Andor Foldes is now seventy-two, but he recalls how praise made all the difference for him early in his career. His first recollection of an affirming word was at age seven when his father kissed him and thanked him for helping in the garden. He remembers it over six decades later, as though it were yesterday.
But the account of another kiss that changed his life says a great deal about our inner need for purpose. At age sixteen, living in Budapest, Foldes was already a skilled pianist. But he was at his personal all-time low because of a conflict with his piano teacher. In the midst of that very troubled year, however, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to the city to perform. Emil von Sauer was not only famous because of his abilities at the piano, but he could also claim the notoriety of being the last surviving pupil of Franz Liszt. Sauer requested that young Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged the master with some of the most difficult works of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann. When he finished, Sauer walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead.
“My son,” he said, “when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, Take good care of this kissit comes from Beethoven, who gave it me after hearing me play. I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it.”