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January 24, 2010

Remembering the great American pianist Earl Wild

The weekend brought news about Earl Wild, who died at the age of 94 Saturday in Palm Springs, where he lived with his partner of nearly 40 years, Michael Rolland Davis. Remarkably, Mr. Wild continued to perform into his 90s.

This extraordinary American pianist had a musical lineage that stretched right back to Liszt -- two of Mr. Wild's teachers studied with pupils of Liszt. And, like Liszt, Wild had a terrific, fearless technique. He could play just about anything, with exceptional technical skill, abundant tone coloring and musical taste. He also wrote his own transcriptions (another Lisztian trait).

The much-recorded pianist communicated not just the notes of a score, but the expressive essence of it and, perhaps above all else, the sheer joy of making music.

Mr. Wild was the last in a glorious line of keyboard virtuosos. He will be sorely missed. Here are a few souvenirs of his artistry:

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:41 PM | | Comments (1)


And let's not forget that, like many of the great virtuosos from the past, Earl Wild was also a composer - not just an arranger. Certainly his "Doo-Dah Variations" are no worse than Ernst von Dohnanyi's "Variations on a Nursery Song."

The Earl Wild CD that I grew up with is that of Paderewski and Scharwenka Piano Concertos; the Paderewski recording offers us a rare opportunity to hear Arthur Fiedler in non-pops fare.

Earl Wild will be missed.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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