Weekly newsletter

Virtuoso One-Handed Pianist, Count Zichy Passed Away 100 Years Ago

Hungary Today 2024.01.15.
Count Géza Zichy in 1870

The world’s most exceptional one-handed pianist of the late 19th century passed away on January 14, 1924. Count Géza Zichy, who lost his right arm, triumphed across Europe with his virtuoso left hand.

Born into an ancient aristocratic family in Sztára, Zemplén (nowadays Slovakia), Géza Zichy overcame the loss of his right arm from a hunting accident as a young man. Undeterred, he returned to both hunting and playing the piano, relying solely on his left hand.

Detailing his recovery and the loss of his arm, Zichy wrote,

I was a cowardly child without a will, and in a few months, misfortune had molded me into an energetic, brave lad.”

Through sheer willpower and a zest for life, he perfected his piano skills with a technique of his own devising. This involved varying the dynamics of the notes played from beat to beat, depending on whether they belonged to the stronger bass, the weaker melodic, or the stronger accompanying part within a piece.

Not long before turning 17, he held a solo concert in Bratislava, receiving acclaim for his performance.

In the absence of left-handed piano compositions at the time, Zichy ventured into composing, mastering the art himself. While studying law, he took lessons from the renowned composer Robert Volkmann.


Left-handed piano literature was almost completely unknown until after the First World War. Indeed, there were works that emphasized virtuoso left-hand playing, such as Frederic Chopin’s (1810-1849) Revolutionary Etude, but they were not composed exclusively for the left hand. Austrian-Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886) composed left-hand transcriptions for Zichy. The first world-famous left-handed pianist was the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s brother Paul, who lost his right arm in the First World War. Several world-famous composers have written works for him, including Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).

His career as a pianist reached its peak with his friendship with Liszt, whom he met through his marriage to Melinda Karátsonyi, the daughter of Count Guido Karátsonyi, one of Liszt’s greatest admirers.

Unlike his politically active relatives, Zichy opted for an artistic career. He practiced as a concert pianist until 1891, always donating concert proceeds to charitable causes. Towards the end of his pianist career, he became the intendant of the Royal Hungarian Opera House.

During this period, the world-famous composer Gustav Mahler faced dismissal from the Opera,

leading to accusations against Zichy of antisemitism. However, Zichy did not ultimately dismiss Mahler, and the conflicts between them had roots predating Zichy’s tenure.

The Hungarian Royal Opera House in 1900. Photo: Fortepan / Budapest Főváros Levéltára / Klösz György

After his wife’s death in 1894, Zichy left the Intendant’s chair and devoted his life to his children, musical, and literary work.

While composing, his trilogy of patriotic operas from 1896 onward received few performances and were described by critics as mediocre.

During World War I, Zichy visited military hospitals, offering advice and performances to help soldiers who had lost limbs. This activity faced scandal in 1917 when he wrote an open letter disparaging injured soldiers. After the Great War, during the Commune of 1919, Zichy lost his previously held positions, including the presidency of the Conservatoire, which he had held for 43 years.

In 1921, he suffered a stroke from which he had difficulty recovering. In the last few years of his life, he spent his time in his mansion in Tetétlen (Northern-Great-Plain region of Hungary), arranging his works for the press and writing his memoirs. On account of severe flu complications, Count Géza Zichy passed away in 1924.

Zichy’s mansion in Tetétlen. Photo: Wikipedia

Éva Marton Singing Competition 2024: Door to the International Opera Scene
Éva Marton Singing Competition 2024: Door to the International Opera Scene

The event was accepted into the World Federation of International Music Competitions (WFIMC) in 2018.Continue reading

Via HVG; Featured Image: Wikipedia

    [1536x1536] => Array
            [width] => 1536
            [height] => 1536
            [crop] => 

    [2048x2048] => Array
            [width] => 2048
            [height] => 2048
            [crop] =>