Magical personality 2022 archive


– How did you come into contact with Georges Cziffra?
– During the 1950s, when my parents were resettled, I developed a close friendship with Illés Ravasz, who worked at the Muzsika Hangverseny Company (predecessor of the Filharmónia). He tried to defect but was caught and spent two years in Sopronkőhida prison along with Georges Cziffra. Later we went to concerts together and heard the
first solo recital by Emil Gilels in Hungary. I was overwhelmed by his technique. Ravasz had this to say: I know someone whose technique is even better than Gilels – his name is Gyuri Cziffra, and if you want to hear him let’s go to the Kedves. Cziffra played there, earning his keep in nightclubs. While seated in the dining room I heard that
there were two fantastic pianists playing arrangements for four hands and I asked: who’s the other one? It turned out there wasn’t anyone else…
Cziffra produced an incredible orgy of sound from the piano. He greeted Illés warmly and from then on we regularly went there to hear him play. – I’ve never heard the like since. How he improvised – he would ask somebody to give him a theme, opera aria, hit tune and he would improvise on it, to the required length. He played so fast that I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. But it was not only fast but superb music. Incredible tone, there was electricity in the play, sparking with chord changes and ideas. A friendship developed between us. He wanted me to teach his 11-year-old son to play the piano but I had to earn a living because I was attending the academy. I was forced to accept anything and everything. For instance, I had to learn Liszt’s Piano Concerto in E-flat major with the Szeged Symphony Orchestra in just two weeks, another time I had to accompany a long-in-the-tooth dancer-comedian, or I did whatever else came my way. I just didn’t have the time to go out to Szentendre to teach. One night Cziffra came to see me. I was suitably prepared: a bottle of whisky, one of vodka; I didn’t drink but when Gyuri stopped playing at dawn, they were empty… He was so tipsy by that time that I recognized what and how he was playing, but before that I couldn’t… I learned a thing or two from him but basically it was the inspiration that was fascinating.

At that time you were also good friends with Annie Fischer. What is the truth about the antagonism between Georges Cziffra and Annie Fischer?
– These two relationships made it a precious period in my life. They represented two different trends. Only later was there slander about them feuding. Annie would never have wanted to hurt him and I cannot imagine this of Gyuri. Annie acknowledged Cziffra’s fantastic capabilities but she felt the Chopin etudes were too fast, he was concentrating on the technique – she brought out the poetic quality from these pieces. In this respect, I tended to agree with Annie Fischer.

How did your friendship develop after the Uprising?
– In November 1956 I also left Hungary, my father was imprisoned and I wanted to save him. I won a prize at the Brussels competition in June and with my parents we emigrated there. Not long after this I received a contract from Deutsche Grammophon for a Liszt recording, so I travelled to Paris for sheet music and visited Cziffra. Cziffra didn’t receive me very warmly; initially, when I phoned I was told he was not even at home. He said that anyone who was a friend of his enemy was no friend of his. I told him this was stupidity. I refuted all the gossip concerning Annie Fischer and we became good friends once again. When I could I attended his concerts and we spoke. I saw his dummy piano that he practised on when travelling (Liszt did this as well). I remember once when he played Liszt’s E-flat major piano concerto and Grieg’s A minor piano concerto in the Beaux Arts in Brussels. In her final years Annie Fischer told me she had heard Cziffra’s albums and she liked them a lot, because what she didn’t like in today’s pianists – metric, automatic playing – was totally absent in Gyuri. He dared to play freely. I last heard Cziffra
when he played at the Spring Festival in 1981. At that time I hadn’t played on stage here, I was just a guest. Two weeks before he had lost his son, who dropped his cigarette on a highly flammable carpet. He was the apple of their eye. Gyuri gave concerts so that if his son was invited to conduct, he played for half the rate. Before this concert he told the audience that he knew how important this festival was and this was the only reason he was on stage despite the terrible tragedy, but he excused himself beforehand if he became indisposed, despite which it was a marvellous concert.

Is there a side to Cziffra that we don’t know?
– I heard slow pieces, classics from him. I always liked those. Improvisations, arrangements: simply fantastic. His Chopin and Liszt were amazing, nobody ever played Schubert’s Moments Musicaux in F minor with such deep sorrow, with such conviction, and I have heard his beautiful Beethoven ‘Pathétique’ sonata. I think he should have recorded more classical works, but his record company considered that they could get the most out of him in the shortest time by concentrating on the virtuoso repertoire. He was among the first in Hungary to learn Bartók’s second piano concerto; he had a fantastic memory…
It was not so much his speed in playing as the electricity behind it, the personality that was magical. He has had a huge influence both on audiences and his fellow musicians. Added to which, he was a very nice man. Modest, although he knew precisely who he was. I cannot imagine that he would have hurt anybody. He helped young people at his festival in Senlis. I feel privileged to have known him personally.