Wednesday, October 29, 2014

William Kapell: Another Day The Music Died

In the mid-point of the 20th century the United States was still waiting for its very own native world-class pianist. The most likely candidate was William Kapell, a New Yorker in his early twenties who had already reached such maturity at the keyboard even Vladimir Horowitz said he could teach him nothing. Kapell was in great demand for international performances by 1953. On October 29 that year he was on return from his spectacular Australia tour when all hopes for greatness were lost. His airliner clipped the cloud-covered summit of Kings Mountain on approach to San Francisco. The crash killed Kapell, ten additional passengers and a crew of eight. His widow, Anna Lou Dehavenon, worked to keep his name and recorded performances  before the public but her efforts were limited until the 1980's and renewed interest in Kapell's genius.

Kapell in 1948

In 1986, the University of Maryland became the home of the quadrennial Kapell International Piano Competition and Festival. Over the next fifteen years, old recordings returned, his complete authorized catalog appeared, and newly discovered recordings of his concerts in Australia made days before his death were issued. For a tantalizing sense of his abilities, here is a legendary recording made in 1945 when he was twenty-two years old:

Even if you know little about the classical piano, as I assuredly do, you'll come away from hearing his performance with the understanding that you just heard a very special genius. His performance ended in 1953 but his music really never remains an inspiration to a generation of new students, one of whom may become "the pianist of the century." 

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