The A-Z of the piano

We celebrate the world's most popular instrument with a look at 26 of its greatest features

is for Zichy, Count Geza, and other one-armed pianists

The first professional one-armed pianist was the remarkable Count Géza Zichy (1849-1924) who lost his right arm at the age of 15 after an unfortunate accident with a shotgun. He studied with Liszt and composed a number of pieces for the left-hand including a concerto published in 1895.


The most famous one-armed pianist was the Austrian Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961; brother of the philosopher Ludwig), whose right arm was amputated after action in the First World War. His family wealth enabled him to commission about 40 works in all, among them concertos by such luminaries as Korngold, Richard Strauss, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Ravel and Britten.

Those pianists who lose the use of a hand through illness, invariably lose the right:  Leopold Godowsky, Solomon and Michael Ponti lost theirs after strokes; Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman and Cor de Groot suffered from different right-hand muscular disorders. One notable exception was Cyril Smith who, in 1956, lost the use of his left arm. Over 4,000 works have been composed for the left hand, but only about 75 for the right.