David Helfgott

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David Helfgott
Born (1947-05-19) 19 May 1947 (age 71)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Spouse(s)Clara Papp
Gillian Murray

David Helfgott (born 19 May 1947) is an Australian concert pianist. Helfgott's life inspired the Academy Award-winning film Shine, in which he was portrayed by actors Geoffrey Rush and Noah Taylor.


Early life[edit]

Helfgott was born in Melbourne to Polish Jewish parents Rachel (née Granek) and Elias Peter Helfgott.[1] He won the state final of the ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competition six times.[2]

London studies and mental illness[edit]

The awards he won at the Royal College of Music included the Dannreuther Prize for Best Concerto Performance, for his performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, and the Marmaduke Barton Prize.[2]

During his time in London, he began showing more definite manifestations of schizoaffective disorder.[3] He returned to Perth in 1970. The following year he married Clare Papp, who had four children.[4] He worked as a rehearsal pianist for the Western Australian Opera Company.[4]

In 1983, his brother Les Helfgott found him working at a Perth wine bar called Riccardo's.[4]


Helfgott was the subject of the 1996 film Shine, which dealt with the pianist's formative years and struggle with mental illness. Helfgott was portrayed by actors Geoffrey Rush (adult), Noah Taylor (teenager) and Alex Rafalowicz (child).[5] His brother Les has described the portrayal of their father in both Shine and in Gillian Helfgott's biography as "all outright lies". David Helfgott's first wife Clare Papp has also said that Peter Helfgott was "quite badly maligned" in the film.[6]

In a letter to the editor of Limelight magazine, published in the September 2013 edition, Margaret and Les Helfgott refer to certain claims made in an article in the August 2013 edition[7] and state that "there was no estrangement from members of David's family following his return to Australia. On the contrary, he moved straight back into the family home, and was cared for by our family. Dad was not 'overbearing', and his main objection to David's going abroad was his concern for his son's welfare."[7]

Current musical career[edit]

Helfgott generally prefers to perform Romantic music, mostly Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Rimsky-Korsakov. However, his recordings and performances, especially that of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, have been criticized as "pallid, erratic and incoherent."[8] Of the two commercial recordings released by RCA, the American journal Fanfare Magazine was critical not only of Helfgott himself, but also of his producers, who were "marketing Helfgott's pain."[9] The British magazine Gramophone was similarly scathing about the exploitative nature of their issue, which, the magazine said, falsely marketed Helfgott as an "unsung genius".[10][11]

On stage, Helfgott is known for his unusual platform manner. In 1997, critic Anthony Tommasini noted that Helfgott "stares into the hall and renders a nonstop commentary of grunts, groans and mutterings".[8] Of a 1997 Helfgott recital in New Zealand, critic Denis Dutton wrote, "If, as Goethe claimed, architecture is frozen music, David Helfgott is the musician who finally proves the converse: that music can also be melted architecture — a structureless rubble of notes."[12]

Helfgott tours Australia annually and plays a small number of recitals in other countries.[2]

Helfgott's 2015 European tour was the subject of a documentary, Hello, I Am David![13]

Personal life[edit]

Helfgott and his second wife, Gillian, live in The Promised Land, a valley near Bellingen in New South Wales.[2]


  • State Finalist ABC Instrumental and Vocal Competition (6 times)
  • Time for Peace
  • Honorary Doctorate of Music. Edith Cowan University (Perth, Western Australia) - Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)
  • On 26 November 2006, David Helfgott was formally inducted into the Australian Walk of Fame. At the ceremony, he performed several classical pieces including Rachmaninoff's piano arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee.
  • Dannreuther Prize for Best Concerto Performance for his performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3


  1. ^ "Helfgott, David - Dictionary definition of Helfgott, David | Encyclopedia.com: Free online dictionary". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  2. ^ a b c d "Tours". David Helfgott. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  3. ^ Courney, Kevin (August 18, 2012). "Then and now David Helfgott, pianist". The Irish Times. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Who, 24 March 1997
  5. ^ "Shine (1996)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  6. ^ Richard Jinman, "Sound and Fury", Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1997, News Review, p. 37
  7. ^ a b Illario Colli, Limelight, August 2013. Rise and shine with David Helfgott. Retrieved 2 April 2018
  8. ^ a b Tommasini, Anthony (1997-03-06). "For Audience at a Recital, the Shine Is Undiminished". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  9. ^ Fanfare, Vol. 23, No. 3 (1999), review by Peter J. Rabinowitz
  10. ^ Gramophone, March 1997, review by Bruce Morrison
  11. ^ Gramophone, September 1997, review by Philip Kennicott
  12. ^ "Denis Dutton on David Helfgott". Denisdutton.com. Retrieved 2017-07-07.
  13. ^ Tan, Becky. "Hello, I Am David - Eine Reise mit David Helfgott". KinoCritics.com. Retrieved September 4, 2016.


External links[edit]

See also[edit]