The man who discovered two-piano concertos

The man who discovered two-piano concertos


norman lebrecht

December 31, 2013

The pianist Martin Berkofsky, who died yesterday, restored and recorded little-known concertos for two pianos by Bruch, Mendelssohn and Moscheles. Here’s an appreciation we have received from his friend, Roberto Prosseda:





Yesterday the pianist Martin Berkofsky (Washington, 1943) passed away in his home in Virginia, USA. Martin was a close friend of mine and I consider him one of the greatest and original pianists of our time, even if he was not famous and was not interested in the public career.
He actually had a very unusual artistic career: after an international concert activity (with recordings for EMI, Vox, Nimbus, Turnabout), in 1982 he had a motorcycle accident in Iceland and remained paralyzed for months. After recovering, he decided to stop a career based on business and success, and gave concerts only for free or for raising funds for benefit institutions.
In 1993 Martin was diagnosed a prostate cancer. After recovering he started a concert tours in hospitals and private houses from Tulsa (city where he was treated, at the Cancer Treatment Center), to Chicago. He raised 80.000 USD for the cancer research.
I met Martin by coincidence  some years ago, when I was searching for a rare score by Mendelssohn/Moscheles (the Variations on a theme from Weber’s “Preciosa”, in the original version for two pianos and orchestra).  I found in internet that Martin had recorded this piece in the ‘70s. I wrote him asking information about the score (unpublished) and the day after he sent me a copy of the manuscript. I was surprised by this unusually generous approach, and looked more about his career and life. So I learned about his interest for bringing music in hospitals and in other places out of the concert halls, and for his philantropic activities.
Martin came to Italy in 2010 at the Donatori di Musica national conference (, a network of musicians, doctors and volunteers started in 2007, which runs concert seasons in Oncology departments of Italian hospitals.
Martin was diagnosed a second cancer (esophagus) in 2011 and still was able to make two Liszt recordings. The first (2011) was released onCD for Arts label (, this recording was donated to to Donatori di Musica. This CD is available and shows his unique way of playing the piano and of conceiving the musical expression. The second recording (2012) is still unpublished.
The way Martin reacted to the illness was incredible. He always said that the two cancers were the two biggest gifts that he received. Thanks to them, he found a real sense of life, of making music, of sharing and donating the beauty with others.
Martin was not famous at all. But I am quite sure that some of his recordings will remain in the history.
You will find more on his Facebook page. He was active on Facebook till few hours before death.



  • He was certainly a wonderful pianist and deserved much greater recognition. Here is a recording of the Liszt B minor sonata of his from 1975:

    May his memory be a blessing.

  • Here is a wonderful documentary of some highlights from his career:

  • Berkofsky’s partner on those wonderful two-piano recordings was the outstanding pianist David Hagan.

  • gerald brennan says:

    Good interview.

    Great pianist. Great man.

  • John Willan says:

    As far as I recall, it was the pianist Nathan Twining who bought a box of music at auction which contained the autograph score of Bruch’s concerto for 2 pianos. Nathan tracked down the orchestral parts bought by other people at the same auction, reconstructed Bruch’s original version with Martin’s help and they recorded it for the first time in 1973 with the LSO and Antal Dorati in Kingsway Hall; that is apart from two bars in the last movement which we never got properly onto tape. These were “repaired” in Abbey Road No 1 Studio later. I was the EMI producer and the “correcting” fingers are mine and the balance engineer’s, Bob Gooch.

  • Thank you Norman for this wonderful piece. Martin was my first cousin. His dad, “Uncle Ben” was my mom’s twin brother. All of us cousins (there are many) have fond memories of Martin growing up. It was a special treat when he came to visit us in NY and would sit at our piano and play…seemingly for hours. Neither of us were very good at keeping in touch regularly over the years. We are very sad to hear this news. Best, June Kamerling

  • Mary Ashton says:

    A truly remarkable and inspiring friend, teacher, and neighbor. He will be missed for his talent and musical accomplishments, of course, but also for his humanitarian and moral ideals and dedication that he practiced everyday and even during great sickness. Thank you Martin. Mary Ashton

  • Richard L. Rose says:

    Martin taught me in his home in Virginia. He paid no attention to time spent. He served tea and we talked and played for hours into the night. Kind, patient, and encouraging of my compositional efforts, he attended performances of my operas, gave superb master classes, arranged scholarships for students, gave concerts for those who could not meet medical expenses and for a composer “disappeared” by the government of Rumania in the communist era. He was better known in Iceland, Italy, Turkey (Izmir), and Germany than in the United States. His energy and courage were unfailing. When my wife and I visited him in the hospital in Tulsa, he was full of plans for his concert – run to Chicago. His renderings of Liszt were incredible. I cannot listen to his recording of La Legende de Ste. Francois: La predication aux oiseaux without crying. He had quirks, strange enthusiasms, jokes, and failings as you might expect; but what one remembers is glorious sound and profound kindness. –Richard L. Rose