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Remembering William Kapell

William Kapell
William Kapell
Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS
William Kapell Edition



Hear excerpts

audio icon Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1

audio icon Copland: Piano Sonata - Mvt. 2: Vivace

audio icon J.S. Bach: Partita No. 4, BWV 828, in D major - Allemande

audio icon Kapell on recording the Bach Partita in D major - from a March 1953 interview


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Nov. 6, 2003 -- Before his untimely passing at the age of 31, William Kapell seemed destined to become one of the foremost American pianists of the 20th century. 50 years ago on October 29, and on the verge of greatness that had not been achieved by any American classical artist at that time, Kapell lost his life tragically in a plane crash, returning to the U.S. from a concert tour of Australia.

Born in New York on September 22, 1920, Kapell studied with the legendary Olga Samaroff at the Philadelphia Conservatory and at Juilliard. Among his many accolades during his brief career, Kapell won the Philadelphia Orchestra's 1940 Youth Contest while a freshman at Juilliard, the 1941 Naumburg Award, and the Town Hall Endowment Award. He began his career with the gargantuan concertos of Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Khachaturian. He was a favorite soloist of Ormandy, Stokowski, Reiner and Bernstein. He was also an advocate for contemporary works, especially those of Aaron Copland. At age 21, Kapell became an exclusive artist with RCA Victor, joining the ranks of Artur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz.

According to Tim Page, Chief Music Critic of the Washington Post, Kapell seems to pick up where Horowitz left off. Commenting on Kapell's early recording of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, Page claims that it had "all the energy and the manic wildness of Horowitz, but it also [had] a sort of cool intelligence and a formal understanding which... wasn't always in the Horowitz recordings." Although the virtuoso was only about 22 when he made the recording, Page exclaims, "I would very, very quickly name it one of the most extraordinary piano recordings I have ever heard.

For decades, Kapell's recordings were completely out of print, until five years ago when RCA released the William Kapell Edition, a 9-CD set of all of Kapell's approved recordings, many never before released, and a 22-minute interview from March of 1953, seven months before his death. The set also contains his final recording from a concert in Australia, just seven days before the crash. Ironically, in this last recital, Kapell played Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata.



 
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