Georges Cziffra

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This article is about the pianist. For his son, the conductor, see György Cziffra, Jr.
György Cziffra
Georges Cziffra.jpg
Background information
Birth name György Cziffra
Born (1921-11-05)November 5, 1921
Budapest, Hungary
Origin Budapest, Hungary
Died January 15, 1994(1994-01-15) (aged 72)
Senlis, Oise
Genres Classical
Occupation(s) Composer
Instruments Piano

Georges Cziffra (originally Cziffra György, Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈt͡sifrɒ ˈɟørɟ]; November 5, 1921 – January 15, 1994) was a Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist. He became a French citizen in 1968.

Cziffra is most known for his recordings of Franz Liszt's virtuoso works. He also recorded many of Frédéric Chopin's compositions and those of Robert Schumann (his account of Carnaval de Vienne was admired by Alfred Cortot). Cziffra is also well known for his technically demanding arrangements of several orchestral works for the piano – among them, one of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, written in interlocking octaves. He is considered to have had one of the greatest piano techniques of the 20th century.

Early years[edit]

Georges Cziffra was born into dire poverty in Budapest in 1921. Before he was born, his parents had been living in France. His father, György Cziffra Sr., was a cimbalom player who played in cabaret halls and restaurants in Paris in the 1910s. During World War I the French government expelled all residents whose countries of origin were fighting against France. Cziffra's father, a Hungarian citizen, was imprisoned and his mother was forced to move to Budapest with her two daughters and only five kilograms of luggage. She was billeted into a single room built on stilts above a marsh, where the Cziffra family would live for years. His father was released from prison and Georges arrived some time later.

His earliest training in piano came from watching his sister 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. Georges, who was weak as a child, often watched his sister practice, and mimicked her. He learnt without sheet music, instead repeating and improvising tunes sung by his parents.

By the time he was five he attracted the attention of a travelling circus who hired him as the star of their show, and his improvisations (on tunes suggested by the audience) were successful. Some critics later called his involvement with the circus at an early age an example of his poor musical heritage and taste, while others called it evidence of remarkable talent.

Georges came to the attention of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and was, at 9, the youngest student ever admitted. He was also admitted against the rules of the institution, which stipulated that in order to enter the candidate must have studied a full course of preliminary studies at a music school. He soon astonished his teachers who allowed him to attend the advanced masterclasses, normally reserved for adult students. This was run by István Thomán, a pupil of Franz Liszt and the teacher of Béla Bartók and Ernő Dohnányi.

Adult years[edit]

In 1942, at the age of 21, Georges was drafted into the Hungarian army which was allied with the Axis during the Second World War. He had just married his wife Soleilka, who was pregnant when he entered military training. Georges' unit was sent to the Russian front. At the frontier, Georges escaped by driving away on a locomotive, crossing the border where he was captured by Russian partisans and imprisoned underground for two years. He eventually escaped, was re-captured by the Russian army, then sent to the Western front as a tank commander of the new communist Hungarian regime. He was not demobilized until 1946 when he took up his career again, playing in cabarets and cafés.

An attempted escape from Soviet-dominated Hungary led to imprisonment and forced labour in the period 1950–1953. In 1956, on the eve of the Hungarian insurrection and after a stunning account of Bartók's second piano concerto (EMI References) Cziffra escaped with his wife (Soleilka – of Egyptian origin) and son to Vienna, where his recital at the Brahms Saal caused a sensation. News of this event reached the magazine The New Yorker. His Paris debut the following year caused a furore – his London debut at the Royal Festival Hall in Liszt's first concerto and Hungarian Fantasy similarly, an enraptured orchestra and audience applauding and cheering for over twenty minutes. His meteoric 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. He always performed with a large leather wristband, to support the ligaments of his wrist which were stretched while being tortured in prison, and also as a memento of his years in labour.

In Cannons and Flowers, his autobiography, Cziffra recounts his life story up until 1977, the year he founded the Cziffra Foundation, sited in the Saint Frambourg chapel in Senlis, Oise, which he bought and restored, with the aim of helping young musicians at the outset of their careers.

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 1981 – said to have been accompanied by a suicide note – an event that sparked a progressively diminishing morale in his father. Cziffra never again performed or recorded with an orchestra, and some critics have commented that the severe emotional blow had an impact on his playing quality. While some thought that his pianism deteriorated after the death of his son, others felt that his playing was deeper than before.

Georges Cziffra died in Senlis, France, aged 72, from a heart attack resulting from a series of complications from lung cancer due to smoking and alcohol.


  • "Cannons and Flowers." Georges Cziffra. Translated by John Hornsby. Appian. 1996.

List of compositions[edit]

Original works[edit]

Arrangements and transcriptions[edit]


Studio recordings (audio)[edit]


  • Tarantelle di bravura d’après la tarantelle de La muette de Portici, S.386 No.1 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Polish Songs (Nos. 1, 5), S.480 (EMI)
  • Le rossignol, S.250 No.1 (EMI)
  • Liszt/Cziffra: Hungarian Rhapsody, S.244 No.16 (EMI)
  • Liszt/Cziffra: Hungarian Rhapsody, S.244 No.19 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Ballade, S.171 (EMI)
  • Concert Etudes, S.144 No.2 & No.3 (Philips)
  • Concert Etudes, S.145 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Fantasie über ungarische Volksmelodien, S.123 (1957 & 1964 & 1968 EMI) with André Vandernoot, Georges Cziffra Jr., Pierre Dervaux
  • Gaudeaums Igitur, S.509 (EMI)
  • Grand galop chromatique (EMI)
  • Grandes études de Paganini, S.141 No.3 La Campanella (1959 & 1975 EMI)
  • Grandes études de Paganini, S.141 No.5 La Chasse (EMI)
  • Harmonies poétiques et religieuses III, S.173 – No.7 (EMI)
  • Hungarian Rhapsodies (Nos. 2, 6, 12, 15), S.244 (Hungaroton)
  • Hungarian Rhapsodies (Nos. 1, 3–5, 7–11, 13–14), S.244 (EMI)
  • Hungarian Rhapsodies (Nos. 1–15), S.244 (EMI)
  • Hungarian Rhapsody, S.244 – No.2 (ICA)
  • Legend, S.175 No.1 (EMI)
  • Legend, S.175 No.2 (EMI, Philips)
  • Liebesträume, S.541 – No.3 (1957 & 1977 EMI)
  • Mephisto Waltz, S.541 (1957 & 1985–1986 EMI)
  • Piano Concerto, S.124 (1957 & 1961 & 1969 EMI, Hungaroton) with André Vandernoot, Georges Cziffra Jr., Gyorgy Lehel, Pierre Dervaux
  • Piano Concerto, S.125 (1958 & 1969 EMI) with André Vandernoot, Georges Cziffra Jr.
  • Piano Sonata, S.178
  • Polonaise, S.223 – No.1 (EMI)
  • Polonaise, S.223 – No.2 (Philips, EMI)
  • Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254 (EMI)
  • Soirées de Vienne, S.427 – No.6 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Totentanz, S.126 (1964 & 1968 EMI) with André Vandernoot, Georges Cziffra Jr.
  • Transcendental Etudes (Nos. 1–11), S.139 (Hungaroton)
  • Transcendental Etudes, S.139 (EMI)
  • Transcendental Etude, S.139 – No.9 (EMI)
  • Transcendental Etude, S.139 – No.10 (1956 & 1981 EMI)
  • Trascendental Etude, S.139 – No.12 (EMI)
  • Valse-Impromptu, S.213 (1956 & 1957 & 1977–1978 & 1985–1986 EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Valses oubliées, S.215 – No.1 (1957 & 1977–1978 EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Années de pèlerinage I, S.160 (EMI)
  • Années de pèlerinage II, S.161 (EMI)
  • Années de pèlerinage II, S.161 – No.6 (Philips)
  • Années de pèlerinage II, Supplément, S.162 (EMI)
  • Années de pèlerinage II, Supplément, S.162 – No.3 Tarantella (Philips)
  • Années de pèlerinage III, S.163 (EMI)
  • Années de pèlerinage III, S.163 – 4 (EMI)
  • Konzertparaphrase über Mendelssohns Hochzeitsmarsch und Elfenreigen aus der Musik zu Shakespeares Sommernachtstraum, S.410 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Ouvertüre zu Tannhäuser, S.442 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Paraphrase de concert sur Rigoletto, S.434 (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Präludium und Fuge über den Namen BACH, S.529 No.2 (Philips)


  • Bach/Busoni: Chorale Prelude, BWV 645 (EMI)
  • Bach/Busoni: Das Orgel-Büchlein – In dir ist Freude, BWV 615 & Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag, BWV 629 (EMI)
  • Bach/Busoni: Prelude and Fugue, BWV 532 (1968 & 1981 EMI)
  • Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565 (EMI)

CPE Bach[edit]

  • Sonata, H.245 (ICA, EMI)


  • Islamey, Op.18 (1956 & 1970 EMI, Hungaroton)


  • Für Elise, WoO 59 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.13 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.14 No.2 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.26 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.27 No.1 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.53 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.54 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.57 (EMI)
  • Polonaise, Op.89 (EMI)
  • Rondo a capriccio, Op.129 (EMI)
  • Variations on 'God Save the King', WoO 78 (EMI)
  • Variations on the Russian Dance from the Ballet 'Das Waldmädchen', WoO 71 (EMI)
  • Variations, WoO 80 (EMI)


  • Bizet/Rachmaninoff: L'Arlésienne – Acte II – Deuxième Tableau – Intermezzo (Minuetto) (EMI)


  • Brahms/Cziffra: Hungarian Dances (Nos. 1–17, 19, 21), WoO 1 (EMI)
  • Variations on a Theme by Paganini – Heft I & Heft II, Op.35 (EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.39 No.15 (EMI)


  • Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Op.22 (Philips) with Manuel Rosenthal
  • Ballade, Op.52 (EMI, Philips)
  • Barcarolle, Op.60 (EMI)
  • Berceuse, Op.57 (Philips)
  • Bolero, Op.19 (EMI)
  • Etudes, Op.10 (Philips)
  • Etude No.3, Op.10 (1958 & 1974 & 1981 EMI)
  • Etudes (Nos. 4, 5, 12), Op.10 (EMI)
  • Etude No.10, Op.10 (1974 & 1981 EMI)
  • Etudes, Op.25 (Philips)
  • Etude No.1, Op.25 (1974 & 1974 EMI)
  • Etude No.2, Op.25 (EMI)
  • Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op.66 (1974 & 1974–1975 EMI)
  • Fantaisie, Op.49 (EMI)
  • Impromptu, Op.29 (1968 & 1974 & 1974–1975 EMI)
  • Impromptu, Op.36 (1974 & 1974–1975 EMI)
  • Impromptu, Op.51 (Philips, EMI)
  • Krakowiak, Op.14 (EMI) with Georges Cziffra Jr.
  • Nocturne, Op.9 (EMI)
  • Nocturne, Op.9 No.2 (EMI)
  • Nocturne, Op.27 No.2 (Philips)
  • Piano Concerto, Op.11 (Philips, 1968 & 1976 EMI) with Georges Cziffra Jr., Manuel Rosenthal
  • Piano Sonata, Op.35 (Philips, EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, Op.58 (EMI)
  • Polonaise-fantaisie, Op.61 (EMI)
  • Polonaise, Op.26 (Philips)
  • Polonaise, Op.40 (Philips, EMI)
  • Polonaise, Op.40 No.1 (EMI)
  • Polonaise, Op.44 (Philips, EMI)
  • Polonaise, Op.53 (Philips, EMI)
  • Prelude, Op.28 No.16 (EMI)
  • Scherzo, Op.31 (Philips, EMI)
  • Variations brillantes, Op.12 (EMI)
  • Waltz, B.21 (EMI)
  • Waltz, B.44 (EMI)
  • Waltz, B.46 (EMI)
  • Waltz, B.56 (Philips, EMI)
  • Waltz, B.133 (EMI)
  • Waltz, B.150 (EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.18 (Philips, EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.34 (Philips, EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.42 (Philips, EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.64 (Philips, EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.64 No.1 (EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.64 No.2 (EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.69 (Philips, EMI)
  • Waltz, Op.70 (Philips, EMI)


  • Pièces de Clavecin – Book 1 : Ordre II No.23 & Ordre V No.8 (EMI)
  • Pièces de Clavecin – Book 2 : Ordre VI – No.1(1969 & 1981 EMI, ICA)
  • Pièces de Clavecin – Book 2 : Ordre VI – No.5 (EMI)
  • Pièces de Clavecin – Book 3 : Ordre XIII No.10-11 (EMI)
  • Pièces de Clavecin – Book 3 : Ordre XVIII No.6 (1956 & 1981 EMI)
  • Pièces de Clavecin – Book 4 : Ordre XVII No.2 & Ordre XXII No.5 (EMI)


  • Fantaisie roumaine (EMI, Hungaroton)
  • Improvisation sur des themes de Gulliaume tell (EMI)
  • Reminiscences de Johann Strauss (1956 & 1956 EMI)


  • Pièces de Clavecin – Second Livre : L'Hirondelle (EMI)
  • Pièces de Clavecin – Troisième Livre : Le Coucou (1956 & 1981 EMI)


  • Clair De Lune (EMI)
  • La plus que lente (EMI)
  • Pour le piano (EMI)
  • Preludes, Vol.1 No.8 (EMI)


  • Konzertetüde, Op.28 No.6 (EMI)


  • Falla/Cziffra: El amor brujo(revised) – No.8 Danse Rituelle du Feu (EMI)


  • Piano Sonata, Op.1 No.1 – 2nd movement (Hungaroton)


  • Prélude, Choral et Fugue (EMI)
  • Variations symphoniques (1961 & 1969 EMI) with André Vandernoot, Georges Cziffra Jr.


  • Rhapsody in blue (Hungaroton) with Zoltán Rozsnyai


  • Gounod/Liszt: Faust – Act 2 : Waltz (EMI)


  • Lyric Piece, Op.43 No.1 (EMI)
  • Piano Concerto, Op.16 (1958 & 1969 EMI, Hungaroton) with Georges Cziffra Jr., André Vandernoot, Zoltán Rozsnyai


  • Rondo, Op.11 (1956–1957 & 1969 EMI, Hungaroton)


  • Gayane – Danse du sabre (1956 & 1956 & 1956 EMI, Hungaroton)


  • Bourrée


  • Gavotte (1956 & 1969 & 1981 EMI)


  • Mendelssohn/Rachmaninoff: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op.61 – No.1 (EMI)
  • Lieder ohne Worte, Op.62 – No.6 (EMI)
  • Lieder ohne Worte, Op.67 – No.4 (EMI)
  • Piano Concerto, Op.25 (EMI) with Georges Cziffra Jr.
  • Rondo Capriccioso, Op.14 (1968 & 1968 EMI)
  • Fantaisie, Op.16 – No.2 Scherzo (EMI)


  • Piano Sonata, K.310 (EMI)
  • Piano Sonata, K.311 – 3rd movement (EMI)


  • Piano Concerto, Op.18 (EMI) with Georges Cziffra Jr.
  • Prelude, Op.23 – No.5 (EMI)


  • Dardanus – Rigaudon (1969 & 1981 EMI)
  • Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin – No.12 & No.16 (EMI)
  • Pièces de clavecin – Suite II No.4 (EMI)
  • Pièces de clavecin – Suite II No.7 (1959 & 1981 EMI)


  • Jeux D'eau (EMI)
  • Le tombeau de Couperin – No.6 (EMI)
  • Sonatine (EMI)


  • Rimsky-Korsakov/Cziffra: The Tale of Tsar Saltan – Act III Flight of the Bumblebee (1956 & 1956 EMI, Hungaroton)


  • Rossini/Cziffra: La Danza (EMI)


  • Étude, Op.52 – No.6 (EMI)


  • Keyboard Sonata, K.96 (EMI)
  • Keyboard Sonata, K.101 (EMI)
  • Keyboard Sonata, K.159 (1956 & 1969 EMI)


  • Schubert/Tausig: Marché militaires, D.733 – No.1
  • Impromptu, D.899 – No.4 (1969 & 1981 EMI)
  • Impromptu, D.935 – No.1 (EMI)


  • Carnaval, Op.9 (1957 & 1968 EMI)
  • Fantasiestücke, Op.12 (EMI)
  • Fantasiestücke, Op.12 – No.1 (EMI)
  • Fantasiestücke, Op.12 – No.7 (Hungaroton)
  • Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op.26 (EMI)
  • Kinderszenen, Op.15 – No.7 (EMI)
  • Novellette, Op.21 – No.8 (EMI)
  • Symphonic Etudes, Op.13 (EMI)
  • Toccata, Op.7 (EMI)


  • Strauss/Cziffra: An der schönen blauen Donau (Hungaroton)
  • Strauss/Cziffra: Der Zigeunerbaron (Hungaroton)
  • Strauss/Cziffra: Die Fledermaus (Hungaroton)
  • Strauss/Cziffra: Le beau Danube bleu (EMI)
  • Strauss/Cziffra: Tritsch-Tratsch Polka (Hungaroton, EMI)


  • Tchaikovsky/Liszt: Eugene Onegin, Op.24 – Act III No.19 (EMI)
  • Piano Concerto, Op.23 (1956 & 1957 EMI)


  • Verdi/Cziffra: Il trovatore (Hungaroton)


  • Vecsey/Cziffra: Valse triste (EMI, Hungaroton)


  • Konzertstück, Op.79 (EMI) with Georges Cziffra Jr.

Live recordings (Audio)[edit]


  • Concert Etudes, S.145 No.2 (Aura Music, Archipel)
  • Fantasie über ungarische Volksmelodien, S.123 (ICA) with André Cluytens
  • Grand galop chromatique (Ermitage, Hungaroton, Medici Masters)
  • Harmonies poétiques et religieuses III, S.173 – No.7 (ICA, Aura Music)
  • Hungarian Rhapsody, S.244 – No.2 (Aura Music)
  • Hungarian Rhapsody, S.244 – No.6 (Medici Masters, Ermitage)
  • Liebesträume, S.541 – No.3 (Aura Music, Ermitage)
  • Piano Concerto, S.124 (ICA, Archipel) with André Cluytens, Fulvio Vernizzi
  • Piano Concerto, S.125 (Archipel) with Bernard Conz
  • Polonaise, S.223 – No.2 (Medici Masters, Ermitage)
  • Präludium und Fuge über den Namen BACH, S.529 No.2 (ICA)
  • Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254 (ICA, Medici Masters, Ermitage)
  • Totentanz, S.126 (IDIS) with Umberto Cattini
  • Transcendental Etude, S.139 – No.5 (Archipel)
  • Transcendental Etude, S.139 – No.10 (Aura Music, Archipel)
  • Valse-Impromptu, S.213 (Ermitage)
  • Années de pèlerinage II, S.161 – No.7 (Archipel)
  • Années de pèlerinage III, S.163 – 4 (Archipel)


  • Bach/Busoni: Prelude and Fugue, BWV 532 (Ermitage)


  • Piano Concerto, Sz.95 (EMI) with Mario Rossi


  • Piano Sonata, Op.53 (Ermitage)


  • Ballade, Op.52 (Medici Masters, Aura Music)
  • Etudes (Nos. 3, 10, 12), Op.10 (Aura Music)
  • Etude No.1, Op.25 (Aura Music)
  • Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op.66 (Aura Music)
  • Fantaisie, Op.49 (Medici Masters, Ermitage)
  • Impromptu, Op.51 (Medici Masters)
  • Piano Concerto, Op.11 (claves) with Georges Cziffra Jr.
  • Piano Sonata, Op.35 (Ermitage)
  • Polonaise, Op.26 No.2 (Ermitage)
  • Polonaise, Op.53 (Medici Masters, Ermitage)
  • Scherzo, Op.31 (Medici Masters, Ermitage)
  • Waltz, Op.18 (Medici Masters)
  • Waltz, Op.34 No.3 (Medici Masters)
  • Waltz, Op.42 (Aura Music)
  • Waltz, Op.64 No.1 (Aura Music)
  • Waltz, Op.64 No.2 (Aura Music)


  • Piano Concerto, Op.16 (ICA) with Georges Tzipine


  • Gavotte (ICA)


  • Keyboard Sonata, K.96 & K.159 & K.284 & K.446 & K.533 (ICA)


  • Carnaval, Op.9 (Ermitage)

External links[edit]