Bulgarian-Born Pianist Alexis Weissenberg Dies at 82

Posted January 9th, 2012 at 4:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Bulgarian-born French pianist Alexis Weissenberg, whose passion for music saved him and his mother from a World War II concentration camp, has died at the age of 82.

Weissenberg died Sunday in Lugano, Switzerland, where his family had settled. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for years.

Bulgarian Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov described Weissenberg as “one of the greatest piano players of the 20th century.”

An only child, Weissenberg was born into a Jewish family in Sofia in 1929. When he and his mother tried to flee German-occupied Bulgaria for Turkey during World War II, they were captured and thrown into a concentration camp.

Weissenberg's musical talent saved his and his mother's lives. A German officer who enjoyed listening to the three-year-old play the accordion helped them escape.

After the war, Weissenberg moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music. Weissenberg's musical talent quickly catapulted him to fame. He performed with renowned musical composers, including Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein.

Weissenberg eventually settled in France and became a French national.