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The greatest recordings by the oldest pianists

24 February 2014

Age has never been an impediment to great musicianship. YouTube is full of extraordinary late musical testaments from pianists who, refusing to retire, hit their stride in their eighth, ninth and, in Alice Herz-Sommer‘s unique case, tenth decades. Here is a selection of the finest:

1. Mieczysław Horszowski gave his first recital at the age of eight in 1900, his last at the age of 98 in 1991. He was present at the premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913. He heard Busoni perform, played for D’Albert, Fauré and Saint-Saëns and was pals with Granados, Villa-Lobos and Szymanowski. His Chopin at the age of 98 in this Wigmore Hall recital is breathtaking:

2. Shura Cherkassky continued to give recitals until the year of his death at the age of 86. This immaculate performance of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Gavotte from the Suite in A minor was given at the Wigmore Hall at the age of 84:

3. An absolute belter of a performance of Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major, op 53, from an 83-year-old Vladimir Horowitz in his final recital in Hamburg in 1987. Joyous, terrifying, thrilling, astonishing:

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4. Otherworldly footage of a spectral Arthur Rubinstein, mouth agape, improvising in 1980 at the age of 93:

5. Stylish Chopin playing from a 77-year-old Vladimir de Pachmann in 1925, a pianist who played for Liszt and was taught by Bruckner:

6. A 77-year-old Erwin Nyiregyhazi extemporising in his signature thunderous style on a 1927 work by Emile Blanchet, In the Garden of the Old Harem (Adrianople):

7. An exceptional performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto from an 85-year-old Wilhelm Backhaus with Karl Böhm conducting the Vienna Symphony in 1969:

8. Magda Tagliaferro aged 92 performs Poissons d’or from Debussy’s second book of Images. Ravishing stuff:

9. Vlado Perlemuter was known for his Ravel. But to deliver a Gaspard de la Nuit – one of the toughest works in the entire repertoire – of this quality at the age of 87 is a miracle:

10. One final miracle: Alice Herz-Sommer plays Chopin at the age of 108:

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Show comments
  • Jambo25

    I’ve just listened to these again. By the time I heard Ms Herz-Sommer’s playing and knowing her history the tears were rolling down my face. What we have lost of old Europe thanks to the lunatics of left and right during the 20th century.

  • Albert De Castro

    Great article, thanks for sharing.

  • Bombay Beauty

    And don’t forget Claudio Arrau — I heard him perform well into his 80s…

  • Jambo25

    I’ve got recordings by most of these pianists. However, one seems to be missing and that is Wilhelm Kempff. A wonderful player and certainly in the same exalted class as these people.

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