Earl Wild: The Romantic Master

Earl Wild – American pianist, composer, transcriber, conductor, editor and teacher

Born: 26 November 1915, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died: 23 January 2010, Palm Springs, California

I got to know Earl Wild during my three years as General Manager of the Florida Philharmonic in Miami from 1978 through 1981 and enjoyed his company – and piano recitals – on many occasions.

According to the New York Times Music Critic Harold C. Schonberg, Mr. Wild was in the forefront of the Romantic revival,” and cited his championship of Liszt — at a time when Liszt was out of favor among many pianists — as one of Mr. Wild’s most crucial contributions to modern pianism.

“By any standards,” Mr. Schonberg wrote, “Mr. Wild has one of the great piano techniques of the 20th century, and with it a rich, sonorous tone.”

Wild was celebrated for his robust technique and rich tone, championing the sweepingly virtuosic music of Rachmaninoff (whom he knew personally) and Liszt. But his repertoire stretched to include Bach and contemporary pieces. He also won recognition for his many arrangements and transcriptions of songs and tunes by other composers.

Here, for example, is his performance via YouTube  of Liszt’s Waltz on Themes of Gounod’s “Faust” recorded on February 28th, 1988 at the age of 83-plus no less. Then, there are his scintillating renditions of Liszt’s La Leggierezza and Chopin’s Etude Op. 25, No. 2.

In 1986, he was awarded the Liszt Medal by the Hungarian government, in recognition of his long association with the composer’s music. His last concert performance was at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on Feb. 5, 2008, when he was awarded the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

He is certainly the only pianist to be invited to play at the White House before six consecutive Presidents (beginning with Herbert Hoover). In 1939, he became the first pianist ever to give a live solo recital on US television. Remarkably, in March 1997, he also became the first pianist to give a live solo recital on the Internet. In 1942 Wild was the first American-born musician to be invited by Arturo Toscanini to appear with him (in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue), making him the youngest soloist ever engaged by the NBC Symphony.

Though born into an unmusical family (his father was in steel, his mother was a hat designer), Wild’s pianistic genealogy was distinguished: at 11 he was accepted as a pupil of Selmar Janson, himself a pupil of Scharwenka and d’Albert (who had studied with Liszt); later he took lessons with Egon Petri (a pupil of Busoni), Paul Doguereau (a pupil of Paderewski and Ravel) and Helene Barere (wife of the Russian virtuoso Simon Barere). This foundation enabled him to maintain playing well into old age. He rounded off his celebratory 85th birthday recital in Carnegie Hall with d’Albert’s finger-crunching Scherzo. His 90th birthday recital in Carnegie Hall showed that his playing had lost none of its colour and vigour. He gave his final recital in February 2008 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles when he was awarded the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Here is the beginning of Wild’s delightful transcription, which I have on my old Ivory Classics LP recording of Liebesleid by Kreisler/Rachmaninoff – enjoy!

References:  Wikipedia; My Diary

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