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William Kapell

William Kapell

William Kapell


William Kapell (September 20, 1922 – October 29, 1953) was an American pianist. The critic Harold Schonberg considered Kapell the most promising American pianist of the post-World War II generation. Unfortunately, Kapell's brilliant career was cut short when he died at the age of thirty-one in an airplane crash. His style was direct, clear, and energetic; his technique impeccable; and his repertoire eclectic and adventurous. Kapell was born in New York City of Russian Jewish descent. Read more on Last.fm
William Kapell (September 20, 1922 – October 29, 1953) was an American pianist. The critic Harold Schonberg considered Kapell the most promising American pianist of the post-World War II generation. Unfortunately, Kapell's brilliant career was cut short when he died at the age of thirty-one in an airplane crash. His style was direct, clear, and energetic; his technique impeccable; and his repertoire eclectic and adventurous. Kapell was born in New York City of Russian Jewish descent. There he studied with Dorothea Anderson La Follette, then with Olga Samaroff in Philadelphia, and at the Juilliard School. He won his first competition when he was 10.

The prize was a turkey dinner with the pianist Jose Iturbi. In 1941 he won the Philadelphia Orchestra's youth competition and the Naumburg Award. The Walter W. Naumburg Foundation then sponsored his New York début which brought him The Town Hall Award for the year's outstanding concert by a musician under 30. He was a serious artist from the beginning -- practicing up to eight hours a day.

He achieved fame in the next few years, most especially by his performances of Khachaturian's Piano Concerto. Kapell played it so convincingly that his recording became an enormous hit. By the late 1940s, Kapell had toured the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia to immense acclaim and was widely considered the most brilliant and audacious of young American pianists. In 1947, he wed the former Rebecca Anna Lou Melson, with whom he had a happy marriage and two children. With maturity, a new sense of spaciousness made itself manifest in Kapell's pianism and he began to set aside time for work with the artists he most admired, studying with Artur Schnabel and playing with Pablo Casals and Rudolf Serkin. He spent his last summer in Australia, where he played 37 concerts in 14 weeks, appearing in Sydney, Melbourne, and regional cities such as Bendigo, Shepparton, Albury, Horsham and Geelong.

It was in Geelong that Kapell played his last performance on October 22 shortly before setting off on his doomed return flight to the United States. The plane hit Kings Mountain, south of San Francisco, on the morning of October 29, 1953; all of the crew and passengers were killed instantly. There was some tendency to typecast Kapell as a performer of flashy repertory. While his technique was exceptional, he was a versatile musician, and could also give memorably graceful performances of Mozart. In the decades since his death, the fascination with this powerful musician has continued. Pianists such as Eugene Istomin, Gary Graffman, Leon Fleisher and Van Cliburn, and classical-fusion jazz pianist Suezenne Fordham, among others, have acknowledged Kapell's influence, and tapes of "live" performances still circulate among collectors.

Kapell's widow -- now Anna Lou Dehavenon, a social anthropologist in New York -- deserves much of the credit for helping to keep her husband's name alive. A nine-disc survey on RCA contains Kapell's Chopin mazurkas and sonatas, and Sergei Rachmaninoff and Aram Khatchaturian concertos. It also has many lesser-known items, some of them first releases, including Shostakovich preludes, Scarlatti sonatas, and the Copland Piano Sonata. The Chopin Sonata no. 2 is profound, moody, and complex; the mazurkas are brought to life with subtle accents.

The set sold remarkably well throughout the world and brought Kapell's work to a new audience. VAI 1027 contains broadcast recordings of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 and the Khatchaturian Piano Concerto. Arbiter 108 features part of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 and the Shostakovich Concerto no.

1, and it includes Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which also appears in the RCA set, as well as on VAI 1048, the last from an Australian recital of 21 July 1953. Of these three, the version on Arbiter (from 1951) is the most colorful and varied, whereas the RCA (1953) is steadier and sustains a dreamlike mood, and the VAI is wild, daring, and free. All three are live recordings, but RCA’s has by far the clearest sound. In 2004 a number of recordings made during William Kapell's last Australian tour were returned to his family. These will be released commercially in 2008.

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