Today, we celebrate the Birthday of the German pianist Wilhelm Kempff, born on this day in 1895. 22 years later, he would give his first major recital. He became a rare symbol of longevity and fidelity and remains to this day one of the most important pianists of the 20th century, having recorded for Deutsche Grammophon for over 50 years.
Kempff was born in Jüterbog in Brandenburg in 1895. His father – also called Wilhelm – was organist and chorus master in the town’s St Nicholas’s Church, and found it only natural to introduce his son to the instrument. Kempff described his very distinctive playing as ‘born from the spirit of the instrument’. He often creates the impression that he is reinventing the music at the moment of interpretation, and yet the articulation and phrasing are so clearly thought through that the listener can sense the lengthy engagement with these sonatas that lies behind the apparent spontaneity.
Kempff was active in the recording studio for more than fifty years and during that time he naturally recorded numerous piano concertos. When the then twenty-nine-year-old pianist set down Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Staatskapelle in September 1925 for the Polydor label that had been founded only the previous year as an offshoot of Deutsche Grammophon, it was almost certainly the first ever recording of this work. And when the eighty-one-year-old Kempff performed Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 22 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Bernhard Klee in the Herkulessaal in Munich’s Residenz in May 1977, he was a living legend, held in high regard all over the world.
As we celebrate the birthday of Wilhelm Kempff today, listen here
to discover his talent, his art, his legacy:
Deutsche Grammophon has recently set out to unearth the enormous treasure trove of recordings that accumulated over this long period of time. The "Wilhelm Kempff Edition”
, a magnificently equipped 80-album box set which celebrates the legacy the pianist has left, is curated in four sections in presents the entire range of his work. The recordings are supplemented by a 160-page booklet, which contains many original photos and new information on Wilhelm Kempff’s oeuvre.