A pianist is the subject of Martin Scorsese’s next film

A pianist is the subject of Martin Scorsese’s next film


norman lebrecht

January 08, 2016

Variety scoops the world with the disclosure that the Hollywood director is working on a life of Byron Janis. He has bought rights to a biography of the US pianist and is planning it as his next film.

Janis, a noted Chopin and Rachmaninov interpreter, now 86 years of age, was lionised in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. He never bothered to enter competitions. This should be some film.

byron janis


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    This will be fantastic! What a fantastic surprise. Byron is still regarded as one of the finest pianists ever. He was a student of Adele Marcus and she always spoke so eloquently about him. She reflected about him playing Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ sonata before age 10, and how he had made up a catchy phrase–as a youngster might do–with the main theme of the first movement. This is what she remembered of the d minor ascending triadic theme, ‘Go–get your gun!’, followed by the chromatic answer ‘Oh please, don’t–kill–me!’ and so on. He must have been incredibly gifted at a young age. His Rachmaninov 1/Prokofiev 3 recording with Kirill Kondrashin on the Mercury label remains one of the hallmarks of these pieces, and then there’s his Rachmaninov Third concerto. Can’t wait for this film!

  • Gerald Robbins says:

    This is so wonderful!! Byron Janis is one of the truly great legends of North American pianism (including Canada)which occurred during this incredibly fertile period from the 1950’s headed by William Kapell, Glenn Gould, and Leon Fleisher, and which also includes Julius Katchen, Van Cliburn, Gary Graffman, John Browning, and Leonard Pennario, Of this distinguished group, the only two great pianists who are still with us, today, are Byron Janis and Leon Fleisher.
    I can hardly wait to see this proposed new film about Byron Janis. He continues to inspire all of us pianists with his imperishable recordings of Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and the works of so many other great composers for the piano. This film project by Martin Scorsese, once realized, will be undoubtedly a wonderful tribute to the life of one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. I look forward to it with great anticipation and enthusiasm.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      When I spoke to Gary Graffman two weeks ago, he sounded very much alive and even kicking. He even still performs on occasion (we can give left-handed compliments). He was born in 1928.

      • Tyler Sim says:

        You sir, are the man. Gary Graffman is also a figure of study himself, endlessly fascinating and piquant with quotes. A true musician.

      • NYMike says:

        And still teaching @ Curtis?

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Yes, he is still teaching at Curtis. He goes to Philadelphia and the students (4 or 5) come to NYC for lessons. He also hears students of other teachers when they aren’t available because of performance obligations.

  • Respect says:

    Graffman is still with us.

  • simone says:

    His recordings are treasures..Looking forward to film

  • Brian says:

    I will be interesting to see how Scorsese treats the stuff about Janis’s supposed experiences with the paranormal. http://byronjanis.com/?page_id=254

    • Daniel Drasin says:

      With regard to Scorsese, hopefully he will be respectful of Janis’ experiences and of his properly scientific perspective. I think astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s famous quote (which Janis reproduces on his webpage) applies here: “There are no unnatural or supernatural phenomena, only very large gaps in our knowledge of what is natural… we should strive to fill those gaps of ignorance.”

  • Nancy Shear says:

    The profound interpretations that Byron Janis has consistently delivered are equaled only by his inspirational examples of dealing with crippling arthritis. He has always brought to his life the same creative impulses that imbue his playing as well as his composing. His life will make as good a film subject as fiction. This film will also bring classical music on the highest level to the general public – a necessity in our day and age. Can’t wait to see this film!

  • James Manishen says:

    Can’t wait to see this.
    Hope Martin Scorsese might contact Victor Feldbrill, former conductor of our Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Byron and Victor performed together many times, most notably a three-concerto evening in December 1964 that was unforgettable: Mozart 23rd, Prokofiev 3rd and Rachmaninoff 2nd in one evening, same pianist. Can you imagine!!

  • Brian B says:

    There is a remarkable recording of Janis at the age of 15 appearing in an NBC Symphony broadcast of the Rach 2nd, quite technically astonishing in one so young, already a formidible pianist. At that time he appeared under his actual name, Byron Yanks. This should be an interesting film.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I believe he played with the Pittsburgh Symphony doing Rachmaninoff 2nd concerto when Horowitz’s train was either delayed or canceled. The presenter persuaded him to attend Byron’s concert. According to the story as told by Ms. Marcus, Horowitz didn’t want to go to listen to a young teenager play this piece, but did and was blown away by Byron’s playing.

  • Robert says:

    Apparently the movie is not based on “a biography” but on Janis’ autobiography…

    “The project is based on Janis’ book “Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal.”

    I’ve not read the book but I predict this will be a disappointing movie in musical regards. Has there ever been a mainstream Hollywood biopic that dealt with music accurately?

  • Gerrie Collins says:

    Nancy Shear says: “This film will also bring classical music on the highest level to the general public – a necessity in our day and age. Can’t wait to see this film!”

    Well said, Nancy. Let’s hope ‘they’ have learned and benefited from some of their previous films on classical music (composers), such as the ones on Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann. They were good, but waay short of what Hollywood is capable of in truthful biography and dramatic intensity.

    • Hilary says:

      Liberace fared well as played by Michael Douglas. Perhaps easier to characterise that kind of flamboyant character.

  • Christopher Stager says:

    Maybe Gary Cooper can play his father-in-law!

  • All Keyed Up says:

    It is necessary to compare the facts with the myth: That Byron Janis was a fine artist & popular circuit-soloist is an established historical fact. But if one does appropriate due-diligence and reads all of Janis’ reviews in the archives of http://www.nytimes.com, one may not be in such a hurry to place Janis in the Pantheon of great pianists. Indeed, the review of his Carnegie Hall debut recital (at age 20) was an unqualified rave – but sadly his reviews went downhill from there – in fact, a review by Harold C. Schonberg from 1956 of Janis’ Rachmanioff 3rd Concerto with the NY Philharmonic goes as far as to say that the work was simply too much for him. Certainly Janis’ less than stellar reviews from the 1950’s & early 1960’s were written well before the onset of his arthritic problems, so these critical reviews were written while Janis was at the peak of his powers. One also wonders why, in the Bell Telephone Hour film from 1963, with Janis playing Rachmaninoff 3rd (3rd movement), Janis chose to replace a treacherous descending octave-chordal passage with a more simple cascade of single notes. A certain blogger on this page never misses an opportunity to link Janis with Adele Marcus, yet he neglects to mention that Janis left Marcus at age 15 to study for 4 years with Horowitz – and in fact Janis lived & toured with Horowitz for most of those years. Also, interesting to note that many Marcus students experienced hand-problems later in life, most likely due to her punishing technical regimen that in many instances did more harm than good – so it is a legitimate question if Janis’ early training with Marcus was a possible source of his crippling hand problems later in life. Marcus often stated in interviews that “Byron’s fingers were like wet spaghetti” and claimed that she “built” his technique – yet it was a technique that would fail him in later years. I don’t in any way wish to discredit the achievements of this fine artist, but it’s also important not to inflate the truth, and it does seem that a huge myth has overtaken the truth here.

  • Stuart Johnson says:

    Scorsese is one of the most violent and moronic directors in history. What is he doing with a mediocre classical artist? That movie will be a laughing stock in Russia, China, Japan and Europe.

    • Hilary says:

      In 2007, Scorsese was listed among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Violent and moronic might apply to Tarantino but not to Scorcese, IMHO. Byron Janis can hardly be described as a “mediocre classical artist,” especially early in his carrer.

      Scorcese’s film “Hugo” is a masterpiece tribute to the history of cinema. He has a few other decent films to his credit. I believe he also has a Bernstein bio-pic in his sights.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    While it is no secret that Mr. Janis went to study with Vladimir Horowitz in his middle teens, only Mr. Janis can attest to his studies with Adele Marcus, Vladimir Horowitz and the onset of his physical conditions. The technical regimen from Marcus was based on loose and supple wrists, loose and hanging elbows, relaxed shoulders and natural body weight leaning toward the piano–playing ‘with’ the piano, as opposed to ‘at’ the piano. Of course, anything done improperly or in excess could cause a negative reaction. She always said not to dwell on them all day, and what I recall most was the total looseness in her playing and in teaching, to avoid tightness and avoid muscular problems. Singing out loud during practice to achieve the singing sound, and always being aware of looseness throughout the body. It would be difficult for us as non-medical physicians to diagnose a serious physical condition as arthritis. Only Mr. Janis’s personal statements can shed light on his studies and his life. I will say, however, it must have been very daunting to play for Mr. Horowitz.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      And Gary Graffman reports of moments after a lesson when Horowitz would play for him to try out repertoire and seek his opinion. I wonder if Byron Janis had the same experience.

  • Madeline says:

    How about also doing a movie about pianist Earl Wild?

  • Josh Grumiaux says:

    [redacted: abuse]

    Nowhere in the article does it say that this will be Scorsese’s next movie. He has films coming out in 2016, in addition to other projects that will likely be made before this one.

    Furthermore, the article merely states that he is producing. To say that this is his “next film” strongly implies that he will be directing, which is what he best known for.

  • Glenn Mallory says:

    Good to hear that such a fine talent as Scorsese will take on the subject of Byron Janis. Mr. Janis is a fascinating historical figure who has been part the musical firmament for decades. Critic Joachim Kaiser noted that Janis was felt to be the only American pianist of his generation who could “keep up with the Russians”. That included the company of Richter.