Download (direct link):
This Hungarian pianist’s father taught him piano and began to exploit his talents when he was only 9. Young Liszt (1811-1886) toured constantly and never even took the time to receive a formal education.
A reputation for theatrical and awe-inspiring concerts produced a huge demand for his music and an enormous fan club (not to mention a nice-sized ego). He’s rumored to have once played so hard he broke a piano string. “Lisztomania” became a cultural phenomenon, and although no Liszt action figures survive, he did leave the world a bizarre relic: A plaster cast of his hands was made upon his death.
This Russian-born musician enjoyed huge success as a composer, conductor, and solo pianist. He also had huge hands. Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) built his own solo repertoire, writing intricate, very difficult compositions.
Chapter 18: Ten Types of Performers and Their Recordings
Shine on, if you can
Countless piano pieces have been called too difficult to play. Perhaps the most infamous of these is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. As portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Shine, this piece (and an overbearing father) was said to be the catalyst for Australian pianist David Helfgott's complete collapse and subsequent mental disorder.
As the story goes, Helfgott practiced the piece incessantly, even when a keyboard was not close by (like in the shower). He not only
mastered its difficult passages but memorized them! Although the old adage says "practice makes perfect," the moral of this story is that too much practice makes problems — Helfgott was so consumed by the piece that he had a complete nervous breakdown.
Later in life, afterthe success of the biographical movie, Helfgott commenced a worldwide tour, but his once extraordinary talents had been severely damaged.
Among these was the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor, which was an enormous hit. Long before the movie Casablanca, audiences would cheer, “Play it again, Sergei!” when he played this prelude. He later referred to this popular piece as the “It” prelude. Even today, his Piano Concerto No. 3 is regarded as perhaps the most difficult piano concerto ever written. (See the sidebar “Shine on, if you can.”)
Mastering the old
Although the old masters weren’t able to leave behind any gold records of their own, their music has been recorded extensively by this century’s greatest pianists:
J' Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, Igor Kipnis (CBS); Toccata and Fugue and Other Organ Works, E. Power Biggs (CBS).
J' Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 (“Moonlight”), Emil Gilels (DG); Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”), Wilhelm Kempff with Ferdinand Leitner and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG); Sonatas, Artur Schnabel (Pearl - UK).
J1 Franz Liszt: 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, Mischa Dichter (Philips); Piano Concerto No. 1, Claudio Arrau with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (CBS).
J1 Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C-sharp minor, Vladimir Ashkenazy (London); Piano Concerto No. 3, Rachmaninoff with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (RCA).
Part VII: The Part of Tens_____________________________________________
Without the skill of an accomplished virtuoso, much of the difficult music written for piano would simply be notes on paper. Years of discipline, training, practice, and maybe a good physical therapist helped these performers make their fingers do funny things that other piano players only wish they could.
Early in her career, Argerich (born in Argentina in 1941) won many important competitions, including the 1965 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Her incredible and unmatched technique makes her one of the most brilliant pianists of the 20th century. But she’s also very temperamental, often canceling concerts without warning. Although she records a wide range of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, she focuses primarily on concertos in public appearances.
A piano genius, Russian-born Horowitz (1903-1989) had an on-again, off-again career. His annual tours received great acclaim, but he stopped playing publicly from 1936 to 1939. Then in 1953, after a successful Carnegie Hall concert, he stopped playing concerts but continued to record. In 1965, again at Carnegie Hall, he made a “spectacular comeback,” as one critic wrote, and returned to public performing. Despite many personal and physical problems, Horowitz had an uncanny way of reinventing his career each time he dropped out. Either that, or he had a really good agent!
Youthful Evgeny Kissin (born in Russia in 1971) is arguably the most exciting pianist on the classical music scene today. He began playing at the age of 6 and recorded two Chopin concerti at the age of 12. He toured throughout his teens, having little time for softball or movies. His U.S. debut was in 1990 with the New York Philharmonic, followed quickly by a debut at Carnegie Hall. A young but accomplished virtuoso, he practically eats the difficult piano repertoire for breakfast. The world must wait and see what he’ll have for lunch.