Cziffra would spend many hours improvising and then used this talent to advantage when he was invited by clowns from a local circus to improvise on favourite tunes given to him by the audience. This was his his first paid work as a pianist but due to ill health and a weak constitution at this time it was short lived. At the age of nine, Cziffra had lessons from a lady named Jolan Tausky and by 1931 he was able to audition for Dohnanyi at the Liszt Academy in Budapest who recognised the child prodigies gifts. Imre Keeri-Szanto, like Bartok and Dohnanyi a student of Istvan Thoman (a Liszt protege)was Cziffra's teacher at the Academy and despite his young age Cziffra was allowed to attend the masterclasses of both Thoman and Dohnanyi.
Cziffra's progress was swift and on a visit to the Academy Rachmaninoff predicted a great future for him; by 1933 he was already appearing in public and in 1937 aged sixteen, he toured Scandinavia and The Netherlands. In 1942 Cziffra married Soleilka Abdin, daughter of an Egyptian citizen, but all too soon the dark clouds of war loomed overhead and Cziffra , now twenty one years of age received his call-up papers. At first Cziffra was trained as a cavalry rider and later as a tank driver for the German-Hungarian Command but a pacifist by nature, Cziffra was horrified by the fact he might have to kill another human being. This now enforced separation from the piano resulted in a love - hate relationship with the instrument - an inner turmoil of wanting to express his deepest feelings but at the same time hot being able to do so. Eventually in 1946 he was demobbed and able to return to his wife Soleilka and young son Gyorgy Jr.
in Budapest. To earn a living he played the piano in seedy back street bars and cafes. He also improvised with an American jazz band and was very impressed with the astonishing virtuosity of the black instrumentalists. The leader of the jazz band praised Cziffra's improvisations and said that he was as great as the legendary Art Tatum! Famous musicians on tour in the city came to listen to this pianist of a 'hundred fingers' and to try and discover the secret of his phenomenal technique.
Also at this time Cziffra was rediscovered by the pedagogue and pianist Gyorgy Ferenczy; with his help and advice he was able to rebuild his classical repertoire and his strained muscles. In January 1950 Cziffra and his family made an attempt to cross the border and escape to the West. Unfortunately, they were caught and imprisoned. Cziffra was tortured on his hands and made to carry heavy blocks of marble daily to build the staircase of The University of Miskolc.
This burden of work stretched the ligaments in his hands and back resulting in Cziffra wearing a leather wrist band and surgical corset for many years. Released in 1953, Cziffra practised intensively to regain his technique and to earn a living he played in various clubs and bars. Later he became officially employed as a State pianist with arranged tours to Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. In 1955 Cziffra was awarded the Liszt prize before which he made a series of 78s of Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee,' Khachaturian's 'Sabre Dance' and later LPs for MHV (Hungaroton), various paraphrases, transcriptions, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and for Supraphon (works by Liszt, Couperin, C.P.E.
Bach and Scarlatti). However, it was on the 22nd October 1956, the eve of the Hungarian Uprising that Cziffra's life was to change forever. After a stunning performance of Bartok's second piano concerto (learned in six weeks after a Chinese pianist was indisposed) at the Erkel Theatre, Budapest (once available on EMI References), the audience went wild. They ran into the streets shouting, cheering and singing the National Anthem and the next day Cziffra and his family made another bid for freedom.
After two weeks of walking they eventually crossed the border into Austria. On the 17th November, 1956 Cziffra gave a recital at the Brahmsaal in Vienna and this Danube-flaming debut of works by Scarlatti, Mozart (Sonata in A minor K310), Beethoven, Weber and Liszt was hailed as an historic event; news of which reached The New Yorker magazine. "His techique in octaves is flawless, his tempi and fingering are astonishing, and he uses little pedal - his performance being made up of great musicianly hands and great musical intelligence." (Quotation from The New Yorker). Cziffra, who had been signed up as a recording artist for Pathe-Marconi with the effect of bringing him to France, arrived in Paris on 29th November 1956.
His ensuing debut recital at the Theatre du Chatelet on December 2nd caused a sensation as did his debut recital at the Salle Pleyel on 15th January, 1957 which caused a furore evoking ovations never witnessed within living memory. The Cziffra family decided to settle in France (Cziffra became a French citizen in 1968 receiving his naturalization papers from General de Gaulle and changing the spelling of his name from the Hungarian Gyorgy to the French Georges). Cziffra was now free to travel the world with concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, London (his debut in Liszt's first concerto and Hungarian Fantasy followed by many encores causing both audience and orchestra to applaud and cheer for over twenty minutes), Ravinia Festival in Chicago (Grieg and Liszt concertos with Carl Shuricht), Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall, New York as well as in Montreal and other cities in Europe and the UK. He recorded extensively for Pathe-Marconi (EMI France), works from Baroque through classical and romantic composers as far as Ravel; and then for Philips (Chopin Etudes, Waltzes, Polonaises, Concerto No.1, Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante with the ORTF under Manuel Rosenthal and more brilliant Liszt).
He also created his own label and recorded Beethoven's 'Pathetique,' 'Waldstein,' and 'Appassionata,' sonatas as well as Liszt's Sonata in B minor. For EMI Toshiba/Japan he recorded Liszt's Dante sonata, both books of the Brahm's Variations on a Theme of Paganini as well as three Bach Chorals arranged by Busoni. In 1966 Cziffra along with his son created the annual Festival at La Chaise Dieu with Cziffra raising funds to restore the historic organ there and in 1967 remembering Marguerite Long's words of advice to 'pass on what he knew,' he inaugurated the 'Grand Concours Cziffra' (prize winners have included Cyprien Katsaris, Jean-Phillipe Collard and Jeno Jando). In 1973 Cziffra purchased the ruined shell of the Chapelle Royale Saint-Frambourg at Senlis (near Paris) to resurrect it to its former glory and to create his Fondation Cziffra and Auditorium Franz Liszt.
In order to raise the enormous amount of money required for this restoration Cziffra undertook an exhausting concert tour and in 1977after the completion of this mammoth task and following an inaugural ceremony the Fondation Cziffra became a 'Temple of the Arts.' Bernard d' Ascoli, Jean-Phillipe Collard and Jean-Ives Thibaudet were a few of the gifted pianists to benefit from its creation. Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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