"My hands, my heart, and my ears love Bechstein."
Jörg Demus was born in St. Pölten, Austria, in 1928 as the son of a concert violinist and the world-renowned art historian Otto Demus. He began at Vienna's Academy of Music and Performing Arts when he was just eleven years old. In 1943 he debuted in the Brahms Hall at the Viennese Musikverein - where he also appeared, on March 20, 2013, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of that event. He gave first concerts in London and Zürich in 1950 and toured South America for the first time the following year. His debut in the Salle Gaveau (Paris, 1953) caused a sensation. In 1956 he received the coveted Premio Busoni at the Bozen International Piano Competition. Since then, he performed in virtually all of the great music halls in the Old and New Worlds and was a celebrated guest at international festivals. He has worked with such renowned conductors as Josef Krips, André Cluytens and Herbert von Karajan, and famous singers such as Elly Ameling, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Peter Schreier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
In 1986 the city of Zwickau presented him with the Robert Schumann prize; in 2000 he won the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class; and in 2006 he was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor. Many of his albums - some of them recorded on historical grand pianos from his personal collection - have received international prizes.
Jörg Demus regularly taught master classes in Austria and Japan. He performed in Salzburg and at the Goetheanum in Dornach in collaboration with the young French cellist Guillaume Effler, and gave an acclaimed concert with 91-year-old Sir Neville Marriner in Shanghai in December 2015.
Tours with solo recitals and invitations to master classes took him all over Europe throughout the year, as well as to Japan, China and Hong Kong. His many concerts given in the years before his passing in Switzerland (including in Basel's Stadtcasino and within the framework of the Schaffhauser Meisterkonzerte series) were greeted with enthusiasm, with prominent musicians and music professors, for example from the Basel academy, being as deeply moved by his work as "simple" music fans or even listeners attending the first classical concert of their lives. His piano museum, called "Museo Cristofori" and located in Salzkammergut, Austria, contains an important collection of historical keyed instruments. For decades it has been the site of the master class he taught every summer for singers, pianists and other instrumentalists.
Jörg Demus stood out for his ability - seldom seen even in the greatest musicians - to combine faithful interpretation of the original with a personal statement, and introverted concentration with a tension-charged, highly differentiated and expressive style.
He passed away in April 2019.
Photo © Thomas-Albertus-Irnberger