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Cziffra György

 B i o g r a p h y

Georges Cziffra (originally Cziffra György) November 5, 1921 – January 15, 1994, was a Hungarian 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 being lucky enough to find a job which allowed her to save the required amount of money. As she practised, Georges, a weak and often ill child, watched from his makeshift bed in fascination. When he felt strong enough, he would try to mimic his sister, and became greatly enthusiastic about the sounds he could make. He learnt without sheet music, but by asking his parents to sing him tunes and playing them back, improvising additional material as he became more adept. 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 very successful. This involvement with the circus at an early age (and for only a few weeks) was to haunt the rest of his career, as some critics used it as an example of his poor musical heritage and low taste, while others saw in it a remarkable and prodigious talent. He soon came to 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 called up to fight. He had within the previous year married his wife Soleilka, who was with child when he entered military training. His unit was sent to the Russian front under Nazi orders. At the frontier, Cziffra 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 German army and sent to the Western front as a tank commander. He was not demobbed 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, 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 due to 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 Cziffra, Sr. 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 as well. While many thought that his pianism deteriorated after the death of his son, some felt that his playing was deeper than before.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 A l b u m s

Liszt Ferenc: Hungarian Rhapsodies (EMI Classics, 1975)
Cziffra Edition Vol. 1 (EMI Classics, 1996)
Cziffra Edition Vol. 2 (EMI Classics, 1996)
Cziffra Edition Vol. 3 (EMI Classics, 1996)
Cziffra Edition Vol. 4 (EMI Classics, 1996)
Cziffra Edition Vol. 5 (EMI Classics, 1996)
Cziffra Edition Vol. 6 (EMI Classics, 1996)
Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No. 1 / Violin Concerto (EMI Classics, 2001)
Virtuoso (EMI Classics, 2005)
Sensitive Passion - Feinsinniges Heissblut 10 CD-Set (Membran Music, 2011)