The Australian pianist, Leslie Howard, has an unusual history, beginning at the age of 2 when he elbowed his nursery-school headmistress off the piano because she was harmonising the songs incorrectly. (He himself was only able to span a 6th at the time.) At the age of 5 he performed for Fox Movietone News, and at the age of 9 for Australian national television. His mature debut as a pianist came at the age of 13, with Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.2. He learned the oboe at an early age, and has even performed Mozartís oboe concerto. He doesnít play the oboe these days. He studied with Donald Britton, June McLean, and Michael Brimer before making his debut with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1967. In 1970 he attended Monash University in Melbourne, to read English, but by the end of his first year had been invited to lecture the post-graduate students on advanced counterpoint and theory. Howard has been resident in London, England, since 1972, preferring its climate to that of his native Australia. In England he undertook further piano training with Noretta Conci and studied composition with Franco Donatoni. His post-graduate music studies were completed in Italy, where he studied with Maestro Guido Agosti in, and added further polish to his piano technique.
As he began to perform extensively in Europe and Australia, Leslie Howard acquired a reputation as a virtuoso artist whose approach was guided by a scholarly mind. Leslie Howard is one of the few artists in the world today who can improvise publicly on an unseen theme, and he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the repertoire. He can make an instant transcription of any symphony or opera, whilst continuing conversation from the piano. He has perfect pitch, and a photographic memory. He can memorise many pages of manuscript music from a single read-through, and can play back a piano piece note-for-note after hearing it just once.
Known as a Franz Liszt specialist, Leslie Howard devoted himself to concert performance, teaching, and scholarly writing mostly all focused on the music of F. Liszt. Much honoured, Howard has shared his extraordinary understanding of F. Liszt with students at a number of master-classes where his erudition and ease help him convey the essence of F. Liszt's style.
In 1986, to mark the centenary of F. Lisztís death, Leslie Howard gave a series of recitals in Londonís Wigmore Hall. By excluding F. Liszt's arrangements of other composersí work, and by including only the final versions of F. Liszt's own work, he was able to perform this mammoth task in ten huge recitals. The founder and Managing Director of Hyperion Records was present at these recitals, and invited Howard to record for the label. This resulted in the largest recording project ever undertaken by a recording artist - that of the complete music for solo piano of F. Liszt. All F. Liszt's versions of his piano music were included, and also the arrangements of other composers' work. Four discs were given to F. Liszt's 17 works for piano and orchestra, about half of which were premiere recordings made from unpublished manuscripts. The series ran to 94 full-length CD's, and has earned Howard a place in the Guinness Book Of Records. The last disc was recorded in December 1998, and released in October 1999, on F. Liszt's birthday. Since completion of the project there have been two supplementary volumes, as further F. Liszt manuscripts come to light (at the time of writing, sufficient material is already available for a third supplementary volume). The result prompted the issuance of a Special Grand Prix du Disque honouring the massive accomplishment. This acknowledgement was in addition to no fewer than five other awards of the regular Grand Prix du Disque given in recognition of Howard's special place in the classical recording industry.
Leslie Howard was awarded a Member in the Order of Australia, AM, in Queen Elizabeth IIís Birthday Honours in 1999, "for service to the arts as a musicologist, composer, piano soloist and mentor to young musicians". In 2000 he was awarded the Pro Cultura Hungarica Medal and Citation by the Hungarian Government, a rare honour for a non-Hungarian. He had previously received from the Hungarian government the Ferenc Liszt Medal Of Honour award, and has also been awarded France's Grand Prix du Disque 6 times for his F. Liszt recordings. He has been the President of The British Liszt Society for 20 years, and has also been awarded the American Liszt Society's Medal Of Honour. He is also an honorary member of the Istituto Liszt in Bologna, Italy. For the inauguration of the this organisation, Howard played a drawing room concert as director Rossana Dalmonte explained the aims of the new organisation. Performing on a restored 1860s vintage Steinway, Howard included pieces as varied as the Sarabande und Chaconne from Händel's Almira to Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. His having been chosen for the occasion was evidence of the status he enjoys among F. Liszt scholars.
Leslie Howard became an instructor at the Guildhall School of Music beginning in 1987. He can often be heard giving master-classes at London's Royal College of Music and Royal Academy of Music. Howard is noted for his kindness and willingness to help young students. He is thought to be the only British pianist to make his living entirely from his work as a recording and concert artist. He takes no paying students, but always helps deserving young musicians. Howard is also frequently invited to sit on the juries of music competitions, such as the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, and the Royal Over-Seas League's annual music competition. A regular lecturer on radio and television, he is also a member of the London Beethoven Trio together with violinist Catherine Manson and cellist Thomas Carroll.
Leslie Howard is also active as a composer, and has written an opera, chamber music, and many piano pieces, both original and arrangements of other composers' work. Among his best known compositions are his "24 Classical Preludes for Piano, op. 25", cycling through the major and minor keys, and each written in the style of a different composer. Among Howard's arrangements are Bach chorales and cantatas, Glazunov's Second Concert Waltz, and the moving aria "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana" from the opera La Wally by Alfredo Catalani, sung by the heroine when she decides to leave her home forever. This aria featured prominently in the French film Diva.
Despite his close identification with F. Liszt, Leslie Howard has recorded works by others composers, proving himself especially persuasive in the music of Franck, Rubinstein, and his fellow countryman Percy Grainger. Among other interesting items in Howard's large discography are a two-CD set of works by Rubinstein, a recording of Tchaikovsky sonatas, and two twin CD sets of the complete piano and orchestra works of F. Liszt recorded with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and directed by Karl Anton Rickenbacher. Howard's recordings of music by Sergei Rachmaninov are also of fine quality.