Samson François


Samson François had a reputation for telling tall stories: the "truth" came out at the piano. His friend the humorist Raymond Devos described him as an artist "who couldn't be confined to the bounds of reality".

Samson François was a child prodigy who received the legacy of the French school of piano playing from his teachers Yvonne Lefébure and Marguerite Long. An eternal child living on his imagination, a magician with a marked taste for the Orient, Mediterranean countries and human passions, Samson François is sometimes likened to Scarbo, the mischievous little goblin in the work Gaspard de la Nuit by Maurice Ravel, one of his favourite composers.

Samson François's father worked at the French consulate, so the family frequently moved house around Europe. Samson was born in Frankfurt am Main and started piano at the age of four at the Belgrade Conservatory. Once back in France, he entered the Lyon conservatory at the age of nine. In 1932 his family moved to Nice, where he entered the town's conservatory and graduated in piano in 1935. He met Alfred Cortot, who encouraged him to study with Yvonne Lefébure and Nadia Boulanger at the school he himself had founded, the Ecole normale de Musique - a decisive move for his future career. In 1938, after having obtained his concert diploma, he moved to Paris and was accepted as a student of Marguerite Long (one of Claude Debussy's best friends) at the Paris conservatory. He acquired the rigour necessary for the profession and was introduced to what would become his holy trinity: MozartChopin _* et *_Debussy, to whom he would add Ravel and later Beethoven, *_the "hard worker". In 1940, he graduated_ from the conservatory. _In 1943_, his first prize in the inaugural Long-Thibaud competition brought him to the musical world's attention. In 1951, he met his future wife, *Josette Bhavsar", who became "the most considerate" of concert agents and who contributed to his artistic success until his death.

His freedom was vitally important to him, in both his conception of music and his personal life. He travelled constantly: in France, through the Jeunesses Musicales de France, in England, in the USSR in 1956, in Japan, and in China in 1964, where he was the first Western artist to be invited into the country. He liked to forge a more personal relationship with his audiences, who gave him a triumphant welcome. He was constantly busy and on the move, fascinated with death and living like a night owl: Samson François died of a heart attack on 22 October 1970.

Samson François loved jazz, playing the drums and football. But he was also a *compositor* and a workaholic, with a very personal brand of piano teaching, always a tad sarcastic: "Yes, effort is a view of the mind and can only be ideal... To hit a note, you must first raise your fingers in the air" or "Each note, and I would even say each sound, can only be emitted, heard, made intelligible and played on one sole condition: it must be second degree". His own definition of the piano, the companion that helped him satisfy his imagination: "For Beethoven, the piano took his virginity. For Chopin, it was his girlfriend. For Liszt, it was a married woman. But for us, now, it's just a spinster! ... an old maid!"

Six landmark dates in the life of Samson François:

*1940*: Graduated from the Paris conservatory

*1942*: First prize in the Long-Thibaut competition

*1951*: composed and premiered his piano concerto in Aix-en-Provence

1953-1954: Grand Prix du Disque, awarded by the Académie du Disque Français

*1955*: married Josette Bhavsar, birth of Maximilien Samson François

*1961*: on 5 May, performed Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 with the Orchestre National de la RTF conducted by Lorin Maazel

Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation, September 2016