Although scarcely unknown to a broader audience, Czech pianist Ivan Moravec was considered by many to be a connoisseur's artist. Certainly, his performances were anything but routine, his firm, pearlescent legato reminding some of the great Dinu Lipatti. His singular touch, he stated on several occasions, was a matter of necessity after an ice-skating fall at age ten that left him with a neck and spine injury. Thus, the intelligent use of his hands formed the basis for a sound decidedly unlike that of any of his younger colleagues. Growing up in a household where music was valued and a constant presence, Moravec began piano lessons at age seven. Since his father was an amateur violinist, the youth was already familiar with chamber works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms and did not have to be forced to practice. The years of WWII were difficult ones, even though public music performances continued. After the war, Moravec made his formal debut, a small recital on a radio broadcast in 1946. He underwent further training with Madame Stepánova-Kurzová, the daughter of Professor Kurz who had taught Rudolf Firkusny, before a momentous break materialized in 1957. Moravec was invited to attend Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's master classes in Arezzo -- and the invitation came from Michelangeli himself. Moravec learned more about surmounting the mechanical reality of his instrument and producing a flowing legato sound from the iconoclastic Italian. Although his lessons at the keyboard were brief, Moravec spent a great deal of time with Michelangeli drinking wine and discussing music. Moravec made his London debut in 1959 and his New York debut in 1964, when he performed with George Szell and his superbly disciplined Cleveland Orchestra. That first New York appearance presaged subsequent American tours through which Moravec developed a following among those who valued musical integrity, beautiful sound, and a devotion to a conservative but full repertory. As one might expect, two Czech composers, Smetana and Dvorák, held a central position among those he played regularly. Considered one of the foremost Chopin artists of the day, Moravec also counted Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, and Ravel among his other favored composers. A frequent, though reluctant visitor to the recording studio, Moravec placed on disc many performances prized by discerning listeners. He expressed his distaste for recording in brief takes, insisting that he was unable to play short stretches for patching. His best work, he felt, was the result of working through an entire work start to finish. It was a non-professional recording, actually, that opened the door to a productive recording career: a friend taped a 1956 Prague recital before leaving Czechoslovakia and passed it about in the West. When a copy came to the attention of the co-founders of the Connoisseur Society, they invited Moravec to come to the United States in 1962 to make the first of what would become a legendary series of recordings. Moravec also developed a reputation as a piano's best friend. He spent time with a technician in each venue, sharing specific observations about the voicing, encouraging that technician to make adjustments that would enhance the quality of sound not only for his own use, but also for other pianists who would approach it in the future.
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