Death of sought-after Hungarian pianist, 97

The eminent pianist and teacher Bela Siki died on Thursday in Seattle.

A student of Dohnanyi and Weiner at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, he became a pupil of Dinu Lipatti in Switzerland, where he won an international competition in 1948.

In 1965, he joined the piano faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle, moving fifteen years later to Cincinnati, but returning in 1985 for the rest of his teaching career.

Craig Sheppard writes:

Wonderful friend, pegagogue and pianist. I first met Béla at the Leeds Competition in 1972, where he was on the jury. Although Béla retired just as I took up my post here at the University of Washington in 1993, we saw him and his wonderful wife, Yolande, socially from time to time. Several years later, when another colleague suddenly decided to retire, Béla was asked to come back and ‘fill in’ by his former student, Dr. Robin McCabe, who was Director of our School of Music for fifteen years. It was during those years that I came to know him as a wise and caring colleague, someone with a vast life’s experience to whom I could turn for advice. Béla spoke several languages – indeed, I came down the hall one day, he said something to me in German, and the next five minutes were conducted in that language! He and Yolande spoke her native French at home. Béla was always the gentleman and always the perceptive listener, with a wealth of wisdom and humanity.

We will miss him dearly.

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  • In my years in/around the Seattle music scene and the University of Washington, he definitely was the most prominent pianist. The University of Washington had a number of foreign musicians on its faculty in the postwar years – conductor Stanley Chapple, cellist Eva Heinitz, violinist Denes Szigmondy, and others. Most better known in the profession than to wider audiences, but great musicians with real life experiences who enlivened Seattle when it was still the provinces musically.

    • MacroV, your comment about violinist Denes Szigmondy at the University of Washington in post-WWII years is the only mention of him by someone else that I’ve ever seen.

      I was stationed near Bad Nauheim, West Germany, when the Dresden Philharmonic came there in 1952 with Heinz Bongartz conducting and Szigmondy as soloist in “Sheherazade” on rh same progrram with a Bruckner symphony,– I don’t remember which one and didn’t know them then,– an odd program, stranger still that an East German orchestra ventured across into the West at that time. I recall Szigmondy as a good violinist, and also heard pianists Stanislas Niedzielski and Elly Ney with her cellist Ludwig Hoelscher in Nauheim that year. Bad Nauheim was a hydro-thermal spa that Franklin Roosevelt had visited for hot-water baths for his legs. For that reason it was spared from bombing on his explicit order.

      Stanislaus Niezielski later sued “Le Figaro’s” music critic, the concert organist and Cortot biographer Bernard Gavoty, over a bad review. He lost.

  • What a beautiful performance, and what a beautiful tribute by the great Craig Sheppard.
    I have a Turnabout LP (TV-S 34592, rec. 1973) on which Bela Siki accompanies the soprano Elizabeth Suderburg in a program of Bartok songs, and it is lovely in every way.
    Farewell, Maestro Siki.

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