Emil Gilels Biography

Emil Gilels
Born: October 19, 1916 - Odessa, Russia
Died: October 14, 1985 - Moscow, Russia
was a Ukrainian classical pianist of the Soviet era.

Gilels was born in Odessa in 1916 to a musical family; both his parents were musicians. He began studying the piano at 6, making his first public debut at the age of 13 in 1929. In 1930 Gilels entered the Odessa Conservatory where he was coached by Berta Reingbald, whom Gilels credited as his first formative influence.

In 1933 Gilels won the newly-founded All Soviet Union Piano Competition at age 17. After graduating from the Odessa Conservatory in 1935, he moved to Moscow, where he studied under the famous piano teacher Heinrich Neuhaus until 1937. A year later, at age 22, he won the Ysaÿe International Festival in Brussels, beating such competitors as Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Moura Lympany.

Gilels was the first Soviet artist to be allowed to travel extensively in the West. After the war, he toured Europe starting from 1947 as a concert pianist, and made his American debut in 1955 playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in Philadelphia. He taught as a professor for the Moscow Conservatory after 1952. In his late days he remained in his native Russia and rarely ventured abroad.

He was the winner of the prestigious Stalin Prize in 1946, the Order of Lenin in 1961 and 1966 and the Lenin Prize in 1962.

Gilels was the dedicatee of Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 8 and also gave its first performance on December 30, 1944, in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

Gilels was universally admired for his superb technical control and burnished tone. His interpretations of the central German-Austria classics formed the core of his repertoire, in particular Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann, but he was equally illuminative in Scarlatti, Bach as well as twentieth-century music like Debussy, Bartók and Prokofiev.

He was in the midst of completing a complete survey of Beethoven's piano sonatas for the German record company Deutsche Grammophon when he died in 1985 in Moscow.

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