Alexis Weissenberg

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Alexis Weissenberg, 1947

Alexis Weissenberg (July 26, 1929 – January 8, 2012) was a Bulgarian-born French pianist.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Born into a Jewish family in Bulgaria, Sofia, Weissenberg began taking piano lessons at the age of three from Pancho Vladigerov, a Bulgarian composer. He gave his first public performance at the age of eight.

In 1941, he and his mother tried to escape from German-occupied Bulgaria for Turkey, but they were caught and imprisoned in a makeshift concentration camp in Bulgaria for three months. One day, a German guard – who had enjoyed hearing Alexis play Schubert on the accordion – hurriedly took him and his mother to the train station, throwing the accordion to him through the window. The guard told them, "Good luck," and the next day, they safely arrived in Istanbul.[2]

In 1945, they emigrated to Palestine, where he studied under Leo Kestenberg and performed Beethoven with the Israel Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. In 1946, Weissenberg went to the Juilliard School to study with Olga Samaroff. He also studied with Artur Schnabel and Wanda Landowska.

In 1947, Weissenberg made his New York debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and George Szell in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and with Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy, with which Weissenberg won Leventritt Competition. Between 1957 and 1965, he took an extended sabbatical for the purpose of studying and teaching. Weissenberg resumed his career in 1966 with a recital in Paris. Later that year he played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in Berlin conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who praised him as "one of the best pianists of our time".

Weissenberg gave piano master classes all over the world. With his Piano Master Class in Engelberg (Switzerland), he had as students many pianists of the new generation: Kirill Gerstein, Simon Mulligan, Mehmet Okonsar [1], Nazzareno Carusi, Andrey Ponochevny, Loris Karpell, and Roberto Carnevale among them. He composed piano music and a musical, Nostalgie, that was premiered at the State Theatre of Darmstadt on October 17, 1992.

Weissenberg died on January 8, 2012 at the age of 82 in Lugano, Switzerland after suffering from Parkinson's Disease.[3] He is survived by three children, David, Cristina and Maria.[4]

Recorded works[edit]

Bryce Morrison, in "Gramophone", described his early 1970s recording of the Liszt Sonata in B minor as one of the most exciting and also lyrical renditions of the work.[citation needed] His readings of Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and many works by Frédéric Chopin (including his complete works for piano and orchestra, Piano Sonatas No. 2 & 3, nocturnes, and waltzes) are also very well known.

Among his other notable interpretations were those of Johannes Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Carlo Maria Giulini and Riccardo Muti, ("Les Introuvables d'Alexis Weissenberg", 2004), Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, as well as his Piano Concerto No. 3 with Georges Prêtre and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (also with Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France).

His 1965 film recording of Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka (directed by Åke Falck) was also highly praised. When Karajan watched the movie, he immediately invited Weissenberg to participate in a filmed performance of the Tchaikovsky First Concerto, replacing Sviatoslav Richter.[5]

Selected discography[edit]


  • Bach: Goldberg Variations
  • Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra RCA
  • Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra EMI (3 CDs)
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas: "Pathétique, Moonlight and Appassionata"
  • Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 (two recordings, with Carlo Maria Giulini and Riccardo Muti,e EMI
  • Brahms: Sonatas for violin & piano Nos. 1–3, with Anne-Sophie Mutter. EMI (CD)
  • Chopin: Works for piano and orchestra. EMI (2 CDs)
  • Chopin: The Nocturnes. EMI
  • Chopin: Piano Sonata Nos. 2 and 3 EMI
  • Debussy: Estampes, Suite Bergamasque, Children's Corner, L'Isle Joyeuse, etc. on Deutsche Grammophon
  • Debussy: Piano works. Deutsche Grammophon (CD)
  • Franck: Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra (with Herbert von Karajan and The Berlin Philharmonic)
  • Haydn: Sonatas Hob.XVI/20,37 & 52, RCA (LP)
  • Liszt: Piano sonata in B minor. Einsatz Records, Japan
  • Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 and 21 with Giulini and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition EMI
  • Prokofiev: Piano concerto No.3 – Seiji Ozawa, Orchestre de Paris
  • Rachmaninoff: Complete Preludes. RCA (CD)
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2. Deutsche Grammophon (CD)
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 1972)
  • Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (three different recordings, with Georges Pretre, Seiji Ozawa and Leonard Bernstein)
  • Ravel – Piano concerto – Seiji Ozawa, Orchestre de Paris
  • Scarlatti: Sonatas (A selection of 15) on Deutsche Grammophon
  • Schumann: "Carnaval" op.9, "Kinderszenen", Op. 15 (Toshiba-EMI)


  • Alexis Weissenberg DVD: Classic Archive 2008 – Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Prokofiev, Stravinsky.
  • YouTube: Alexander Scriabin, Nocturne for the Left Hand, Opus 9, No. 2, Alexis Weissenberg (


  • Gustl Breuer/Henno Lohmeyer (Hrsg.): »Alexis Weissenberg. Ein kaleidoskopisches Porträt«. Rembrandt Verlag, Berlin 1977.
  • Lettre d'Alexis Weissenberg à Bernard Gavoty, 1966
  • Weissenberg – Drei Interviews – 2012, Sofia


  1. ^ "Alexis Weissenberg". The Daily Telegraph. January 10, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Alexis Weissenberg obituary". Los Angeles Times. 2012-01-10. Retrieved 2012-01-10. 
  3. ^ Margalit Fox (2012-01-09). "Alexis Weissenberg, Pianist of Fire and Ice, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-14. 
  4. ^ Barry Millington (2012-01-12). "Alexis Weissenberg obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-24. 
  5. ^ Sarah Kirkup (2012-01-10). "Pianist Alexis Weissenberg has died". Gramophone. Retrieved 2015-01-09. 

External links[edit]