Pianistic leviathan Georges Cziffra lived a dramatic, painful, and completely remarkable life. Born in Budapest to an ethnic Romani family living in abject poverty, he performed in traveling circuses and bars as a child to support them - these lowbrow venues would provide a forum for Cziffra to demonstrate his remarkable talents as a pianist throughout his life. He was scouted by the Franz Liszt Academy at age 9, studying there until age 16, when he returned to Budapest’s nightlife scene, playing at bars and nightclubs to support himself and his family. At the age of 21 he was drafted into the Hungarian army and forced to fight in World War II.
The indomitable Cziffra managed to survive 4 years of battle, but worse was to come shortly after he returned home from the war. After attempting to escape Soviet-controlled Hungary, he was imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor. For 18 months, Cziffra was forced to spend his days carrying 300 pound stones, doing permanent damage to his wrists and his hands. When he returned, he was unable to practice, let alone perform. But Cziffra was not cut from ordinary cloth, and in act of heroic defiance, he stubbornly worked his way back to the heights of his abilities. After delivering a well-received performance of Bartok’s second piano concerto, Cziffra successfully escaped Hungary to Vienna, where he launched an incredibly successful career as a concert pianist, and eventually achieved international fame.