Ronald Smith is best remembered as the pianist who reintroduced the complex, but fantastic compositions of Charles-Valentin Alkan to the world in the 1960s, some 90-120 years after they were first written and 40 years after Alkan's previous great champion, Ferruccio Busoni, had died. Smith received his first piano lessons from his mother and when he entered school, others recognized his talent as well. He won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he intended to take up composing, but moved more and more into piano performance. Perhaps it was that early exposure to other musical disciplines that gave him the acuity to learn from other musicians, not just pianists, an important lesson he tried to pass on to his own students. His official debut was at a Proms concert, performing Bach with conductor Henry Wood, and in his early career was frequently associated with the music of Bach, the Classical composers, and early Romantics such as Beethoven and Schubert. He was introduced to the music of Alkan by a BBC producer who gave him a score and asked if Smith could play it. Smith not only could, but he went on to record much of Alkan's music, to help found the Alkan Society, and to write four books about the composer. In addition to Alkan, Smith often played the music of Alkan's contemporaries, Chopin and Liszt. Smith's playing, and indeed the man himself, was noted for its vitality. He was said to have a repertoire of over 40 concertos. In 2002, although he had severely impaired sight, he performed a very full recital for his 80th birthday celebration at Queen Elizabeth Hall. He performed a similarly challenging program that included Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata; Chopin's Etudes, Op. 25; a Liszt Hungarian Dance; and Alkan's Le festin d'Esope just four days before his death in 2004.
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