Jörg Demus is the child of cultured parents: his mother was a professional violinist whilst his father was an acknowledged art historian. Demus received his first music lessons from his mother and at the age of eleven was enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music. Concurrently with his academic studies he took lessons in piano with Walter Kerschbaumer, organ with Karl Walter, composition with Joseph Marx and conducting with Josef Krips and Hans Swarowsky. For five years after the end of World War II Demus studied with a series of famous pianists: first in Paris, with Yves Nat; then with Walter Gieseking in Saarbrücken; finally completing his studies with Wilhelm Kempff, Edwin Fischer and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
Although he had played in Vienna at the Brahmssaal for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde at the age of fourteen, Demus made his adult debut in Zürich and London at the age of twenty-one where he played with the Konzerthaus Quartet of Vienna. He then toured South America where he gave thirty-six concerts, and presented a successful debut in Paris at the Salle Gaveau. Although he had already enjoyed success in European cities, Demus entered and won the Busoni Competition in Bolzano, Italy, in 1956. After his New York debut Demus had an international career making regular tours of Asia, Australia and Japan. He has performed with many of the world’s great conductors including Seiji Ozawa, Carlo Zecchi, André Cluytens and Herbert von Karajan. Throughout his career Demus has spent a large proportion of his time as accompanist to some of the greatest singers including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Peter Schreier, Elly Ameling and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, as well as performing with violinist Josef Suk and cellist Antonio Janigro.
Demus collects old keyboard instruments and has a museum housing his collection near Salzburg, the Jörg Demus Museo Cristofori; he has also made recordings on Beethoven’s pianos. He is in demand as a teacher, frequently giving master-classes in Japan, Europe and the United States; and some of his teaching demonstrations are available via the Internet. A writer and composer, Demus has published Adventures in Interpretation (1967) and a book on Beethoven’s piano sonatas Die Klaviersonaten Ludwig van Beethovens (Wiesbaden, 1970). His compositions include instrumental sonatas, trios and songs.
Demus has made a huge number of recordings, mainly as accompanist, numbering around 350 LPs. For Westminster, his solo recordings include Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier and ‘Goldberg’ Variations BWV 988, plus the major works of Schumann as well as the Piano Concerto Op. 54 with Artur Rodzinski. For Deutsche Grammophon he has recorded works by Debussy and Schubert, and Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations Op. 120. Demus’s Westminster recording from 1956 with the Barylli Quartet of Schumann’s Piano Quartet Op. 47 and Piano Quintet Op. 44 has been reissued on compact disc and is a fine version of these popular works. Other compact discs include the complete works of Schumann on thirteen discs from Nuovo Era, as well as Bach’s partitas and ‘Goldberg’ Variations. Reissues on BMG of Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recordings include Mozart piano concertos and some Schubert piano sonatas, although the instrument used in the Mozart concertos does not have a pleasing sound. Demus has also recorded concertos by Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven and chamber music by Franz Schmidt. The Marco Polo label has issued a disc of Demus playing his own compositions with cellist Maria Kliegel. The works are tonal and enjoyable and apparently owe their inspiration to Paul Verlaine and Schumann’s final years.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Composer