Earl Wild Autobiography

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Donald Isler
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Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by Donald Isler » Wed Sep 07, 2011 3:30 pm

A Walk On the Wild Side – A Memoir by Virtuoso Pianist Earl Wild
Ivory Classics Foundation, 2011

Though it is unlikely that people with just a casual interest in classical music, and the piano will want to invest what it costs to obtain this almost 900 page book ($45.95 plus $11 for shipping, due to its weight) it is a fascinating read for those who heard concerts by Earl Wild (1915-2010), and appreciate his place among the important artists of our times. This huge tome, completed and published a year after his death by his long-time partner and record producer, Michael Rolland Davis, gives us the man’s story in his own “voice,” lots of his opinions, many of them controversial, and tons of stories about the many interesting people he knew.

Several things are very clear in this story. The Pittsburgh native always knew he wanted to be a musician, and was very “American.” Though he traveled a lot in his career the USA was always home, and he always thought of himself as an American artist.

An out, and proud gay man (at least in the latter part of his life) he had a long and happy relationship with Mr. Davis, to whom the book is dedicated, and he saw the humor in many situations. He mentions, for instance, that he performed for quite a few Presidents of the United States, numerous members of the nobility, and also “many queens, none of them royal!”

Another thing that is important to understand is that he worked terribly hard. He considered it important to be well-prepared for any type of professional engagement, and this work ethic, as well as his versatility (he also played flute, and cello) led to a remarkable range of activities. He worked as an arranger, as a conductor, he composed, he provided music for the great comedian, Sid Caesar, he was pianist for the Pittsburgh Symphony and the NBC Symphony, etc, etc, etc. A less focused musician might have found satisfaction doing these many other things. But Wild never lost sight of the “big picture,” that he wanted an important career as a concert pianist, even though big-time recognition took a long time to achieve.

Although some of his musical opinions are shocking (ie. of the Schubert sonatas he only liked the B-Flat, and he didn’t think the Brahms D minor Concerto was a very good piece!) he wrote at length of the importance of music, and also on how to play the piano well. One interesting idea about the latter was that one should always play with both feet on the pedals, for proper balance. Teaching was something he enjoyed and, he felt, an important obligation.

A good friend of mine, who is a very fine pianist now living in Texas, shared some of her recollections of studying with Earl Wild back in the ‘60s at Penn State University. He was a lot of fun, she says, gave her confidence, insisted on being addressed by his first name, and often “made the rounds” of practice rooms in the morning, to greet his students.

This book is full of stories, and, of course, Mr. Wild’s opinions, so one will, almost certainly, react with surprise, and some of that will be tempered by one’s own opinions of the same people.

One pianist who gets “dissed" at least three times in the book, is my teacher, Bruce Hungerford, because

1) He’s not in the index,

2) He’s not mentioned as one of the many pianists who (like Wild) performed at the 1970 International Piano Library concert in New York, and

3) Wild thought it was unwise for Vanguard Records to have selected Hungerford, rather than himself for a Beethoven cycle. (This is on page 622.) While, in this case, it’s obvious that Wild was jealous, his reasoning does not hold up well. He wrote that one hasn’t heard much about Hungerford lately (well, the poor man died in an auto accident over 30 years ago, and was exceptionally unlucky in getting publicity while alive) and Wild claims that the reviews of his Beethoven recordings weren’t generally favorable, which is flat-out wrong.

A few more stories:

Wild knew Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and often played at the White House while serving in the Navy. He said Roosevelt liked to sit up close to the piano and watch him play very fast notes, Wild thought, because of the contrast with the President’s own physical limitations.

There was once the possibility of a two-piano Wild-Bolet recording, but Wild lost interest when he found that Bolet, whom he otherwise liked and respected, wasn’t willing to commit to the amount of rehearsal time Wild thought necessary.

More astonishing is that Wild claimed that there was once supposed to be a two-piano Rachmaninoff-Horowitz recording, but it was never made because a recording executive thought it wouldn’t be commercially successful!

One more story concerns Fritz Reiner, the great and demanding maestro whose temper was feared. But in this story Reiner was on the receiving end of an outburst. Apparently, in Wild’s young years, when he was pianist for the Pittsburgh Symphony, Rachmaninoff came to town to play his Second Piano Concerto and Reiner was the conductor. Reiner suggested a different tempo for one of the movements, whereupon Rachmaninoff exclaimed “I wrote this piece!” and walked out, refusing to work on the concerto until another conductor was brought in!

This book includes many photographs, a complete discography, some bawdy poetry, and a CD which includes an interview with Earl Wild, plus his performances of music by Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin.

I cannot guarantee what your reaction will be to this book except to say that if you are a pianist, you won’t be bored!

Donald Isler
Donald Isler

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Re: Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by Lance » Wed Sep 07, 2011 6:08 pm

Lovely review, Donald. Wild speaks disparigingly about Steinway & Sons as well. I guess it's no secret, Wild could be a difficult man, but then there were those who adored his art, as I have, for many years.
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Agnes Selby
Author of Constanze Mozart's biography
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Re: Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Sep 07, 2011 7:22 pm

Thank you, Donald. Most interesting. I will send it onto Kathy.

Many thanks,
Agnes.

Ricordanza
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Re: Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by Ricordanza » Fri Sep 09, 2011 6:27 am

Donald Isler wrote:Though it is unlikely that people with just a casual interest in classical music, and the piano will want to invest what it costs to obtain this almost 900 page book ($45.95 plus $11 for shipping, due to its weight) it is a fascinating read for those who heard concerts by Earl Wild (1915-2010), and appreciate his place among the important artists of our times.
Thanks for the review, Don. I have more than a casual interest, but in view of the above, I wonder if it's available on Kindle???

jbuck919
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Re: Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Sep 15, 2011 3:08 pm

Extremely interesting, Donald. You know, this board is neglected. This is a clear classical music topic. I don't think it would be out of order if you just re-posted the whole thing in the Chatterbox.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

HoustonDavid
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Re: Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by HoustonDavid » Fri Sep 16, 2011 2:36 pm

I agree with John: it should also be in the Chatterbox. Too few CMGers read the Review
of Books and this is an excellent review of the autobiography of an interesting musician.
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

fmnewyork
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Re: Earl Wild Autobiography

Post by fmnewyork » Sat Sep 17, 2011 3:47 pm

Donald Isler wrote:A Walk On the Wild Side – A Memoir by Virtuoso Pianist Earl Wild
Ivory Classics Foundation, 2011

One more story concerns Fritz Reiner, the great and demanding maestro whose temper was feared. But in this story Reiner was on the receiving end of an outburst. Apparently, in Wild’s young years, when he was pianist for the Pittsburgh Symphony, Rachmaninoff came to town to play his Second Piano Concerto and Reiner was the conductor. Reiner suggested a different tempo for one of the movements, whereupon Rachmaninoff exclaimed “I wrote this piece!” and walked out, refusing to work on the concerto until another conductor was brought in!
The Rachmaninoff / Reiner incident never happened. I reprint here the posting by Rachmaninoff expert Francis Crociata:

Mr. Davis,

I'm sorry, but the Reiner-Rachmaninoff incident didn't happen. Rachmaninoff
played both sets of performances with Reiner--all the rehearsals and both pairs
of performances. Those occurred in January 1940 (c minor) and January 1941 (d
minor). When Mr. Wild first published this story in Musical America in 1986, I
queried the Pittsburgh Symphony--and the pr director there could find no one who
could recall even an obvious disagreement between Reiner and Rachmaninoff.
Since then I've obtained copies of all four Pittsburgh dailies' reviews of both
sets of Reiner/Rachmaninoff concerts--and nothing untoward occurred--they were
triumphs, typical for Rachmaninoff in those years. It was Walter Hendl who told
me that Reiner, long after SR's death, complained that SR altered dynamics and
tempi unpredictably.
Farhan

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