Géza Anda was admitted to the famous Liszt Academy in Budapest at the age of merely thirteen and trained by its legendary professors. A scholarship enabled him to continue his studies in Berlin. During the Second World War, Anda managed to emigrate to Switzerland, and from then on made this country his home. His career, however, took him across all of Europe and on frequent tours to America, Asia and South Africa. He performed with all the great conductors from Fricsay and Karajan to Abbado and Boulez.
Born in Budapest on November 19, 1921, Géza Anda studied with Ernst von Dohnányi, Leó Weiner and Zoltan Kodály at the Liszt Academy of Music. In 1940 he won the famous Liszt Prize. About one year later he gave his Budapest concerto debut with the Second Piano Concerto by Brahms under Willem Mengelberg.
Anda was given a state scholarship that took him to Berlin. He made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler, who dubbed him “the troubador of the piano”. In Berlin – aged 20 – he also began to teach the piano and make his first recordings.
In 1943 he moved to Switzerland, and after some years in Geneva settled in Zurich. But his international career took Géza Anda not only across all of Europe. From 1955 onwards, he embarked on a total of 17 US tours, in addition to playing in Canada, Asia and South Africa.
Anda’s early bravura is displayed in the Liszt, Franck, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff repertoire, his pioneering Bartók interpretations, and his brilliantly captivating Chopin – all filled with the same power of expression that distinguishes his performances of the German Classics and Romantics. His musical, technical and spiritual insights were based on an understanding of a work of music as a forging of form and substance, as evident in Beethoven as in Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. It was this approach that gave Anda’s playing its renowned clarity; it lay at the heart of his “festive temperament”.
Thanks to Clara Haskil’s encouragement, it also influenced his approach to Mozart.
From 1952 until his death, Anda made a solo appearance every year at the Salzburg Festival – a record matched by no other concert artist in Mozart’s birthplace.
In Salzburg, he started his collaboration with the Camerata Academica: he directed Mozart concertos from the keyboard, and took the orchestra on tour. With the same group he became the first artist to record all Mozart’s piano concertos, an achievement that brought about numerous awards. For 16 of these concertos, Anda wrote his own cadenzas, which have been published by Bote & Bock (Berlin and Wiesbaden, 1973).
Anda accepted teaching engagements throughout his career. From 1953 to 1955 he gave masterclasses at the International Summer Academy of the Mozarteum in Salzburg; in 1960 he succeeded Edwin Fischer as director of the Lucerne Masterclasses for ten years. From 1969 onwards, he continued this type of work at the International Masterclasses Zurich.
Géza Anda died in Zurich on June 13, 1976. Three years later, the first Concours Géza Anda – founded by his widow Hortense Anda-Bührle – was carried out with the aim of encouraging a younger generation of pianists to develop their musicianship in Anda’s spirit.
Géza Anda’s repertoire reflects the broad variety of his audience. What people heard was a style of playing that made them feel the human core of all great music.
His artistic nature
Géza Anda’s approach to music was shaped by the typically broad training expected from students at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, and was determined by a rational, extremely detailed, lucid analysis of the musical text on hand. Both as a performer and as a teacher, Géza Anda first concentrated on the close examination of the score before liberating himself completely in order to attain a highly individual, personal interpretation of the piece: “If you want to interpret a work, you can’t learn it”, he said; “you have to become completely at one with it”.
The following text passages are quoted from: Wolfgang Rathert: Géza Anda. Pianist. Wolke Verlag. Hofheim 2021: p. 40f., p. 37, p. 68. (English translation: Chris Walton)
“Quite simply, you line up the notes one after the other with your fingers lying nicely. This is something achieved by the intellect, the nerve pathways and the auditory nerves. Listening to yourself properly is the key to ‘beautiful’ playing. But very few people do that. There is a kind of cramping of the throat muscles that occurs when you play that prevents you from listening precisely. Playing then becomes a fiction for the pianist. He is playing something completely different from what he thinks he’s hearing. While you’re playing, you have to gain a distance from yourself, or at least try to do so. I instruct myself to do what I will. It’s not a dogma. If it succeeds, then it’s good” (Géza Anda)
The fact that Anda did not treat the physiological aspects of playing as anything “absolute” is not surprising, given his clear criticism of those who became fixated on teaching “motor muscle work”, which he had also experienced. He is concerned with a much more complex, mental and intellectual dimension of music-making, namely the interplay of playing and listening: listening to oneself on a higher level. Egil Harder was his assistant for many years, and told of how Anda had repeatedly insisted in his master classes that a student should play chamber music with himself. For him, this “doubling” of the musician into a performing musician and a listening musician was perhaps the most important goal of music-making in general. It was a goal that could only ever be achieved in approximation and in rare moments, though one that we should never abandon as our aspiration and our ideal. […] Géza Anda’s idea of making this dual function of playing and listening the starting point for music-making clearly takes us beyond all these general questions regarding the significance of interpretation and performance. His aim is to clarify in fundamental terms the relationship between the musical text and its realisation. Studying the musical text analytically and rationally is for him a prerequisite for realising the text through the power of imagination and fantasy; the final step in this process is listening – or, rather, the acting of listening-through-playing.
“I can easily rattle off the octaves, but that’s pointless, it can never become music” (Géza Anda)
As a musician given to reflection on his art, Géza Anda was also eager to keep himself informed, and an avid participant in discussions. This sometimes prompted him to moments of pithy exaggeration, as in the quotation in our title here, which is from a self-portrait that was broadcast by North-German Radio in 1967. Anda’s archives hold a series of handwritten notes that constitute the outline of a doctrine of interpretation and his aesthetic-philosophical credo.
It is now clear that the obligations imposed by our profession are immeasurable. To meet them, it needs the whole man. It needs love, intuition and an analytical mind. This love is a necessity, because – as Augustine says – “we only know as much as we love”. So, love is the first step towards knowledge. Intuition, because we need to have an eye for secrets that are not notated, and an analytical mind so that we can grasp the smallest parts and order them in the right relationship to the whole. These abilities can now allow us to unravel the musical score. Everything is contained within it. To seek the music behind the notes – as the platitude goes – is nonsense. The music is in the notes. When one note is joined by a second, then the music begins, and our work with it. None of these abilities can be separated from each other. Our main problems are just as inseparable. In other words, musical problems are technical problems about conjuring up the musical structure and the inner content of a work at the piano – and technical problems are musical problems, because the only raison d’être of the instrument is to make music. If anyone here misses the concept of “feeling”, it is absent on purpose. The individual ego is of the greatest personal importance, but not in relation to the work to be interpreted. The work has laid down its own emotional and atmospheric content in the musical text, and it is our task to extract it, not to put our own stamp on it, depending on our own moods. To be an interpreter, you cannot “learn” a work; you have to become completely one with it. You should embrace and absorb the work like a scorpion does its victim, so that there is no longer any difference between you in your rhythm of life, your breathing and feeling. The act of identification should be so complete that you no longer “play” or “reproduce” the work, but give birth to it anew every evening from within. (Géza Anda)
Complete Bibliography and Discography
Géza Anda is best known for his advocacy of the piano concertos by Bartók and Mozart. He gave more than 300 public performances of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, and his recording of all three concertos remains a benchmark even in our times. Géza Anda was the first pianist to record all of Mozart’s piano concertos, leading them from the keyboard. But these cycles form only a small part of Anda’s vast discography and barely reflect his broad repertoire, which ranged from Bach to Rachmaninoff, and in the 1950s also encompassed contemporary music.
Géza Anda’s discography – which currently includes 100 works on some 200 recordings – proves just how extensive his repertoire actually was. Over the course of his lifetime, Anda released some 40 records on shellac and vinyl featuring works from his preferred canon: Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Schumann and Tchaikovsky – along with his crowning achievement, the complete recording of Mozart’s piano concertos. Anda’s recording career lasted from 1942 until 1975, with the vast majority of products released by two global companies: Columbia/EMI and Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (the latter including its predecessor label, “Polydor”). Anda enjoyed an exclusive contract with each of these in turn. This body of work is complemented by Anda’s recordings for Telefunken from the early 1950s and for Ariola-Eurodisc towards the end of his life. Anda also made numerous radio broadcasts and live recordings for radio stations in Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, Switzerland and the USA. Many of them have since been released by labels such as Audite, Hänssler and Orfeo and now constitute a major part of his discography.
Géza Anda’s recordings – many of them regarded as classics today – have also been released on streaming platforms. His pianism is thus documented more comprehensively and is more accessible across the world today than ever before. As a result, his artistic and pedagogical legacy lives on, stronger than ever.
Géza Anda’s discography is complemented by a selected bibliography, which includes publications, interviews, films and radio broadcasts with and about Géza Anda. The extent and scope of the bibliography reflect Anda’s communicative talent, which made him a sought-after interview partner, and the enduring fascination held for his historical and artistic stature.
The discography and biography on this website are updated regularly.
Géza Anda on video
Thanks to his reputation as a great pianist and teacher, numerous media outlets of his time followed Géza Anda’s activities. Find a – constantly growing – selection of videos with and about Géza Anda here.
Report about the Clara Haskil Piano Competition 1965 and interview with Géza Anda, who was serving as a jury member. The Haskil Competition was carried out at that time during the Lucerne Festival (formerly Internationale Musikfestwochen Luzern).