Earl Wild was a pianist in the grand Romantic tradition. Considered by many to be the last of the great Romantic pianists, this eminent musician is known internationally as one of the last in a long line of great virtuoso pianist/composers. Often heralded as a super virtuoso and one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest pianists, Earl Wild was a legendary figure, performing throughout the world for over eight decades. Major recognition is something Mr. Wild has received numerous times in his long career. He was included in the Philips Records series entitled The Great Pianists of the 20th Century with a double-disc devoted exclusively to piano transcriptions. He has been featured in TIME Magazine on two separate occasions; the most recent was in December of 2000 honoring his eighty-fifth birthday. One of only a handful of living pianists to merit an entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Mr. Wild is therein described as a pianist whose technique, “Is able to encompass even the most difficult virtuoso works with apparent ease.”
As a teenager, Mr. Wild had already composed many works and piano transcriptions as well as arrangements for chamber orchestra that were regularly performed on the local radio station. He was invited at the age of twelve to perform on radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh (the first radio station in the United States). He made such an impression that he was asked to work for the station on a regular basis for the next eight years. Mr. Wild was only fourteen when he was hired to play Piano and Celeste in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Otto Klemperer.
With immense hands, absolute pitch, graceful stage presence, and an uncanny facility as a sight-reader and improviser, Earl Wild was well equipped for a lifelong career in music.
Earl Wild was born on November 26, 1915 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a child his parents would often play opera overtures (such as the one from Bellini’s Norma) on their Edison phonograph. As the recordings were playing, the three yearold Earl would go to the family piano, reach up to the keyboard, find the exact notes, and play along in the same key. At this early age, he displayed the rare gift of absolute pitch. This and other feats labeled him as a child prodigy and led immediately to piano lessons.
At six, he had a fluent technique and could read music easily. Before his twelfth birthday, he was accepted as a pupil of the famous teacher Selmar Janson, who had studied with Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932) and Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924), both students of the great virtuoso pianist / composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886). He was then placed into a program for artistically gifted young people at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech (the Institute of Technology) – now Carnegie Mellon University. Enrolled throughout Junior High, High School, and College, he graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1937. By nineteen, he was a concert hall veteran.
Mr. Wild’s other teachers included the great Dutch pianist Egon Petri (1881- 1962), who was a student of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924); the distinguished French pianist Paul Doguereau (1909-2000), who was a pupil of Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), Marguerite Long (1874-1966), studied the works of Gabriel Faure and Claude Debussy with Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954 – a pupil of Faure’s), and was a friend and protege of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Mr. Wild also studied with Helene Barere, the wife of the famous Russian pianist, Simon Barere (1896-1951), and studied with Volya Cossack, a pupil of Isidore Philippe (1863- 1958), who had studied with Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921).
During this early teenage period of his career, Earl Wild gave a brilliant and critically well received performance of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto in E-flat with Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony in Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque Hall. He performed the work without the benefit of a rehearsal.
In 1937, he joined the NBC network in New York City as a staff pianist. This position included not only the duties of playing solo piano and chamber recitals, but also performing in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Arturo Toscanini. In 1939, when NBC began transmitting its first commercial live musical telecasts, Mr. Wild became the first artist to perform a piano recital on U.S. television. In 1942, Toscanini made Earl Wild a household name when he invited him to be the soloist in an NBC radio broadcast of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was the first performance of the Rhapsody for both conductor and pianist, and although Mr. Wild had not yet played any of Gershwin’s other compositions, he was immediately hailed as the major interpreter of Gershwin’s music. The youngest (and only) American piano soloist ever engaged by the NBC Symphony, Mr. Wild was a member of the orchestra, working for the NBC radio and television network from 1937 to 1944.
During World War II, Mr. Wild served in the United States Navy as a musician, playing 4th flute in the Navy Band. He performed numerous solo piano recitals at the White House for President Roosevelt and played twenty-one piano concertos with the U.S. Navy Symphony Orchestra at the Departmental Auditorium, National Gallery, and other venues in Washington, D.C. During those two years in the Navy he was frequently requested to accompany First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to her many speaking engagements, where he performed the National Anthem as a prelude to her speeches.
Upon leaving the Navy in 1944, Mr. Wild moved to the newly formed American Broadcasting Company (ABC), where he was staff pianist, conductor, and composer until 1968. During both his NBC and ABC affiliations he was also performing and conducting many concert engagements around the world – at ABC he conducted and performed many of his own compositions. In 1962, ABC commissioned him to compose an Easter Oratorio. It was the first time that a television network subsidized a major musical work. Earl Wild was assisted by tenor William Lewis, who wrote the libretto and sang the role of St. John in the production. Mr. Wild’s composition, Revelations was a religious work based on the apocalyptic visions of St. John the Divine. Mr. Wild also conducted its world premiere telecast in 1962, which blended dance, music, song, and theatrical staging. The large-scale oratorio was sung by four soloists and chorus and was written in three sections: Seal of Wisdom, The Seventh Angel, and The New Day. The first telecast was so successful that it was entirely restaged and rebroadcast on TV again in 1964.
Another composition by Mr. Wild, a choral work based on an American Indian folk legend titled The Turquoise Horse, was commissioned by the Palm Springs Desert Museum for the official opening and dedication ceremonies of their Annenberg Theater on January 11, 1976.
On September 26, 1992, the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra with Joseph Giunta Conducting gave the world premiere of Earl Wild’s composition Variations on a Theme of Stephen Foster for Piano and Orchestra (‘Doo-Dah’ Variations) with Mr. Wild as the soloist. The composition was recorded a year later with the same orchestra and conductor.
Pianist / composer Earl Wild wrote this set of variations using Stephen Foster’s American Song Camptown Races as the theme. The melody is the same length as the famous Paganini Caprice theme that Rachmaninoff used in his Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and that Brahms used in his set of Variations for piano solo. Mr. Wild thus became the first virtuoso pianist / composer to perform his own piano concerto since Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Earl Wild has participated in many premieres. In 1944 on NBC radio, he performed the Western World premiere of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E minor. In France, he was soloist in the world premiere performance of Paul Creston’s Piano Concerto in 1949. He gave the American premiere of the work with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. In December of 1970, with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony, Mr. Wild gave the world premiere of Marvin David Levy’s Piano Concerto, a work specially composed for him.
Mr. Wild has appeared with nearly every orchestra and performed countless recitals in virtually every country. In the past eighty-nine years he has collaborated with many eminent conductors including; Toscanini, Stokowski, Reiner, Klemperer, Horenstein, Leinsdorf, Fiedler, Mitropoulos, Grofe, Ormandy, Sargent, Dorati, Maazel, Solti, Copland, and Schippers. Additionally, Earl Wild has performed with violinists: Mischa Elman, Oscar Shumsky, Ruggerio Ricci, Mischa Mischakoff, and Joseph Gingold; violists: William Primrose and Emanuel Vardi; cellists: Leonard Rose, Harvey Shapiro, and Frank Miller: and vocalists: 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.
Highlights include a March 1974 joint recital with Maria Callas as a benefit for the Dallas Opera Company and a duo recital with famed mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel in New York City in 1975.
Mr. Wild has had the unequaled honor of being requested to perform for six consecutive Presidents of the United States, beginning with President Herbert Hoover in 1931. In 1961 he was soloist with the National Symphony at the inauguration ceremonies of President John F. Kennedy in Constitution Hall.
In 1960, at the Santa Fe Opera, Earl Wild conducted the first seven performances of Verdi’s La Traviata ever performed in that theatre, as well as conducting four performances of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi on a double bill with Igor Stravinsky (who conducted his own opera Oedipus Rex). From 1952 to 1956 Mr. Wild worked with comedian Sid Caesar on the popular TV program The Caesar Hour. During those years, he composed and performed all the solo piano backgrounds in the silent movie skits. He also composed most of the musical parodies and burlesques on operas that were so innovative that they have now become gems of early live television.
A common element among the great pianists of the past and Earl Wild is the art of composing piano transcriptions. Mr. Wild has taken a place in history as a direct descendant of the golden age of the art of writing piano transcriptions.
Earl Wild has been called “The finest transcriber of our time.” Mr. Wild’s piano transcriptions are widely known and respected. Over the years they have been performed and recorded by pianists worldwide.
It was in 1976 that Mr. Wild wrote his now famous piano transcriptions based on George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess and revised his Virtuoso Etudes based on popular songs I Got Rhythm, Somebody Loves Me, Liza, Embraceable You, Fascinatin’ Rhythm, The Man I Love, and Oh, Lady be Good. In 1989 he also composed an improvisation for solo piano based on Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me in the form of a Theme and Three Variations and included it on his 1989 CD “Earl Wild plays his Transcriptions of Gershwin.”
Mr. Wild originally wrote six of his Virtuoso Etudes based on Gershwin songs in the late 1950’s, all of which were revised in 1976 (Etude No.3 The Man I Love was originally written for left hand alone). He wrote a seventh Etude (Fascinatin’ Rhythm) in 1976.
In 1981 Mr. Wild composed fourteen piano transcriptions from a selected group of Rachmaninoff songs: Floods of Spring, Midsummer Nights, The Little Island, Where Beauty Dwells, In the Silent Night, Vocalise, On the Death of a Linnet, The Muse, O, Cease Thy Singing, To the Children, Dreams, Sorrow in Springtime, Do not Grieve, and Harvest of Sorrow.
In 1982, Mr. Wild recorded twelve of these Rachmaninoff song transcriptions for dell’Arte Records. In 1991, four of his transcriptions (Vocalise, Floods of Spring, In the Silent Night, and Sorrow in Springtime) were also recorded for Chesky Records.
In 1986, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the death of Franz Liszt, Earl Wild was awarded a Liszt Medal by the People’s Republic of Hungary in recognition of his long and devoted association with this great composer’s music.
Also in 1986 Mr. Wild was asked to participate in a television documentary titled “Wild about Liszt,” which was filmed at Wynyard, the Marques of Londonderry’s family estate in Northern England. The program won the British Petroleum Award for best musical documentary that year.
Liszt is a composer who has been closely associated with Mr. Wild throughout his long career as he has been performing Liszt recitals for over fifty years. In New York City in 1961, he gave a monumental solo Liszt recital celebrating the 150th anniversary of Liszt’s birth. More recently in 1986, honoring the 100th anniversary of Liszt’s death, he gave a series of three different recitals titled Liszt the Poet, Liszt the Transcriber, and Liszt the Virtuoso in New York’s Carnegie Hall and many other recital halls throughout the world. Championing composers such as Liszt long before they were “fashionable” is part of the foundation on which Mr. Wild has built his long and successful career.
He has also given numerous performances of works by neglected Nineteenth Century composers such as: Nikolai Medtner, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Xaver Scharwenka, Karl Tausig, Mily Balakirev, Eugen d’Albert, Moriz Moszkowski, Reynaldo Hahn and countless others.
In addition to pursuing his own concert and composing career, Earl Wild has actively supported young musicians all his life. He has taught classes in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Toho-Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, and the Sun Wha School in Seoul, as well as numerous master classes in US cities and all over the world.
Mr. Wild has been on the faculties of The Juilliard School of Music, University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, Penn State University, Manhattan School of Music, The Ohio State University, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He held the title of Distinguished Visiting Artist at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a position her has held for 13 years.
In 1996 Carnegie Mellon honored Mr. Wild with their Alumni Merit Award, in 2000 they gave him their Distinguished Achievement Award and in 2004 he received their prestigious Doctor of Music Award.
In 1978, at the suggestion of Wolf Trap’s founder and benefactor Mrs. Jouett Shouse, Earl Wild created the Concert Soloists of Wolf Trap, a chamber music ensemble based in Vienna, Virginia at the famous National Park for the Performing Arts (Wolf Trap Farm Park). Mr. Wild’s idea in forming the Concert Soloists was to combine mature seasoned performers with talented young musicians. Other Wolf Trap members included violinists: Oscar Shumsky, Aaron Rosand, Lynn Chang and David Kim; cellists: Charles Curtis and Peter Wyrick; harpist Gloria Agostini; guitarist Eliot Fisk; and flutist Gary Schocker. Mr. Wild served not only as the group’s founder but also as artistic director and pianist until 1982.
Mr. Wild is also one of the most recorded pianists, having made his first recording in 1939 for RCA. Since 1939, he has recorded with over twenty different record labels. Some of the labels include: CBS, RCA / BMG, Vanguard, EMI, Nonesuch, Readers Digest, Stradavari, Heliodor, Varsity, dell’Arte, Whitehall, Audiofon, Etcetera, Chesky, Elan, Sony Classical, Philips, and IVORY CLASSICS.
His discography of recorded works includes more than 35 piano concertos, 26 chamber works, and over 700 solo piano pieces.
In 1997, he received a GRAMMY Award for a disc devoted entirely to virtuoso piano transcriptions titled Earl Wild – The Romantic Master (an 80th Birthday Tribute). The thirteen piano transcriptions on this disc comprise a wide range of composers including: Handel, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, J. Strauss Jr., Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Faure, and Saint-Saens. Of these thirteen transcriptions, nine have been written by Mr. Wild and eight were world premiere recordings. This disc is now available in its original HDCD encoded sound on Ivory Classics (CD-70907).
For the first official release of the newly formed IVORY CLASSICS label in 1997, Earl Wild recorded the complete Chopin Nocturnes (CD-70701), which the eminent New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg reviewed in the American Record Guide saying, “These are the best version of the Nocturnes ever recorded.” Since its inception, IVORY CLASSICS has released twenty-three new or re-released performances featuring Earl Wild.
In May of 2003 the eighty-eight year-old Dean of the Piano recorded a new CD of solo material he had never recorded before. He recorded on the new limited edition Shigeru Kawai Concert Grand EX piano, the disc includes Mr. Wild’s piano transcription of Marcello’s Adagio, Mozart’s Sonata in F Major K. 332, Beethoven’s Thirty- Two Variations in C minor, Balakirev’s Piano Sonata No. 1 in B-flat minor, Chopin’s Four Impromptus, and Mr. Wild’s piano transcription of the Mexican Hat Dance (Jarabe Tapatio). This disc was released in November of 2003 by IVORY CLASSICS titled, Earl Wild at 88 on the 88’s (CD-73005).
Earl Wild’s lengthy career as a performing artist began long before his initial Ivory Classics release in 1997; many of his recordings were made available in the CD format by Chesky Records as either an original release or re-release.
Ivory Classics is proud to present several newly remastered CDs featuring Mr. Wild’s performances of some of the world’s greatest repertoire for solo piano. These re-releases began with Earl Wild’s Legendary Rachmaninoff Song Transcriptions as well as a disc of Chopin’s Scherzos and Ballades by Chopin. Ivory Classics has also re-released Mr. Wild’s recordings of the following works: Beethoven’s Pathetique, Moonlight, and Hammerklavier Sonatas; Chopin’s Etudes, Op. 10 and Op. 25; various solo works by Nicolai Medtner; Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin, and Variations on a Theme by Corelli; Rachmaninoff’s Preludes, Op. 23, and Op. 32, and his Piano Sonata No. 2. has also rereleased Mr. Wild’s own composition Variations on a Theme of Stephen Foster for Piano and Orchestra (“Doo-Dah” Variations) originally recorded in 1992. Each of these original digital recordings were remastered utilizing the latest 24-bit technology featuring new artwork, rare photographs, and insightful liner notes.
In 2005, Ivory Classics released a new CD celebrating Earl Wild’s 90th Birthday. For this special occasion, Mr. Wild selected a repertoire that included pieces by Bach, Scriabin, Franck, and Schumann (CD-75002).
Mr. Wild’s 90th Birthday tour was also in 2005, he performed recitals in many U.S. cities as well as in Amsterdam. His final concert of that tour was in Carnegie Hall on November 29th, 2005.
Mr. Wild’s memoirs “A Walk on the Wild Side” have been released and published by the Ivory Classics Foundation in 2011.
“Earl Wild’s technique still must be the envy of pianists everywhere.”
“There is no substitute for skill and experience, both of which Mr. Wild has in ample measure. He played as one born to play Liszt. It was the playing of a supreme virtuoso, a colorist, a romanticist.”
—The New York 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.”
—London Daily Telegraph
“Earl Wild is surely one of our national treasures.”
“Earl Wild is without peer.”
“Other pianists play Liszt their way; Earl Wild plays him Liszt’s way! Even well past 70, Mr. Wild remains one of the finest pianists of all, both as a colorist and an outright virtuoso.”
—Wall Street Journal
Earl Wild really is a marvel!
“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 seen as simple as falling off a log.”
—The London Times
“Earl Wild is one of the greatest pianists of our age at the height of his technical and interpretive genius.”
“Wild the composer made a rare appearance hand in hand with Wild the pianist. With his 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
“The white-maned lion of the keyboard.”
–The Wall Street Journal
“It is not only supervirtuosity but also sheer pianistic elegance.”
—Harold C. Schonberg