He is an Extraordinary Individual
Mr. Wild exhibited extraordinary musical gifts even at age three and a half when he first heard a recording of Bellini’s opera “Norma”. When most children were still learning life’s basics, he reached up to the keyboard of the family piano, played the chords and melody and started teaching himself the keyboard and exploring his (now lifelong) fascination with sound. At six, he was reading and playing fluently and was found to have absolute pitch. By age twelve, with his exceptional abilities, he was selected to study the piano at Carnegie Tech with Selmar Janson, had organized a chamber group, and was teaching himself to compose – while also maintaining ‘A’s in his regular studies.. At age fourteen, he was resident pianist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, also working regularly for his local radio station, KDKA, and contributing to his family’s income. During the same period, he received a scholarship to attend Carnegie Tech full-time and won a contest with his Song composition – using the funds to study with Egon Petri in New York City. At age twenty, he landed a job with NBC in New York, which started his adult career. He went on to became, in my view and others’, the greatest twentieth century pianist, all without benefit of a public relations ‘machine’ or sponsors. Most importantly, Mr. Wild has devoted his entire life to his art and to music since determining he wanted to be a musician at age four.
Mr. Wild has worked in the world of classical music, within orchestras and as a piano soloist, over seven and one half of his nine decades of life. As resident pianist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra he worked under Fritz Reiner and Otto Klemperer. Since then, he has performed with most of the major orchestras in the world, and in chamber music with renowned instrumentalists such as Mischa Elman, Oscar Shumsky, Ruggerio Ricci, Mischa Mischakoff, William Primrose, Josef Gingold, Leonard Rose, Harvey Shapiro, and Frank Miller, and with singers, such as Maria Callas, Jenny Tourel, Lily Pons, Marguerite Matzenauer, Dorothy Maynor, Lauritz Melchior, Robert Merrill, Mario Lanza, Jan Peerce, Zinka Milanov, Grace Bumbry and Evelyne Lear. As conductor, he has worked with many opera companies and orchestras, including the Santa Fe Opera Company where in 1960 he conducted the first performances of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ and performances of ‘Gianni Schicci’ on a double bill with Igor Stravinsky, who was conducting his own ‘Oedipus Rex’.
As soloist, Mr. Wild has received extraordinary accolades, often being heralded as “a super virtuoso”, “one of the 20th century’s greatest pianists”, and truly “the last of the Romantic Pianists.” He is included in the Philips Records series entitled, “The Great Pianists of the twentieth Century”, with a double disc devoted exclusively to the part of his art which he has made his own – his remarkable piano transcriptions. He has been featured on two separate occasions in TIME magazine and also as the cover story in the November / December 2002 edition of International Piano. Last but not least in this respect, Mr. Wild is one of only a handful of living pianists to merit an entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, where he is described as a pianist whose technique “is able to encompass even the most difficult virtuoso works with apparent ease”. Mr. Wild’s 1969 recording of the Scharwenka 1st Piano Concerto (which he learned when he was fourteen) is breathtaking! All his recordings, including but not limited to ‘The Virtuosity of Earl Wild’ on Ivory Classics, are equally extraordinary.
Examples of critics’ comments lauding his extraordinary abilities are:
- “Earl Wild is without peer”(The Boston Globe);
- “Earl Wild is surely one of our national treasures”(Stereo Review);
- “Earl Wild really is a marvel” (Gramophone);
- “It is not only super virtuosity but also sheer pianistic elegance”(Harold C. Schonberg, NY Times);
- “A seamless bel canto line delivered in a hushed tonality with a simple harmonic clarity that was sheer lyric poetry”(The Washington Post);
- “Mr. Wild makes some of the most satanically difficult piano music ever written seem as simple as falling off a log”(The London Times);
- “The cheers rang to the rafters as Earl Wild concluded what was surely one of the most stunning piano recitals in the entire history of The Wigmore Hall”(The London Daily Telegraph);
- “Other pianists play Liszt their way: Earl Wild plays him Liszt’s way! Even well past Seventy, Mr. Wild remains one of the finest pianists of all, both as a colorist and an outright virtuoso”(The Wall Street Journal);
- “With his newest composition, Variations on an American Theme for Piano and Orchestra (Doo-Dah Variations), Earl Wild has come up with an eclectic yet extremely effective 26-minute piece that deserves wide circulation. An auspicious premiere indeed” (The American Record Guide);
- “Earl Wild’s technique still must be the envy of pianists everywhere” (The Chicago Tribune).
(All emphasis is added.)
In 2002, Mr. Wild was nominated for a GRAMMY® award for his world premiere recording of 53 solo piano ‘poemes’ by Reynaldo Hahn, “Le Rossignol Eperdu.”
In the 1997 he received a GRAMMY® award for a disc of virtuoso piano transcriptions entitled, “Earl Wild: The Romantic Master.”
In 1986 he was awarded the Liszt Medal by the People’s Republic of Hungary for his piano artistry and devotion to playing the music of Franz Liszt.
In 1986 he was featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Kurault.
In 1986 his documentary film “Wild about Liszt” filmed at Wynyard, Lord Londonderry’s family estate, won the British Petroleum Best Documentary award.
Mr. Wild’s discography of recorded works includes more than 35 piano concertos, 26 chamber works, and over 700 solo piano pieces. He has over 100 CDs currently available.
In 2003 at the age of 88, he received critical acclaim for a CD of solo material he had not recorded before (‘Earl Wild At 88’, on Ivory Classics).
This current year – 2005, at the age of ninety, he has released another new CD of newly recorded works by Bach (Partita No.1), Scriabin (4th Sonata), Schumann (Fantasiestucke) and Franck (Prelude, Chorale and Fugue), also on the Ivory Classics label.
His Artistry is Unique and Abundant
Mr. Wild has demonstrated beyond question his unique and abundant artistry as a performing artist. Anyone, who has heard his music, in addition to the critics, can testify to the fact that he plays, composes and transcribes like no other musician today. His sense of music and execution is unique and absolutely consistent: he is mathematically precise; he conveys the entire structure and sense of a piece of music cleanly and straight-forwardly; and he does all of it with an artistry that reaches the soul.
In terms of creating his own artistic niche and developing it, Mr. Wild has evolved the art of transcription, making it his ‘own’ in the sense of his special interest in neglected works of nineteenth and twentieth century composers, although he works with pieces by earlier composers too. In this, as well as in performing, Mr. Wild has contributed to music literature and to every listener’s education and appreciation. Composers whose work he has enhanced include Paderewski, Scharwenka, Tausig, Moszkowski, Berlioz, Buxtehude, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Handel, Faure and Bach; as well as, Marcello, Gershwin and Stephen Foster. In doing so, Mr. Wild has drawn on his sense of humor at the same time as his ingenuity. One can hear a playfulness and joy even in the most virtuosic of his performances (e.g. Liszt Rhapsody #2 on his Virtuosity CD for Ivory Classics) but the benefit of his approach is very much apparent at his recent concerts, where Mr. Wild draws gasps, ‘aahs’ and appreciative smiles from the audience as he performs his solo piano transcription of ‘The Mexican Hat Dance’.
Although drawn to nineteenth century music, he has explored the musical expression in traditional form (e.g. Schumann) and that of ballet and movie alike. Presently, he is exploring the culture and music of belly dancing, which is rapidly becoming integrated into ‘American’ culture through Arab immigrants.
In his original compositions, Mr. Wild draws on features within American culture and ‘speaks’ to them through the language of music. He has taken inspiration from the Bible (about which he is extremely knowledgeable) for his 1962 Oratorio ‘Revelations,’ which was televised twice at ABC both times with Mr. Wild conducting, from other art forms such as Native American, Puerto Rican, Jazz and other genres within American history and culture and used his unique vision and artistry to enhance their contemporary relevance. As testament to his abilities and artistry, his original compositions and his 32 piano transcriptions are being increasingly performed and recorded by pianists throughout the world.
Mr. Wild is an artist who has the rare gift of being able to communicate serious ideas in a ‘light’ and elegant way that doesn’t take away from his own intellectualism but reaches people. In this sense, he brings the tradition and art of transcription, (along with his original compositions and performance) to a twenty-first century audience in a way that is uniquely his own. Mr. Wild has been hailed as “the finest transcriber of our time”. (A full list of his original compositions, transcriptions and his CDs are available at www.EarlWild.com).
He has made a Significant Contribution to the Cultural Life of Our Nation
As an artist and a man, holding true to his own integrity, Mr. Wild has made unique and extraordinary contributions in the USA and throughout the world for most of his life. Equally extraordinary, even nearing age ninety he continues to do so, without unhealthy ego, but, rather, becoming part of the fabric of whatever he involves himself with.
In this context, Mr. Wild has amassed a portfolio of ‘firsts’, either directly or by association, in every facet of his artistry.
The first radio station in the United States, KDKA of Pittsburgh, very early on in 1927, invited Mr. Wild to perform on air at age twelve – Mr. Wild made such an impression that he worked for them regularly for the next eight years.
During the same time, with Mr. Wild as their youngest resident pianist, the Pittsburgh Symphony’s reputation went from strength to strength.
In the early NBC years, as staff pianist and soloist on radio and television, Mr. Wild helped Arturo Toscanini, and later on, Leopold Stokowski, build the NBC Symphony Orchestra’s reputation.
In 1939, Mr. Wild was the first soloist to perform a solo piano recital on American television (NBC).
In 1942, at the age of twenty-six, he was the youngest and only American soloist ever engaged by the NBC Symphony when Toscanini invited him to be the soloist in NBC radio’s first and only broadcast of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” For that performance, even ‘though Mr. Wild had never played any Gershwin before, he was immediately hailed as the major interpreter of Gershwin’s music.
During World War II, while serving in the United States Navy as a musician in the Symphony Orchestra and Navy Band, Mr. Wild not only played numerous piano concertos and solo recitals throughout Washington but he also accompanied the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on all her public speaking appearances, introducing her speeches by playing the National Anthem.
In being requested to perform solo piano recitals at the White House for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Wild has had the unequalled honor of doing so for six consecutive Presidents of the United States, beginning with President Herbert Hoover in 1931.
In 1961, Mr. Wild was soloist in the ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with the National Symphony for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration ceremonies at Constitution Hall. This concert was broadcast and that historic performance is being released for the first time in the fall of 2005 by the National Symphony on their 75th Anniversary box set.
After World War II, during ABC’s early years in the late 1940s and 1950s, Mr. Wild worked as performer, composer and conductor. In this context, Mr. Wild used his innate gift of being able to improvise spontaneously in the style of many composers.
One notable way in which he did so was for Sid Caesar from 1954 to 1957 on NBC’s ‘The Caesar Show’, where he wrote, arranged and helped to stage popular songs of the day as classical opera. The program was tremendously popular, highlighting Mr. Wild’s unique ability in being instrumental in broadening the appeal and understanding of classical music.
During the same period, when Mr. Wild continued to give piano recitals and accompany many famous instrumentalists and singers, he also conducted and performed a number of his own compositions.
In 1962, Mr. Wild was the first composer to be commissioned and subsidized by ABC to compose a major musical work: the Easter Oratorio “Revelations,” inspired by the apocryphal visions of St. John the Divine, on which he worked with tenor William Lewis. Mr. Wild also conducted its world premiere telecast in 1962, which blended dance, music, song and theatrical singing and was so successful that it was entirely re-staged and re-telecast in 1964.
In 1976, Mr. Wild was commissioned by the Palm Springs Desert Museum, for the official opening and dedication ceremonies of their new Annenberg Theater to write a choral work he composed based on an American Indian folk legend entitled, “The Turquoise Horse.”
In 1992, the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra (Joseph Giunta conductor) premiered Mr. Wild’s composition “Variations on a Theme of Stephen Foster for Piano and Orchestra (the ‘Doo-Dah’ Variations), with Mr. Wild as soloist. It was subsequently recorded a year later by the same forces.
Mr. Wild has also participated as a performer in many premieres of other composers. In 1944 at NBC, he performed the Western World Premiere of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E Minor.
In 1949, he was soloist in the world premiere performance of Paul Creston’s Piano Concerto in Paris, repeating the American premiere performance with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC the next year.
In 1970, Mr. Wild also performed the world premiere of Marvin David Levy’s Piano Concerto, a work especially written for him, with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony.
In 1999, Mr. Wild performed the first live piano recital to be conveyed over the internet (streaming webcast through Pittsburgh’s WQED).
In addition to constantly evolving his own artistry, Mr. Wild is also unique as teacher and mentor. Somehow, his innate affinity for learning and for conveying what he knows comes through in everything he does. Every time I have attended his ‘public’ classes, I have been stunned at the simplicity with which he can bring understanding to a composer’s work, e.g. Beethoven, just by making an educated, quick, insightful, and sometimes humorous comment, and then ‘painting’ a visual scene with his words and hands.
Both formally and informally, Mr. Wild has actively supported and helped musical organizations and young musicians over many decades. He has been on the faculty of The Juilliard School of Music, the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, Penn State University, the Manhattan School of Music, The Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University.
When he performs at Music Festivals around the country, even recently, he often meets with students afterwards, sometimes discussing music and life issues with them until the early hours of the morning. Even when he serves as a juror at piano competitions around the world he still finds time to make himself accessible to students for discussion at appropriate times.
Today, just a few months shy of ninety; Mr. Wild still continues to contribute with his own unique artistry, composing, performing concerts, recording, teaching and mentoring. Presently, he is Distinguished Artist-in Residence at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (his Alma Mater), where he teaches piano literature classes, gives Master Classes and gives private instruction to various individuals.
He also teaches especially promising students at his home in Columbus, Ohio. On July 23rd of this year in New York City he gave a recital at the Mannes School of Music’s International Piano Festival and Institute and conducted a Master Class the next day in the art of improvisation.
He will then tour both the US and Europe (a recital in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw on Sept. 25th, a recital at Northwestern University Oct. 19th, a recital in Buffalo Oct. 25th and a recital in Charleston, S.C. on Nov. 9th) prior to celebrating his official 90th birthday by giving a solo piano recital at Carnegie Hall in New York on November 29th.
At every concert, there has been an overflow audience and standing ovations. In Washington DC at the National Gallery three years ago, the ‘overflow’ chairs were stretched outside the main hall all the way down the corridor. In recent years, at Mannes College of Music in New York, if you haven’t been there at least an hour before his concert you have been out of luck! At his public Master Classes, he holds the audience and the students spellbound, with his ability, his knowledge, his imagination, his musical intelligence, sensitivity and artistry, and his sense of humor! This is indeed an extraordinary artist.
He has made a Significant Contribution to the Cultural Life of the World
Mr. Wild has toured internationally, performing and teaching master classes, since the 1940s. He has appeared with nearly every major orchestra, working with many great conductors such as Toscanini, Stokowski, Horenstein, Leinsdorf, Fiedler, Mitropoulos, Grofe, Ormandy, Sargent, Dorati, Maazel, Solti, Copland and Schippers, and given numerous solo recitals in almost every country in the world.
He has performed with Arthur Fiedler on countless occasions over the years as well as on Television with the Boston Pops numerous times.
In this formal context, Mr. Wild has represented the United States abroad, but he has also done so through his informal contacts with foreign music and arts patrons, including but not limited to those prominent in France and England and ‘beaux arts’ circles.
He was requested to play American music – Gershwin – at the installation of Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1950. In addition, as already noted, he has premiered American composers’ works at home and abroad.
He has also performed and taught numerous Master Classes all over the world, including but not limited to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Toho-Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo and the Sun Wha School of Seoul.
Mr. Wild continues to travel and to contribute to the cultural life of the world even at an age when most people have retired.
This is the most extraordinary pianist and musician, Earl Wild is a man of integrity, musically and otherwise, who puts his art before himself. Despite being extraordinary in most senses of the word, he is modest and unassuming. Although there is an underlying seriousness about him and also an easy elegance, he doesn’t take himself too seriously: he knows how to convey the importance of something without making it become heavy.