András Schiff is among the most prominent members of a generation of Hungarian pianists born in the years following World War II, along with such artists as Zoltán Kocsis, Dezso Ránki, and Jenö Jandó. Of this remarkable group, Schiff has achieved the strongest international reputation, due not only to his decision to pursue his career outside of Hungary, but also to his finely shaded sense of touch and his energetic, yet clear, treatment of contrapuntal textures.
Schiff was born in Budapest on December 21, 1953. He studied with composers Pál Kadosa and Ferenc Rados (saying of the latter that “There was never a positive word from him. Everything was bad, horrible. But it instilled a healthy attitude, an element of doubt.”), as well as harpsichordist George Malcolm. Schiff made his debut in Budapest at age 19 and was soon making concert appearances throughout Europe and the U.S., despite Iron Curtain-era restrictions. He took top prize at the 1974 Moscow competition, and the 1975 Leeds Festival.
A major early mentor was violinist and conductor Sándor Végh, with whom Schiff recorded the complete piano concertos of Mozart and much violin-and-piano chamber music. In 1989, he founded his own Mondsee Musiktage festival near Salzburg (where he had first encountered Végh). Schiff also formed his own ensemble, Cappella Andrea Barca, in 1999, and with it recorded a complete cycle of Mozart’s piano concertos. Schiff’s energy and clarity in contrapuntal music has made him a top Bach interpreter; he has recorded Bach’s complete keyboard music.
Later, he recorded a complete Beethoven sonata cycle on the boutique label ECM, completing it in 2009. He has also recorded large amount of music by Schubert and Schumann, receiving a prize in 2011 from the city of Zwickau, Germany, for his interpretations of the latter. Eastern European music by the likes of Béla Bartók and Leos Janácek have also appeared prominently in his repertory. He left Hungary in 1979 and spoke out forcefully against right-wing political developments there, stating that he would never again set foot in his homeland, alluding to physical dangers he would face if he did so. He renounced his Austrian citizenship, which he had taken in 1987, also for political reasons, and is now a British citizen.
In the 2000s, he often revisited Bach repertory that he had previously recorded. Schiff has held several prestigious residencies: from 2004 to 2007 he was Artist-in-Residence of the Kunstfest Weimar, in the 2007-2008 season he was Pianist-in-Residence of the Berlin Philharmonic, and in 2011-2012 he was a Perspectives Artist of Carnegie Hall in New York. Schiff is married to violinist Yuuko Shiokawa, with whom he has recorded violin-and-piano repertory for ECM. In addition to ECM, Schiff’s large discography includes albums on the Decca, London, and Teldec labels, as well as others. In the 2010s, despite earlier skepticism about the trend, he began to perform and record on the fortepiano, often using a Viennese instrument of 1820 built by the lesser-known maker Franz Brodmann. On that instrument he released an album of Schubert Impromptus and the Piano Sonata in C minor, D. 958, in 2019.