György Cziffra was a Hungarian pianist who became a French citizen in 1968. He is considered today to have been one of the best pianists of the 20th century.
György Cziffra had a musical ear from a young age and his musician father gave him his first piano lessons at the age of four. At nine years old he was the youngest pupil admitted to the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy of Music, where he studied with István Thomán and Erno Dohnányi.
At the age of 20, as he was a young married man and father, World War II forced Cziffra to stop studying and to enroll as a Hungarian soldier, under Nazi command. He resumed his piano studies five years later with György Ferenczy.
In 1950, opposed the Hungarian Communist Regime, he tried to cross the border. As a consequence, he was jailed as a political prisoner for 3 years. In 1953, his outstanding pianistic talents were recognised by the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Affairs, he gave numerous concerts in Hungary and began a career as a virtuoso performer. In 1956, at the beginning of the Hungarian Uprising, Cziffra fled the country seeking political asylum in Austria and subsequently went into exile with his wife and 14-year-old son in France.
He settled in Paris, where his performances of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and others charmed the French public. Following the death of his son, a conductor, in 1981, his public appearances became increasingly rare. His pupil Pascal Amoyel organised a tribute concert, The Pianist with 50 Fingers, which traced Cziffra’s life from childhood to his last concert. Cziffra died at the age of 72 from a heart attack on the 15th of January 1994 in France.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Cziffra
1921 – Born in Budapest
1930 – Admitted to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music
1955 – Awarded the Franz Liszt Prize for Piano
1956 – Gave a concert at the Erkel Theatre, Budapest (on the anniversary of the October Revolution)
1966 – Created La Chaise-Dieu Festival in Auvergne
1975 – Created the Cziffra Foundation to support young talent
Six Key Works by Cziffra
The Flight of the Bumblebee (Rimsky-Korsakov - Cziffra)
Hungarian Dances (Brahms - Cziffra)
Romanian Fantasy (G. Cziffra)
Valse Triste (F. Vecsey - Cziffra)
The Hungarian Rhapsodies (Liszt - Cziffra)
Pastoral for Gerbert (G. Cziffra).