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Earl Wild (1915-2010) was a man of great personal integrity who also managed to have a lot of fun. His sense of humour has a streak of wickedness, and he takes a naughty pleasure in upsetting the purist and the pompous. He once perversely programmed a complete recital of unfashionable transcriptions at a time when so-called authenticity and strict adherence to the printed text prevailed. Wild is quite prickly and defensive about his more liberated approach to music-making. Many readers will disagree with his opinions of other pianists – Brendel, for one, is subjected to a three-page tirade. I dislike Wild’s scorning of the more intellectual musicians, and cannot share his questioning of the whole concept of ‘profundity’ (his emphasis) or his equating of ‘Germanic’ with ‘pedantic’. While there is always some truth (and mischievous humour) in his remarks, he is too simplistic. Nevertheless, i found the enjoyable parts of his memoir far outweighed these dubious aspects.

When Wild has an aversion, he makes it abundantly clear. For instance, he completely dismisses John Williams’ music as ‘garbage’ – but I had warmed to him long before page 755. False modesty is completely absent. He is obviously proud of his achievements and often quotes glowing reviews. Some readers may be put off by this – and also by Wild’s more tasteless remarks – but nevertheless I would urge perseverance, because this 886-page memoir is very lively, honest, opinionated and controversial. However, it needed tighter editorial control. Many anecdotes are funny, others much less so.

A pupil of Egon Petri, the phenomenally gifted Wild worked with or encountered numerous great musicians, including Toscanini, Stokowski, Reiner, Fiedler and Stravinsky, and met many wonderfully eccentric characters, such as the ‘Grandes Dames’ of Washington, along the way. He also played for six American presidents. One can imagine Wild talking just as he writes, never short of a story or a reminiscence, whether unflattering or warmly appreciative.

There is a full discography and a bonus CD including a 40-minute interview and live performances.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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