Earl Wild (November 26, 1915 – January 23, 2010) was an American pianist known for his transcriptions of jazz and classical music.
Royland Earl Wild was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1915. Wild was a musically precocious child and studied under Selmar Janson at Carnegie-Tech University there, and later with Marguerite Long, Egon Petri, and Helene Barere (the wife of Simon Barere), among others. As a teenager, he started making transcriptions of romantic music and composition.
In 1931 he was invited to play at the White House by President Herbert Hoover. The next five presidents (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson), also invited him to play for them, and Wild remains the only pianist to have played for six consecutive presidents.
In 1937, Wild was hired as a staff pianist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra. In 1939, he became the first pianist to perform a recital on U.S. television. Wild later recalled that the small studio became so hot under the bright lights that the ivory piano keys started to warp.
In 1942, Arturo Toscanini invited him for a performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which was, for Wild, a resounding success, although Toscanini himself has been criticized for not understanding the jazz idiom in which Gershwin wrote. During World War II, Wild served in the United States Navy as a musician. He often travelled with Eleanor Roosevelt while she toured the United States supporting the war effort. Wild's duty was to perform the national anthem on the piano before she spoke. A few years after the war he moved to the newly formed American Broadcasting Company (ABC) as a staff pianist, conductor and composer until 1968. He performed many times for the Peabody Mason Concert series in Boston, in 1952, 1968, and 1971 and three concerts of Liszt in 1986. Wild was renowned for his virtuoso recitals and master classes held around the world, from Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo to Argentina, England and throughout the United States.
Wild created numerous virtuoso solo piano transcriptions: 14 pieces by Rachmaninoff, and works on themes by Gershwin. His Grand Fantasy on Airs from Porgy and Bess, the first extended piano paraphrase on an American opera, was recorded in 1976 and had its concert premiere in Pasadena on December 17, 1977. He also wrote Seven Virtuoso Études on Popular Songs, based on Gershwin songs such as "The Man I Love", "Fascinating Rhythm" and "I Got Rhythm", and Theme and Variations on George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" (1989).
He also wrote a number of original works. These included a large-scale Easter oratorio, Revelations (1962), the choral work The Turquoise Horse (1976), and the Doo-Dah Variations, on a theme by Stephen Foster (1992), for piano and orchestra. His Sonata 2000 had its first performance by Bradley Bolen in 2003 and was recorded by Wild for Ivory Classics.
Wild recorded for several labels, including RCA Records, where he recorded an album of Liszt and a collection of music by George Gershwin, including Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture,Concerto in F, and "I Got Rhythm" Variations, all with the Boston Pops Orchestra and Arthur Fiedler. Later in his career, Wild recorded for Ivory Classics.
Under his teacher Selmar Janson, Wild had learned Xaver Scharwenka's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, which Janson had studied directly with the composer, his own teacher. When, over 40 years later, Erich Leinsdorf asked Wild to record the concerto, he was able to say "I've been waiting by the phone for forty years for someone to ask me to play this".
In 1997 he was the first pianist to stream a performance over the Internet.
Wild, who was openly gay, lived in Columbus, Ohio, and Palm Springs, California, with his domestic partner of 38 years, Michael Rolland Davis. He was also an atheist. He died aged 94 of congestive heart disease at home in Palm Springs.
Harold C. Schonberg called him a "super-virtuoso in the Horowitz class".
Wild's memoirs A Walk on the Wild Side were published posthumously by Ivory Classics.