Monday, November 29, 2010

The Gypsy pianist

Gyorgy Cziffra, there is a life.

From what I see on the Internet you are now supposed to say, ahem, Georges Cziffra. But I am sorry, Cziffra will always be Gyorgy to me.

When he was a little boy he played the piano in a traveling Gypsy circus. Cziffra was Gypsy. From what I see on the Internet you are supposed to say, ahem, Roma. But again I am sorry, Cziffra will always by Gypsy to me.

Imagine playing the piano in a traveling Gypsy circus. Talk about The. World's. Coolest. Job.

Here is a video of Cziffra at 13. This kills me, you know? There are millions of obscure videos of all kinds of pianists turning up on YouTube except for Pennario, there is next to nothing. Pennario, this household name, nothing turns up. He is a shadow. A sphinx. Well, I digress.

When Cziffra grew up tragedy struck. The Communists in Hungary imprisoned him for three years. They tortured him and after that Cziffra always played with a leather band on his wrist because of injuries he received, also just to remember. That is the way Gypsies think!

Cziffra married an Egyptian woman. They had a son who apparently killed himself. That has to have been terribly tough on the old man. When Cziffra died at 72 it was from lung cancer and -- I read this -- "complications from smoking and alcohol."

I got onto all this yesterday because I was deep into my Pennario book and I was reading how Harold Schonberg, the New York Times critic, was praising Pennario's Tchaikovsky First and saying it beat out Cziffra's, which came out at the same time. Schonberg wrote that Cziffra's in comparison was flashy and vulgar. I felt bad for Cziffra. When Schonberg got his claws into you it was not fun.

Anyway, what hardships in Cziffra's life but also what beauty and drama and flair.

Cziffra wrote a memoir called "Guns and Flowers" which was clearly the inspiration for the rock band Guns 'N Roses.

Quite a life and legacy.

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