Earl Wild, often called ‘one of the last great Romantic pianists’ has died of heart disease, at the age of 94.
The American pianist and composer, best known as a specialist in 19th-century repertoire, performed for over 80 years around the world in a long and distinguished career.
Acclaimed for his flawless virtuoso technique and sensitive musical interpretations, Wild, The Times once wrote, ‘makes some of the most satanically difficult piano music ever written seem as simple as falling off a log’. His renditions of Liszt won him the Liszt Medal of Hungary in 1986, and Phillips Records included him in their series of ‘The Great Pianists of the 20th Century’.
Born in Pittsburgh on 26 November 1915, Wild was picking out opera overture melodies at the piano at the age of three, before beginning his official studies aged four. At 12 he started to learn with Selmar Janson, a pupil of the pianists Xaver Scharwenka and Eugen d’Albert, who had both studied with Liszt. Wild went on to learn from Paul Dogureau, a pupil of Ravel; and Egon Petri, a pupil of Busoni.
During World War II, Wild was a flautist in the United States Navy Band, as well as a pianist with the Navy Orchestra. In 1944 he joined the American Broadcasting Corporation as staff pianist, conductor, and compose. He had already spent several years before the war as staff pianist for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, then under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. It was during his time at NBC that Wild became the first pianist to give a solo recital on US TV.
An impressive discography boasts over 30 piano concertos, several chamber works, and over 600 solo piano pieces. In 1997 he received a Grammy Award for his album Earl Wild: The Romantic Master. Noted for his virtuoso transcriptions, particularly of music by Gershwin, Tchaikovksy and Rachmaninov, Wild was also a composer. His works include the Easter oratorio Revelations and the Doo-Dah Variations for piano and orchestra.
Wild gave his last concert in Los Angeles in 2008, and was still coaching pianists at several American conservatoires up to the last week of his life. He had recently been writing his memoirs, which will be published by Carnegie Mellon Press later this year.