György Cziffra

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György Cziffra
Cziffra in 1962
Cziffra in 1962
Background information
Born(1921-11-05)5 November 1921
Budapest, Hungary
Died15 January 1994(1994-01-15) (aged 72)
Senlis, Oise, France
GenresClassical, Jazz
Occupation(s)Pianist, composer, arranger

Christian Georges Cziffra (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈɟørɟ ˈt͡sifrɒ]; born Cziffra Krisztián György; 5 November 1921 – 15 January 1994) was a Hungarian-French virtuoso pianist and composer. He is considered to be one of the greatest virtuoso pianists of the twentieth century.[1] Among his teachers was István Thomán, who was a favourite pupil of Franz Liszt.[2]

Born in Budapest, he became a French citizen in 1968. Cziffra is known for his recordings of works of Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, and also for his technically demanding arrangements or paraphrases of several orchestral works for the piano, including Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee and Johann Strauss II's The Blue Danube.[2] Cziffra left a sizeable body of recordings.

He died in Senlis in 1994 aged 72.

Early years[edit]

Cziffra was born to a poor Romani family of musicians in Budapest in 1921.[3] In his memoirs Cziffra describes his father, a player of the cimbalom, as "a cabaret artist". His parents had lived in Paris before World War I, when they were expelled as enemy aliens.[4]

His earliest exposure to the piano came from watching his elder sister Yolande practice. She had decided she was going to learn the piano after finding a job which allowed her to save the required amount of money for buying an upright piano. Cziffra, who was weak as a child, often watched his sister practice, and mimicked her. He learned without sheet music, instead repeating and improvising over tunes sung by his parents.[5] Later he earned money as a child improvising on popular music at a local circus.[3]

In 1930 Cziffra began to study at the Franz Liszt Academy under the tuition of Ernő Dohnányi until 1941, when he was conscripted into the Hungarian Army. He gave numerous concerts in Hungary, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.[3]

Later years[edit]

Hungary was allied with the Axis during the Second World War. Cziffra had just married his wife Soleilka, who was pregnant when he entered military training. His unit was sent to the Russian front; however he was captured by Russian partisans and held as a prisoner of war. After the war, he earned a living playing in Budapest bars and clubs,[3][6] touring with a European jazz band from 1947 to 1950 and earning recognition as a superb jazz pianist and virtuoso.[7][8]

After attempting to escape Hungary in 1950, Cziffra was again imprisoned and subject to hard labour in the period 1950–1953. In 1956, he successfully escaped with his wife and son to Vienna, where he was warmly received. His successful Paris debut the following year preceded his London debut at the Royal Festival Hall playing Liszt's first piano concerto and Hungarian Fantasy which was also well received.[3] His career continued with concerts throughout Europe and debuts at the Ravinia Festival (Grieg and Liszt concertos with Carl Schuricht) and Carnegie Hall, New York with Thomas Schippers.

Cziffra frequently performed with a large leather wristband to support the ligaments of his wrist, which were damaged after he was forced to carry 130 pounds of concrete up six flights of stairs during his two years in a labor camp.[2]

In Cannons and Flowers, his autobiography, which has been described as "a hallucinatory journey through privation, acclaim, hostility and personal tragedy", Cziffra recounts his life story up until 1977. In 1966, he founded the Festival de musique de La Chaise-Dieu in the Auvergne, whose pipe organ restoration he sponsored, and three years later he inaugurated a piano competition bearing his own name in Versailles.[3]

In 1968 he took French citizenship and adapted his hitherto-Hungarian forenames to the French language. In 1977 he founded the Cziffra Foundation, situated in the Saint Frambourg chapel in Senlis, Oise. Cziffra bought and restored the building, with the aim of helping young musicians at the outset of their careers.[6]

Cziffra's son, György Cziffra Jr., was a professional conductor and participated in several concerts and recordings with his father. However, his promising career was cut short by his death in an apartment fire in 1981.[6] Cziffra never again performed or recorded with an orchestra, and some critics have commented that the severe emotional blow affected his playing quality.

Cziffra died in Longpont-sur-Orge, Essonne, France, aged 72, from a heart attack[9] resulting from a series of complications from lung cancer.[10] He is buried next to his son.

List of compositions[edit]

Original works[edit]

  • Improvisation en forme de valse (1950)
  • Ouverture Solennelle (Solemn Overture), for piano
  • Pastorale pour Gerbert, for piano or organ (1976)

Arrangements and transcriptions[edit]



In addition to the above discography of commercially-released recordings, there exist audio recordings of complete live concerts, a few of which have been commercially released on disc, several can be obtained non-commercially, some however have been lost.



  1. ^ "Chopin: Piano Works / Cziffra". ArkivMusic. 16 June 2020. Archived from the original on 1 August 2020. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Siek, Stephen (2016). A Dictionary for the Modern Pianist. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 34. ISBN 9780810888807. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Morrison (n.d.).
  4. ^ Cziffra (2006), "Prelude"
  5. ^ Cziffra (2006), "In the Circus Ring"
  6. ^ a b c Summers (n.d.)
  7. ^ "We remember Georges Cziffra". 1994. Retrieved 5 June 2018. Cited in: LOPARITS, ELIZABETH, D.M.A. Hungarian Gypsy Style in the Lisztian Spirit: Georges Cziffra’s Two Transcriptions of Brahms’ Fifth Hungarian Dance. Dissertation, University of North Carolina Greensboro, 2008.
  8. ^ Seidle, Peter (2001). "Georges Cziffra". In Finscher, Ludwig (ed.). Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopedie der Musik. Kassel: Bärenreiter. p. 235. Cited in: LOPARITS, ELIZABETH, D.M.A. Hungarian Gypsy Style in the Lisztian Spirit: Georges Cziffra’s Two Transcriptions of Brahms’ Fifth Hungarian Dance. Dissertation, University of North Carolina Greensboro, 2008.
  9. ^ "Gyorgy Cziffra, Pianist And Artists' Patron, 72". The New York Times. 18 January 1994. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  10. ^ "Gyorgy Cziffra (Piano) - Short Biography".

External links[edit]