“Playing on a Steinway is always a joy to me. It is unsurpassed in its beautiful tone quality and action.”
William Kapell (1922-1953) was one of the most promising American pianists of the post-war generation, producing a few recordings that have attained legendary status after his untimely death. There was some tendency to typecast Kapell as a performer of flashy repertory; his technique was exceptional, but he was a versatile pianist, and could also give memorably graceful performances of W.A. Mozart. The fascination with this powerful musician continues. Pianists such as Eugene Istomin and Van Cliburn have acknowledged Kapell's influence, and tapes of "live" performances still circulate among collectors.
Kapell was a serious artist from the beginning, practicing up to eight hours a day. One of his favorite pieces was for the recently composed Piano Concerto in D flat major by Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, which he frequently played. Kapell played it so convincingly that his recording became an enormous hit. Because it is an extroverted and flashy work, he gained a reputation as a specialist in such music. His recorded legacy shows that he performed in the appropriate style from graceful renditions of W.A. Mozart to powerful Prokofiev. By the late 1940's, he had toured the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia to immense acclaim and was widely considered the most brilliant and audacious of young American pianists.
Kapell spent his last summer in Australia, appearing not only in Sydney and Melbourne but all over the continent. It was in Geelong that Kapell played his last performance on October 22 shortly before heading back to the USA. The return plane hit Kings Mountain, south of San Francisco, on the morning of October 29, 1953; all of the crew and passengers were killed instantly.
The critic Harold Schonberg once considered Kapell the most promising American pianist of the post-World War II generation. His style was direct, clear, and energetic; his technique impeccable; and his repertoire eclectic and adventurous.