Born: July 22, 1849 - Sztára Castle, Hungary (now Slovakia)
Died: January 14, 1924 - Budapest, Hungary
The Hungarian Count, pianist and composer, Géza Zichy, had lost his right arm as a boy of fourteen in a hunting accident - that's what comes out of letting young boys play with fire arms and hunting other than girls. But nevertheless he courageously decided to go on with his piano playing developing - after a method of his own - a great skill of playing with one hand. Zichy became a close friend and pupil (for five years) of Franz Liszt (piano) and also studied with Robert Volkmann (composition).
Géza Zichy succeeded beyond all reasonable expectations, writing and performing piano music for the left hand to not only dazzle his listeners, but to inspire and lift the spirits of men and women, and especially World War I veterans, who had lost limbs. From 1880 he toured all over Europe giving concerts mostly of his own works, and everywhere acknowledged as a great virtuoso. He became the first known pianist to make a career with only one arm. Franz Liszt was truly impressed by him and wrote glowing tributes of his performances - entire concerts given playing only music for the left hand. He clearly developed into a great artist who transcended his physical limitations to enthrall audiences with his artistry. He donated all he earned from his concerts to charity. The great critic Eduard Hanslick called Zichy: "the greatest marvel of modern times on the piano. Zichy has attained a perfection astonishing with five fingers. He is able to imitate the play of ten".
Géza Zichy had also studied law and in this capacity he was president at the National Conservatory in Budapest from 1875 to 1918 and from 1890 to 1894 he was appointed intendant at the Royal Hungarian Opera in Budapest, where Gustav Mahler was musical director. Many pages have been written of their professional - or rather unprofessional - relationship which finally lead to G. Mahler's resignation of the musical directorship there.
Géza Zichy's compositions were mostly designed for his own left-hand playing and were called mediocre by Paul Wittgenstein and they are not heard any more. A further development and maturity led him to compose a cantata Dolores, a ballet Gemma and some operas, which were successful in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Beside some poems, he published an autobiography in three volumes which became very "popular" (especially right after World War I) due to the fact that in it he gives many pieces of good advise to those who like him were forced to live with the handicap of having only one arm.
An entire chapter is devoted to this astonishingly fine pianist and truly noble human being in Piano Music for One Hand by Theodore Edel (Indiana University Press), a comprehensive survey of a marvellously hopeful world of beautiful music written for those pianists who are suffering as a result of injury or accident.