Music I’ve Learned From Earl Wild

Pianist Earl Wild recorded Schwarenka's Piano Concerto in 1969.(Photo: ivoryclassics.com)
Pianist Earl Wild recorded Schwarenka's Piano Concerto in 1969.(Photo: ivoryclassics.com)

I’ve already ranted on about Earl Wild’s posthumously published memoir, A Walk on the Wild Side (and I thought I was bad with titles.) He did a lot of living in those 95 years. Earl’s hit list alone will keep a reader entertained. Stern, Brendel, well…go read the book.

For me, a successful musician biography has me putting the book down and reaching for scores and recordings. I want to know all of the music discussed in print.

Based on this, Earl’s book is very successful. If you’ve had a surfeit of the three Bs for the time being, try some composers and works which Wild played, recorded and discusses in the memoir.

For instance:

The Piano Concerto No. 1 by Xaver Schwarenka (1850-1924.) Schwarenka knew Brahms and Mahler and Stravinsky, but is not in their league. He did, however, write a dandy concerto.

Wild makes the point that musicianship can be developed in the writing of transcriptions. Above all, music is still meant to be entertainment, and Schwarenka got this memo.

The work is virtuosic and is designed to show off the soloist. That’s a hearty endorsement from an opera lover like me.

Nobody would listen to Schwarenka’s concerto and be bored. It’s like a luscious parfait, light, tangy, invigorating and not long-lasting.

The piece is meant to dazzle, and it does, with Earl Wild and the Boston Symphony no less, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. Listen, if it’s good enough for them…

Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) became rich and famous with his forty minute Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.

I didn’t know Menotti had written a piano concerto. This was in 1954, flush from the post-Amahl triumph. Earl Wild recorded the work with the Symphony of the Air conducted by Jorge Mester.

It’s a day at the circus, this concerto – a roller coaster ride of flashy keyboard dynamics, zipping up and down the scales. The second movement (lento) almost invokes the Italian countryside with an extended oboe (aka shepherds pipe) solo.

It’s show biz. Menotti was show biz and so was Earl Wild . These days in our concert halls we need a little more show biz and a little less pretension.

You want to hear great performances of good music and have fun? Enjoy the art of playing the piano? Add Schwarenka, Menotti and Wild to your collections of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann and Tchaikovsky.

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