Friday, November 11, 2011

Cziffra Plays Liszt

Georges Cziffra (1921 - 1994) was a Hungarian virtuoso pianist.  His father was a cimbalom player that played in cafes and cabarets in the Paris area. He was a child prodigy and first learned to play the piano by watching his sister take lessons.  He would learn songs by ear after his parents would whistle or sing the music to him.

By the time he was five he had attracted the attention of a traveling circus which hired him to improvise and play tunes suggested by the audience. He did this for only a few weeks, but this association with the circus caused some critics to question his musical upbringing.  But Cziffra had a well-rounded musical education as he was admitted to the Franz Liszt Academy at the age of nine, the youngest student ever admitted in the history of the institution. He was also allowed to take part in master classes that were usually reserved for older students.

In 1942 he was called up to fight in the Second World War. His unit was sent to the Russian Front under orders of the Nazis and he was captured by Russian partisans and held captive for two years. He eventually escaped, was brought back into the military on the side of the Nazis and became a tank commander.  He was went through denazification and began to play piano in cafes.

Cziffra attempted an escape from Soviet-controlled Hungary and was a prisoner doing forced labor and undergoing torture from 1950-1953.  He finally left the country for a concert in Vienna on the eve of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 and never went back to Hungary.  He wore a heavy leather wristband on his right forearm to help support ligaments in his right arm that had been injured under torture during his imprisonment.

Cziffra was one of the top virtuoso pianists of the 20th century who was known for his interpretations of Liszt's music. He was not only Hungarian like Liszt, but he was also of Gypsy extraction. There was evidently no technical problems for him at the keyboard. He throws off the most difficult music with ease. Case in point is the following video of his performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #6.  In the world of the Hungarian Rhapsodies that is full of technical difficulties, Number 6 stands out for the repeating octaves in the final section of the work which makes keeping tempo increasingly difficult the longer the piece goes.  Cziffra throws the octaves off as easily as if he were playing single notes and seems to actually increase the tempo without losing clarity:

Next Cziffra plays Etude #3 'la Campanella' of Liszt's Paganini Etudes.  This etude was inspired by the third movement theme of Paganini's  Violin Concerto #2

No comments:

Post a Comment