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Samson François ∙ Volume 1

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Samson François was one of France’s most provocative and enigmatic pianists. He has long been accorded near mythic status. Chopin sounds in the hands of Samson François unique and very individual, performed with a freedom from the classic constraints of most Chopin performances. This CD contains a surviving live recorded recital in Compiègne, France in 1954. None of these radio performances have been published before.


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SAMSON FRANÇOIS plays Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Ravel

A dedicated CD in memoriam of Maximilien François

1. CHOPIN: Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 [10:57]
2. CHOPIN: Impromptu No.1 in A-flat Major, Op.29 [03:41]
3. CHOPIN: Nocturne No.2 in E-flat Major, Op.9 [04:32]
4. CHOPIN: Waltz in D-flat Major, Op.70, No.3 [01:46]
5. CHOPIN: Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op.64, No.3 [03:21]
6-8. CHOPIN: Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op.35 [28:14]
9. LISZT: Le rossignol, HS.250/1 [04:20]
10. LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No.6 in D-flat Major, HS.244 [07:09]

Recorded · 1954 · Compiègne · Le Portique · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Live Recording

11. DEBUSSY: Clair de lune, Suite bergamasque, L.75 [04:40]
12. DEBUSSY: Étude No.11 ‘Pour les arpèges composés’, Livre II, L.136 [05:04]
13. DEBUSSY: Toccata, Pour le Piano, L.95 [04:01]
14. RAVEL: Le Gibet, Gaspard de la nuit [05:41]
15. RAVEL: Scarbo, Gaspard de la nuit [08:30]

Recorded · 05 October 1953 · Paris · Pianistes de France · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Radio Studio Recording

Additional Information

Article number: MC 1017
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050170
Total time: 76:59

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Maximilien François
With special thanks to the late Maximilien François for providing valuable information about his father
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Samson François was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany on May 18, 1924 where his father worked at the French consulate. His mother, Rose, named him Samson, for strength, and Pascal, for spirit. François discovered the piano early – at the age of two – and his first studies were in Italy, with Mascagni, who encouraged him to give his first concert at the age of 6, in which he played a Mozart concerto under Mascagni. Moving from country to country with his itinerant family, he studied in Belgrade with Cyril Licar, obtaining a first prize in performance. Licar also introduced him to the works of Béla Bartók.


Having studied in the Conservatoire in Nice from 1932 to 1935, where he again won first prize, François came to the attention of Alfred Cortot, who encouraged him to move to Paris and study with Yvonne Lefébure at the l’École Normale de Musique, the school Cortot co-founded with Auguste Mangeot. He also studied piano with Alfred Cortot (who reportedly found him almost impossible to teach), and harmony with Nadia Boulanger. In 1938, he moved to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Marguerite Long. In 1940 he won premier prix at this Conservatoire. In 1943, be reaching the age of 20, Samson François won the Long-Thibaud Competition and thereafter embarked on a career, one of international scale once World War II had ended. Even during the war, Jacques Thibaud brought François to the attention of Walter Legge, the English recording producer turned wartime concert organiser; François was soon flown to England for an extended tour of factories and camps. From 1945 he toured regularly in Europe.

When he arrived on American shores in 1947, he was dubbed “the whirlwind pianist”. Musical America pointed out “not since the advent of Horowitz on our bedazzled shores has any young pianist brought us such an exciting brand of virtuosity as François. The young fellow is undersized, pinched and thin, bespeaking his years of hunger and hardship. He wears his hair long, like a Paderewski or a Liszt, and his friends declare that he refuses to have his locks cut because, as one named Samson, he fears he might suffer a loss of strength. His strength and flourish and speed, his flying hands and high tossed mane brought gasps from the spectators. A true artistry, a true yearning for music are not easily crushed by oppression.”

His first appearances in New York was in Prokofiev’s 5th Piano Concerto under the baton of Leonard Bernstein and the New York City Symphony. In a brief interview in 1947, François enthused over the attentiveness of his audience in the United Stated, and said “that he had been amazed to discover the extent of the development here, both in the United States and in Canada. He also said that while the war had put a temporary stop to musical progress in Europe, it was now forging ahead with leaps and bounds.” He subsequently played all over the globe, including Communist China in 1964.

After an absence of more than ten years, his return in 1959 to New York was hailed as “one of the best piano performances given in this City for years.” After performing with Bernstein at Carnegie Hall, François arranged an after-curtain jam session with Bernstein, Errol Garner and Dmitri Shostakovich. Concentrating on the Romantic piano literature, and especially the French repertoire, he was acclaimed for his performances of Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Chopin, as well as Gabriel Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. His Prokofiev, too, was impressive. French critics and audiences were especially receptive to his virtuosic approach. His extravagant lifestyle, good looks, and passionate but highly disciplined playing, gave him a cult status as a pianist. Though, his passion for night life and his reckless behaviour (characterised by lavish drinking and drug use) resulted in a heart attack on the concert platform in 1968. His early death followed only two years later.

François’ early death on October 22, 1970 denied the world a chance to hear how the pianist might have developed had he lived longer. He was a pianist of exceptional persuasiveness in live performance, but only intermittently as arresting in the recording studio.

François was married to Josette Bhavsar – her father was Indian. She grew up in an environment permeated by the piano that both her mother and sister played. Ricardo Vines or Yves Nat often visited the family. After war, she met François whom she married in 1955. She devoted herself from the onset to supporting his career. After their divorce in the sixties, she was responsible for the press service of the ensembles of the ORTF until the disappearance of that service in 1974. After the death of Francois (1970), she created the foundation that bears his name in order to support young talents and to further their early careers. She passed away on February 28, 2011.

Their only child Maximilien, born in 1955 died recently in October 2013.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014


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