(Earl Wild doing his own arrangement of the Mexican Hat Dance at a mere 88 years old. Sort of incredible...)
One of the Great American Pianists died on Saturday. Earl Wild was one of a select few in the category commonly termed the 'supervirtuoso' who could produce literally any sound on the piano. His technique was not only a wonder of the world fifty years ago, it was still a wonder of the world as late as two years ago when he gave by all accounts impeccable concerts well into his nineties. For over seventy years, he was Romantic pianism personified here in the good ol' U S of A and his career outlasted many younger challengers to that title three times over.
(Rachmaninov's arrangement of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream as rendered by Wild...impressive no?)
He started out his career as the 'house pianist' for NBC radio in the late '30's, but in 1942 he got skyrocketed to fame when Arturo Toscanini chose him over many more famous artists to be his soloist when Toscanini performed Rhapsody in Blue (for the "World's Greatest Conductor" to embrace the music of an American in 1942 was considered a very big deal for American music).
While his repertoire was huge, Wild was not particularly sought after when he ventured outside the repertoire he was best known for: Rachmaninov, Gershwin and especially Liszt. So while he had a very prominent career exploring the unknown crevices of Liszt and making his own 'wild' (sorry) transcriptions of the other great Romantics, he had an equally fruitful second career exploring out of the way repertoire in out of the way places. Classy man that he was, no venue was too out of the way and no repertoire too unknown to champion.
(Wild's own transcription of Gershwin's The Man I Love as a pianistic etude...kind of scary...)