Wilhelm Kempff playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata movement 1-3.
Wilhelm Kempff (November 25, 1895 – May 23, 1991) was a renowned German pianist.
Wilhelm Kempff was born in Jüterbog near Berlin and grew up in nearby Potsdam where his father was a royal music director and organist at St. Nicolai Church. His grandfather was also an organist and his brother Georg became director of church music at the University of Erlangen. Kempff studied music first in Potsdam and then in Berlin. He was also a composer. Kempff toured very widely in Europe and much of the rest of the world. Between 1936 and 1979 he performed ten times in Japan and a small Japanese island was named Kempu-san in his honor. Kempff made his first London appearance in 1951 and in New York in 1964. He gave his last public performance in Paris in 1981 and died in Positano, Italy at the age of 95.
Wilhelm Kempff recorded over a period of some sixty years. He is celebrated today for his recordings of Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Mozart, Bach, Liszt, Chopin and particularly, of Beethoven.
He was among the first to record the complete sonatas of Franz Schubert, long before these works became popular. He also recorded two renowned sets of the complete Beethoven sonatas (and one early, almost complete set on shellac 1926-1945), one in mono (1951-1956) and the other in stereo (1964-1965).
One anecdote may illustrate Kempff's ability as an interpreter of Beethoven. During a stay in Finland, his friend the composer Jean Sibelius asked him to play the Hammerklavier of Beethoven and, after Kempff finished, Sibelius told him, 'You did not play that as a pianist but rather as a human being.'
Kempff also played chamber music with Yehudi Menuhin and Pierre Fournier, among others. Particularly famous are the recordings of the complete Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano with Menuhin.
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