Born: June 14, 1882 - New York City, New York, USA
Died: June 30, 1946 - New York City, New York, USA
The American pianist and composer, Michael (actually: Michal) Zadora [AKA: Michael von Zadora], was born in New York of Polish parents. He first learnt to play the piano from his father and then at the age of 17 he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire (1899). From there he travelled to Vienna for lessons with Theodor Leschetizky before continuing his studies with Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin. One of F. Busoni's finest pupils, Zadora captured the intellect and angst of his mentor.
Too little is known of Michael Zadora's life. He taught a master-class at the Lemberg Conservatory (1911-1912), and also taught at institutions including the Hochschule für Musik and the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. But as World War I approached Zadora returned to America and took a post at the Institute of Musical Art in New York (1913-1914), later to become the Juilliard School of Music.
By 1923 Michael Zadora was back in Berlin, where at the Beethovensaal he was the first pianist to give an all-Busoni recital. With Egon Petri he prepared the piano part of the vocal score of F. Busoni’s opera Doktor Faust and gave two-piano recitals. Zadora also set up a Busoni Society. In 1924, as F. Busoni lay on his death-bed, Zadora played a Felix Mendelssohn’s Lied ohne Worte for him.
It would appear that Michael Zadora was not well suited to public performance. In 1938 he played at London’s Wigmore Hall and received a poor review. He was described as ‘…a follower of Busoni (who) travestied his master’s style’ by playing Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor too fast, without clear articulation or observance of the composer’s markings of piano or pianissimo’. A second recital given two weeks later was not reviewed.
Michael Zadora composed a few original works (piano pieces, songs, etc.) in his name and under the pseudonym of Pietro Amadis. On February 5, 1938 New York’s Broadway saw the opening, and closing, of a musical play written by August Strindberg with music by Zadora. He transcribed for piano several organ and violin works by Dietrich Buxtehude and J.S. Bach, in F. Busoni's way; he also transcribed five songs by Robert Schumann, as well as works by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Delibes, Offenbach, Jensen, Henselt and Schubert.
Michael Zadora recorded fairly extensively during the 1920's and later. He recorded for Polydor in Germany between 1924 and 1927. A few discs were made for the German Grammophon Company in the 1930’s as well as some discs for Ultraphon, Odéon and Vox. In 1940 he made some discs for the Friends of Recorded Music Society in America. These are important as they contain Zadora playing F. Busoni’s Sonatinas Nos 3 and 5. He recorded waltzes, études, préludes and nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin; some of Franz Liszt’s Consolations; and many encore pieces by Lamare, Stockhoff, Joachim Raff, Sgambati, Scarlatti, Field, Johannes Brahms, L.v. Beethoven, Hummel, Anton Rubinstein and himself. He also recorded some J.S. Bach, Prokofiev’s Prelude in C major Op. 12 and Debussy’s Prélude and Toccata from Pour le Piano. Most of his discs are impressive, yet he has a tendency to rush in fast music, missing many details. This is particularly noticeable in the ‘F. Busoni’s Sonatina No. 6 Super Carmen (Zadora’s most well-known recording) and Debussy Toccata recordings. He had a wonderful tone which can be heard in his recording of his own arrangement of Henselt’s Larghetto and La Passion by Lamare. His most impressive disc is of an arrangement he made of a work by Jensen entitled Whispering of a Gentle Breeze.
Zadora’s playing emphasised speed and his records offer thrilling experiences when tempi are fast. His aesthetic represents an uncertain departure from F. Busoni's neo-classicism and Futurism towards unknown terrain. There is always the sense of an evolution in progress, as the works' structures are always clear and decisive, yet their message being redefined. His playing of F. Busoni's Sonatina super Carmen is a great example of F. Busoni's own style. If any of his writings or words will ever emerge, one may better understand him some day.
A few examples of Zadora’s playing are available on Pearl (“Busoni and his Circle”). The three F. Busoni Sonatinas have been reissued by Naxos on compact disc. In 2009 APPIAN (APR) published a 2-CD set titled “Michael Zadora: The Complete Recordings, 1922-1938”.