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He travelled across the world of music like a meteor, a shooting star. Excessive in all things, he burned his candle at both ends. The cigarette forever on his lips was a symbol of the fire that burned within this man who had a passion for jazz and the shadowy world of the night. Born in 1924 in Frankfurt, to a French father and a glamorous Alsatian mother, he spent his childhood and adolescence being taken from town to town, this artistic soul was profoundly sensitive, a romantic with a fanciful streak, often unpredictable. An admirer of Arthur Rimbaud and André Breton, he shared a little of their fire. Samson François was a real performer: one for whom the phrase "inspiration" was more than a cliché. Whether in poetic mood or in a frenzy, he never left his listeners indifferent. He could even throw them off balance at concerts where nothing special happened: that is what a real creator can do, and François was one. Hemmed in within the limits of his keyboard, he had the imaginative range to be a composer, and he wrote the music for a film a Piano Concerto (which he also recorded), pieces for the piano and... lots of aborted projects. His favourite repertoire? Ravel, Debussy, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Prokofiev, a choice which allowed him to express the extremes of his unstable and fascinating spirit.
This student of Marguerite Long never taught, but he has left us a discographic legacy of immense importance, from which has emerged a compilation dedicated to Chopin, his complete performances of Ravel, and one of the great renditions of reference of two concertos from the French composer: a Concerto en sol stamped with a classic luminosity and a Concerto for the left hand marked with an implacable and tormented drama. Samson François loved to make records, and the close, stuffy atmosphere of the recording studio couldn't put him off. From 1947 to his sudden and premature death in 1970 (which prevented him from finishing his complete piano works of Claude Debussy), he recorded the lion's share of his repertoire with great care, confiding in the microphone with all the intimacy that he would bring to a live audience. "You come to put down concretely the conception that you might have of a work", he said, "and as you have the good fortune of being able to start over again, it's possible to wind up with something that satisfies you. "
His name will always be linked to that of Frédéric Chopin, a composer who began by resisting him, and of whom he became one of the greatest interpreters. He probably found in the Franco-Polish composer's music a range of changing humours which corresponded perfectly to his own nature, with this mixture of seriousness, frivolity, melancholy, of sentiments expressed with elegance, subtlety, and that bel canto for which he had such skill. Time has done its work, and if the exceptional popularity of this extraordinary pianist is forgotten, today we can at least savour all the magic that his unquiet mind brought to his art.
© FH / Qobuz
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