Death of America’s ‘supervirtuoso’ pianist

Death of America’s ‘supervirtuoso’ pianist


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2019

We have been informed of the death of the pianist Abbey Simon on December 18 at his home in Geneva Switzerland. He was three weeks short of his 100th birthday.

A formidable concert performer, a student of Hoffman and Godowsky, he was dubbed ‘supervirtuoso’ by the New York Times critic Harold Schonberg and had technique to spare.

Outside of the US he performed and taught in the UK and the Netherlands, and made numerous records.


  • Garnet Ungar says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Mr. Lebrecht. Anyone wanting to know about Mr. Simon can find information here:

    • Thank you very much for this wonderful website and putting together the audio and video selections.

      The Albéniz/Godowsky “Triana”, which I just listened to, is awesome! I am looking forward to listening to ALL of the rest.

      Throughout my youth, I had heard a lot about Mr. Simon … I studied with one of his colleagues at the University of Houston, Albert Hirsh (albeit privately), but unfortunately never got to hear Abbey Simon in a live performance. I don’t think he had very many students there, and as a result, along with all of his other obligations, was never in Houston more than about once a month, I believe.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Abbey Simon was one of the last American pianists of the generation of William Kapell 1922-1953, John Browning,Van Cliburn Gary Graffman, Leon Fleisher, and Byron Janis. The last three are still with us.

    He played a Community Concerts recital including Chopin’s third sonata in my hometown around 1949 that I heard. Fifty years later I heard him play it again in the Myra Hess series at Preston Bradley Hall in Chicago and talked to him. He recoiled in mock horror,protesting that he wasn’t that old, and didn’t want to hear about it.

    He was still using the special chair, built up at the back of the saddle-seat to propel him toward the keys. Many admire his Vox records of virtuoso literature.

    He was injured in a car accident a few years ago but had insisted he was recovering and would play again.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I am one of the many who admire those old VOX records! The complete Ravel in particular.
      Maestro Simon lived a long and fruitful life.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    The newspaper obit I read made him sound as if he was an out-of-date relic of the 19th century, so wrong. Why do people keep thinking classical music has to “keep up with the times”? It should be timeless. Classic. Not trendy. The classical traditions must be upheld, it is of the utmost importance. Too many musicians think it is about “self-expression,” and have no sense of style, line, balance, tempo, dynamics. Everything is played fast and loud and accurate. That’s not music.
    The other thing is, while Simon may have enjoyed a healthy career and made a good amount of money, presumably, other instrumentalists who rely on teaching for income, are unable to retire, have little or no pensions, and may have trouble maintaining their studios in this youth-oriented culture we have. Who is looking out for them?

  • Mike Rael says:

    A joyous playing of the Rachmaninoff!