Georges Cziffra

62 Followers
2,764 Plays
Impromptu No. 2 in F-Sharp Major, Op. 36
Hungarian Rhapsodies, S. 244: No. 6 in D-Flat Major
Études d'exécution transcendante, S. 139: No. 8, Wilde jagd

Georges Cziffra (originally Cziffra György, Hungarian: ; November 5, 1921 – January 15, 1994) was a Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist. He became a French citizen in 1968. Cziffra is most known for his recordings of Franz Liszt's virtuoso works. He also recorded many of Frédéric Chopin's compositions and those of Robert Schumann (his account of Carnaval de Vienne was admired by Alfred Cortot). Cziffra is also well known for his technically demanding transcriptions of several orchestral works for the piano – among them, one of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, written in interlocking octaves. He is considered to be one of the greatest technicians on piano of the 20th century. Georges Cziffra was born into dire poverty in Budapest in 1921. Before he was born, his parents had been living in France. His father, György Cziffra Sr., was a cimbalom player who played in cabaret halls and restaurants in Paris in the 1910s. During World War I the French government expelled all residents whose countries of origin were fighting against France. Cziffra's father, a Hungarian citizen, was imprisoned and his mother was forced to move to Budapest with her two daughters and only five kilograms of luggage. She was billeted into a single room built on stilts above a marsh, where the Cziffra family would live for years. His father was released from prison and Georges arrived some time later. His earliest training in piano came from watching his sister practice. She had decided she was going to learn the piano after finding a job which allowed her to save the required amount of money. Georges, who was weak as a child, often watched his sister practice, and mimicked her. He learnt without sheet music, instead repeating and improvising tunes sung by his parents. By the time he was five he attracted the attention of a travelling circus who hired him as the star of their show, and his improvisations (on tunes suggested by the audience) were successful. Some critics later called his involvement with the circus at an early age an example of his poor musical heritage and taste, while others called it evidence of remarkable talent. Georges came to the attention of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and was, at 9, the youngest student ever admitted. He was also admitted against the rules of the institution, which stipulated that in order to enter the candidate must have studied a full course of preliminary studies at a music school. He soon astonished his teachers who allowed him to attend the advanced masterclasses, normally reserved for adult students. This was run by István Thomán, a pupil of Franz Liszt and the teacher of Béla Bartók and Ernő Dohnányi. In 1942, at the age of 21, Georges was drafted into the Hungarian army which was allied with the Axis during the Second World War. He had just married his wife Soleilka, who was pregnant when he entered military training. Georges' unit was sent to the Russian front. At the frontier, Georges escaped by driving away on a locomotive, crossing the border where he was captured by Russian partisans and imprisoned underground for two years. He eventually escaped, was re-captured by the Russian army, then sent to the Western front as a tank commander of the new communist Hungarian regime. He was not demobilized until 1946 when he took up his career again, playing in cabarets and cafés. An attempted escape from Soviet-dominated Hungary led to imprisonment and communist forced labour in the period 1950–1953. In 1956, on the eve of the Hungarian insurrection and after a stunning account of Bartók's second piano concerto (EMI References) Cziffra escaped with his wife (Soleilka — of Egyptian origin) and son to Vienna where his recital at the Brahms Saal caused a sensation. News of this event reached the magazine The New Yorker. His Paris debut the following year caused a furore — his London debut at the Royal Festival Hall in Liszt's first concerto and Hungarian Fantasy similarly, an enraptured orchestra and audience applauding and cheering for over twenty minutes. His meteoric career continued with concerts throughout Europe and debuts at the Ravinia Festival (Grieg and Liszt concertos with Carl Schuricht) and Carnegie Hall New York with Thomas Schippers. He always performed with a large leather wristband, to support the ligaments of his wrist which were stretched while being tortured in prison, and also as a memento of his years in labour. In Cannons and Flowers, his autobiography, Cziffra recounts his life story up until 1977, the year he founded the Cziffra Foundation, sited in the Saint Frambourg chapel in Senlis, Oise, which he bought and restored, with the aim of helping young musicians at the outset of their careers. Georges Cziffra died in Senlis, France, aged 72, from a heart attack resulting from a series of complications from lung cancer due to smoking and alcohol. Cziffra's son, György Cziffra, Jr., was a professional conductor and participated in several concerts and recordings with his father. However, his promising career was cut short by his death in an apartment fire 1981 – said to have been accompanied by a suicide note – an event that sparked a progressively diminishing morale in his father. Cziffra never again performed or recorded with an orchestra, and some critics have commented that the severe emotional blow had an impact on his playing quality. While some thought that his pianism deteriorated after the death of his son, others felt that his playing was deeper than before.