Emil Grigoryevich Gilels (Эми́ль Григо́рьевич Ги́лельс, Emi'li Grego'rievič Gi'lelis; October 19 1916 – October 14 1985) was a Soviet pianist, widely considered to be one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. His last name is sometimes transliterated Hilels.
Gilels made his public debut at the age of 12 in June 1929 with a well-received program of Beethoven, Scarlatti, Chopin, and Schumann. In 1930, Gilels entered the Odessa Conservatory where he was coached by Berta Reingbald, whom Gilels credited as a formative influence.
A year later he was awarded first prize at the 1938 Ysaÿe International Festival in Brussels by a distinguished jury whose members included Arthur Rubinstein, Samuil Feinberg, Emil von Sauer, Ignaz Friedman, Walter Gieseking, Robert Casadesus, and Arthur Bliss. His winning performances were of both volumes of the Brahms-Paganini variations, and the Liszt-Busoni Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro". The other competitors included Moura Lympany in second place, and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in seventh place.
During the War, Gilels entertained Soviet troops with morale-boosting open-air recitals on the frontline, of which film archive footage exists.
Gilels was one of the first Soviet artists, along with David Oistrakh, allowed to travel and concertize in the West. His delayed American debut in 1955 playing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in Philadelphia with Eugene Ormandy was a great success. His British debut in 1959 met with similar acclaim.
In 1952, he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, where his students included Valery Afanassiev and Felix Gottlieb He presided over the International Tchaikovsky Competition for many years, and as chair of the jury awarded first prize to Van Cliburn at the sensational inaugural event in 1958.
He made his Salzburg Festival debut in 1969 with a piano recital of Weber, Prokofiev and Beethoven at the Mozarteum, followed by a performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto with George Szell and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1981, he suffered a heart attack after a recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and suffered declining health thereafter. He died unexpectedly during a medical checkup in Moscow, only a few days before his 69th birthday. Sviatoslav Richter, who knew Gilels well and was a fellow-student of Neuhaus at the Moscow Conservatory, believed that he was killed accidentally when an incompetent doctor at the Kremlin hospital gave him the wrong injection during a routine checkup.
He had an extensive repertoire, from Baroque to Late Romantic and 20th Century Classical composers. His interpretations of the central German-Austrian classics formed the core of his repertoire, in particular Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann; but he was equally illuminative with Scarlatti, Bach, as well as with twentieth-century music like Debussy, Bartók, and Prokofiev. His Liszt was also first-class, and his recordings of the Hungarian Rhapsody nº 6 and the Sonata in B minor have acquired classic status in some circles.
He was in the midst of completing a recording cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas for the German record company Deutsche Grammophon when he died. His recording of the "Hammerklavier" sonata received a Gramophone Award in 1984.
Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 15; Piano Sonata No. 2 Philadelphia Orchestra/ Eugene Ormandy/ Emil Gilels, piano (RCA High Performance 09026-63587-2).
Jun 01, 2000; Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 15; Piano Sonata No. 2 Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy/Emil Gilels, piano (RCA High Performance...
Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovich / Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann Piano Trios; Faur (c) Piano Quartet (DG)
Mar 29, 2008; CLASSICAL Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovich Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann Piano Trios; Faur © Piano Quartet (DG) With...
Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Fantasies. Emil Gilels; Eugen Jochum, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. DG Originals 447446-2 (2-disc set).(Review)
Nov 01, 1997; Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Fantasies. Emil Gilels; Eugen Jochum, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. DG Originals 447446-2...
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Nutcracker (excerpts). Emil Gilels, piano; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. RCA Living Stereo 09026-68530-2.(Review)
May 01, 1998; Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Nutcracker (excerpts). Emil Gilels, piano; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. RCA...