The Music Column

The Reminiscences of Earl Wild

I was thinking recently about Earl Wild for several reasons: his achievement as a pianist; his substantial and extended contribution to the “Romantic Revival” through his performances and recordings; and my own memories of exchanges with him after three of his appearances in New York City.

When I beheld him backstage, standing far away from his Baldwin grand, Earl Wild was, or at least seemed to be, ready to be praised—he knew he deserved to be praised, and I don’t mean that in any pejorative way.  When I remarked to him that I loved his recording of Anton Rubinstein’s “Staccato Etude,” Op. 23, No. 2, he responded, “Oh yes, the woodpecker’s revenge!”  On another occasion, when I asked him the source of his coda for Liszt’s first Mephisto Waltz, he said, “Oh, I tape things, and if I like them, I play them.”  I felt obliged to let Mr. Wild know that I was obliged to him, because I was.  And he knew that well enough, because it was to be expected—he was the only prestidigitator in the room, after all.  I never talked with him about the singularity of the idiomatic root meaning of Liszt’s title for the Transcendental Etude, “Wild Jagd”—it means more than it ostensibly says.  Neither did I get the chance to tell him that his performance of that piece was revelatory.

So I...

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