Shura Cherkassky
Shura Cherkassky was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 classical pianist
A pianist is a musician who plays the piano. A professional pianist can perform solo pieces, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers, solo instrumentalists, or other performers.-Choice of genres:...

 known for his performances of the romantic
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 repertoire. His playing was characterized by a virtuoso technique and singing piano tone. For much of his later life, Cherkassky resided in Britain.

Early years

Alexander Isaakovich Cherkassky (Shura is a diminutive form of Alexander) was born in Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

, Russia (now in Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

) in 1909. Cherkassky's family fled to the United States to escape the Russian Revolution
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...


Cherkassky's first music lessons were from his mother, Lydia Cherkassky, who once played for Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

 in St. Petersburg. She also taught the pianist Raymond Lewenthal
Raymond Lewenthal
Raymond Lewenthal was an American pianist.-Biography:Lewenthal was born in San Antonio, Texas to Russian-French parents. His birth date is often given as 1926, but he was actually born three years earlier in 1923...

. In the United States, Cherkassky continued his piano studies at the Curtis Institute of Music
Curtis Institute of Music
The Curtis Institute of Music is a conservatory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that offers courses of study leading to a performance Diploma, Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in Opera, and Professional Studies Certificate in Opera. According to statistics compiled by U.S...

 under Josef Hofmann. Before studying with Hofmann, however, Cherkassky auditioned for Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Rachmaninoff is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music...

, who advised him to give up performing for at least two years and to change the position of his hands at the keyboard. Conversely, Hofmann suggested Cherkassky should continue giving concerts, and this long association with public performance meant that Cherkassky felt comfortable before an audience. Hofmann also recommended that he practice for four hours every day and Cherkassky did this religiously throughout his life, maintaining an extensive repertoire (baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 to Berio
Luciano Berio
Luciano Berio, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI was an Italian composer. He is noted for his experimental work and also for his pioneering work in electronic music.-Biography:Berio was born at Oneglia Luciano Berio, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (October 24, 1925 – May 27, 2003) was an Italian...

) to an exacting standard. His studies and advisory sessions with Hofmann continued until 1935. In the interim he began his lifelong obsession with world travel with trips to Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, Russia and Europe.

Cherkassky performed actively until the end of his life, and many of his best recordings were made under live concert recital conditions. He is speculated to be the pianist whose recording is featured in the Academy Award-winning cartoon The Cat Concerto
The Cat Concerto
The Cat Concerto is a 1946 American one-reel animated cartoon and is the 29th Tom and Jerry short, produced in Technicolor in 1946 and released to theatres on April 26, 1947 by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. It was produced by Fred Quimby and directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, with musical...


The California years

In the 1940s Cherkassky moved to California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. He appeared at the Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl is a modern amphitheater in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California, United States that is used primarily for music performances...

 with conductors such as Sir John Barbirolli
John Barbirolli
Sir John Barbirolli, CH was an English conductor and cellist. Born in London, of Italian and French parentage, he grew up in a family of professional musicians. His father and grandfather were violinists...

 and Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Anthony Stokowski was a British-born, naturalised American orchestral conductor, well known for his free-hand performing style that spurned the traditional baton and for obtaining a characteristically sumptuous sound from many of the great orchestras he conducted.In America, Stokowski...

, and he played the sound track (Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

's Appassionata Sonata
Piano Sonata No. 23 (Beethoven)
Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 is a piano sonata. It is considered one of the three great piano sonatas of his middle period . It was composed during 1804 and 1805, and perhaps 1806, and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunswick...

) for the Bette Davis
Bette Davis
Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress of film, television and theater. Noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional...

 1946 film Deception. He also played Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

's Three Pieces from Petrushka
Petrouchka or Petrushka is a ballet with music by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, composed in 1910–11 and revised in 1947....

for the composer, who advised him to use the 'una corda' pedal for certain loud passages in order to obtain a particular special effect. Concert engagements were infrequent for Cherkassky in California during World War II.

The London years

In 1946 he married Eugenie Blanc; this marriage ended in divorce two years later. Also in 1946 he had a great success in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 playing Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
The Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in A minor, Op. 43 is a concertante work written by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It is written for solo piano and symphony orchestra, closely resembling a piano concerto. The work was written at Villa Senar, according to the score, from July 3 to August 18, 1934...

under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt was a German conductor and composer.-Early life:Born in Berlin, he studied music in Heidelberg and Münster. He was also a composition student with Franz Schreker at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and received a doctorate in 1923.-Career:He was a repetiteur at the...

. This concert resulted in Cherkassky's popularity in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Austria (Salzburg Festival
Salzburg Festival
The Salzburg Festival is a prominent festival of music and drama established in 1920. It is held each summer within the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...

) which lasted until the end of his life and confirmed him as one of the foremost pianists of the day. It was after his Wigmore Hall
Wigmore Hall
Wigmore Hall is a leading international recital venue that specialises in hosting performances of chamber music and is best known for classical recitals of piano, song and instrumental music. It is located at 36 Wigmore Street, London, UK and was built to provide London with a venue that was both...

 recital of 27 March 1957 that Cherkassky's career accelerated in the United Kingdom, and, following the death of his mother in Nice
Nice is the fifth most populous city in France, after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, with a population of 348,721 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of more than 955,000 on an area of...

 in 1961, he settled in London where he lived at The White House Hotel until his death in 1995.

Further touring

His career continued to flourish with appearances at all the great concert venues of the world: the Concertgebouw
The Concertgebouw is a concert hall in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch term "concertgebouw" literally translates into English as "concert building"...

 in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

, the Herkulessaal in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, the Philharmonie in Berlin, the Musikverein in Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is a theatre at 15 avenue Montaigne. Despite its name, the theatre is not on the Champs-Élysées but nearby in another part of the 8th arrondissement of Paris....

, at Suntory Hall
Suntory Hall
The Suntory Hall is a concert hall complex consisting of the "Main Hall" and the "Small Hall" located in the Ark Hills complex, near the U.S. Embassy and TV Asahi in the Akasaka district of northern Minato, a ward in Tokyo, Japan...

 in Tokyo, and also with all the world's great orchestras and conductors. Cherkassky's love of spontaneity and his dislike of a fixed standard performance meant that some conductors were reluctant to work with him. With Cherkassky, there was no guarantee that what was agreed in rehearsal would happen in concert. Cherkassky's performing career lasted for over 70 years, yet it was only in the last few decades of his life that he was recognized as one of the greatest pianists - a re-creative genius who relished spontaneity, beauty of sound and the kaleidoscopic possibilities of the piano.

Cherkassky died in London, aged 86, on 27 December 1995. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery is a cemetery located in north London, England. It is designated Grade I on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England. It is divided into two parts, named the East and West cemetery....

, London, England.


Over seven decades of his concert career, starting in the 1920s, Cherkassky made a large number of recordings for RCA Victor, Vox, Swedish Cupol label, HMV, DG (the famous Tchaikovsky concerto recordings), Tudor, Nimbus and Decca ('live' BBC recordings). He made his last recordings at age 85, in May 1995, seven months before his death. These were a selection of Rachmaninoff's pieces to act as fillers for his recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3
Piano Concerto No. 3 (Rachmaninoff)
The Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, composed in 1909 by Sergei Rachmaninoff is famous for its technical and musical demands on the performer...

made the previous year.

Releases by BBC Legends

  • Shura Cherkassky: Rachmaninoff / Prokofiev (BBCL4092-2)
  • Shura Cherkassky: Chopin (BBCL4057-2)
  • Shura Cherkassky: Beethoven, Chopin etc. (BBCL 4185-2)
  • Shura Cherkassky / Sir Georg Solti: Tchaikovsky / Mussorgsky / Cherkassky (BBCL4160-2)

Shura Cherkassky Live Series

  • Vol.1:- Schubert . Chopin (433 653-2 DH)
  • Vol.2:- 80th Birthday Recital from Carnegie Hall (433 654-2 DH)
  • Vol.3:- Encores (433 651-2 DH)
  • Vol.4:- Chopin: Sonata No.2 & 3 (433 650-2 DH)
  • Vol.5:- Liszt (433 656-2 DH)
  • Vol.6:- Schumann (433 652-2 DH)
  • Vol.7:- Stravinsky, Scriabin, Ravel, etc. (433 657-2 DH)
  • Vol.8:- Rachmaninoff, Brahms, etc. (433 655-2 DH)
  • Anton Rubinstein : Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 70 + Encores (448 063-2 DH)

Releases by Deutsche Grammophon

  • Tchaikovsky: Klavierkonzerte Nos. 1 & 2 (457 751-2)
  • Liszt: Orchestral Works (453 130-2) (Cherkassky plays Fantasia on Hungarian Folk tunes, S.123 only. The rest of the recording is performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan)
  • Chopin: Polonaises

Releases by Ivory Classics

  • Shura Cherkassky: The Historic 1940s Recordings (2CD Set) (CD-72003)
  • Shura Cherkassky: 1982 San Francisco Recital (CD-70904)

Releases by Nimbus

  • Shura Cherkassky (1909–1995): Solo piano works by Chopin, Mussorgsky, Berg, Bernstein, Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt, Stravinsky, Grieg and Rachmaninoff (6CD Set) (NI 1733)
  • Chopin, Liszt: The B minor Sonatas (NI 7701)
  • The Art of the Encore (NI 7708)
  • Shura Cherkassky (1909–1995): Solo piano works by Chopin, Mussorgsky, Berg, Bernstein, Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt, Stravinsky, Grieg and Rachmaninoff (7CD Set) (NI 1748)

Other releases

  • Rachmaninov Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3, Live Gothenburg 1970, 1968 (Cembal d'amour CD155)
  • Duo-Art piano roll #66919, Liebeswalzer Op.57, No.5 Moszkowski (The Aeolian Company)
  • The Young Shura Cherkassky (Biddulph)
  • Piano Masters:- Vol.17: Shura Cherkassky (Pearl GEM 0138)
  • Shura Cherkassky plays Liszt (Testament SBT 1033)
  • Shura Cherkassky (Two Volumes) (Phillips Great Pianists of the 20th Century series)
  • Debussy, Clair de Lune, Shura Cherkassky, 1993 (ASV Platinum PLT 8505)
  • Shura Cherkassky 'The complete HMV stereo recordings' (2CDs) (First Hand Records FHR04) - Winner of the International Piano Awards "Best Reissue/Vintage Recording of 2009". Diapson D'OR, 10/2010
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