joke or leave the hall in a huff. The audience of a good 2,000 agreed, after all, that they had been properly shown up that evening in the Zurich Tonhalle. The supposedly mute Kazakh pianist Antonei Sergejvitch Tartarov, who had enchanted them that evening in April 1968 with works by Scriabin, Bartók, Ravel, but also with hitherto unknown compositions by Beethoven, Mozart or Liszt, was a fake.
The supposedly newly discovered Beethoven, Mozart or Liszt works were also a big bluff. With make-up and wig, but with great pianistic talent, the Glarus musician and composer Jean-Jacques Hauser had been made into a piano magician from the East by Hannes Keller - a then 34-year-old deep-sea diver, computer expert and inventor. Hannes Keller had also invented Tartarov and, with the help of a media campaign, launched it as the mysterious sensation of the concert season. Thanks to his unique imagination, he invented the story of the virtuoso Tartarov: "A mute pianist, raised in Georgia...". And so it comes to the famous concert of April 18, 1968 in the Tonhalle Zurich. The request was successful: The Zurich Tonhalle was sold out. On this memorable evening, the hitherto slightly dreamy expression of the excellent Swiss pianist Jean-Jacques Hauser is joined by the determined and impetuous attitude of the virtuoso Tartarov. He shows himself to be a master of improvisation who knows how to unite all the secrets of the great piano composers. This is how the myth of Antonej Sergejvitch Tartarov is born: a virtuoso who, as in the times of Franz Liszt, dared to improvise freely on themes suggested by the audience. Since then, concert managers have also regularly requested the famous interpretations "à la manière de...", which give the recital unusual freshness and liveliness.
When Keller appeared on stage after the concert, enlightened the audience and offered to refund the entrance fee to all those who felt they had been made fun of, no one wanted to take him up on it. Keller said that he had wanted to show how a mysterious pianist from a distant region could effortlessly fill the Tonhalle with the appropriate accompanying din - at least a lot more effortlessly than a pianist with the communal name Hauser from the Glarnerland. The press was not resentful and reported enthusiastically on the performance.
Born in Glarus on June 30, 1932, Jean-Jacques Hauser spent his childhood and youth with his younger brother Marcel in Haslen, a smaller village near Glarus. In his family, music is of great importance. His father, an elementary school teacher, is very active as a leader of choral ensembles and instrumental groups, in which his mother also participates. Soon Jean-Jacques is also fascinated by music. Before going to school, he plays the folk songs often sung by his mother on the piano. Whatever he hears, he can reproduce on the instrument. He amuses himself playing the melodies with all kinds of accompaniments.
His father noticed this exceptional talent and began to give Jean-Jacques regular piano lessons. In 1949, he enters the Zurich Conservatory where he studies piano with Erich Vollenwyder and Max Egger. He also studied counterpoint, composition and conducting. In 1952 he obtains the teaching diploma and in 1956 the concert diploma. His talent is highly appreciated by his teachers and confirmed with official prizes. After the concert diploma he works for a short time as a teacher at the Alpinen Mittelschule Davos. There he meets the chemistry and mathematics teacher Hannes Keller, with whom he has had a deep friendship ever since.
In 1959 Jean-Jacques moves to Bellinzona, where his partner has founded the municipal piano school (Scuola Pianistica di Bellinzona). Professional lessons are given at a high quality level. Students can prepare in all the necessary major and minor subjects to take the exams at the Milan Conservatory Giuseppe Verdi as private students. The house of the Piano School will have a small concert hall where class lessons and concerts can be held. In addition, concerts by recognized musicians, as well as music history courses and lectures are offered.
In addition to teaching and concert activities, he is persistently engaged in composition. He writes for chamber and symphonic orchestra and especially for his favorite instrument - the piano. In 1962 his "Blue Book" - Dialogue for two pianos - is awarded as the best composition at the Giovanni Battista Viotti Competition. His preference, however, always remains improvisation, which he practices daily in his studio and with which he often delights friends and acquaintances. With extraordinary skill he imitates the great composers of different eras. At the same time, he succeeds in portraying the most diverse musical forms.
Jean-Jacques Hauser died on February 22, 2009 in Acquarossa, Ticino (Switzerland).
1. NZZ from 17.12.2022: Hannes Keller: diver, inventor, computer pioneer, prankster
2. Jean-Jacques Hauser website: www.jjhauser.ch