Paul Wittgenstein

„The Man with the Golden Arm“

Paul Wittgenstein (1887–1961)

  • The one-armed Austrian piano maestro
  • Born: 11 May 1887, Vienna
  • Died: 3 March 1961, New York

Paul Carl Hermann Wittgenstein was born the son of a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna on 11 May 1887. Two years later, his brother Ludwig Wittgenstein was born; the brother became a famous philosopher later in his life. Even as adolescents, the brothers had very conflicting fields of interest. Paul loved nature, while Ludwig had always shown a great interest in technology. Influenced by his musical parents - his father Karl played horn and violin, his mother Leopoldine was an excellent pianist - Paul studied piano. In 1913, Paul made his debut as a pianist at the Vienna Musikverein.

Despite the amputation of his right arm at the beginning of the First World War, he continued his musical career and became an esteemed concert pianist. He has enjoyed worldwide success with piano works commissioned for the left hand by famous contemporary composers such as Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Paul Hindemith and Richard Strauss. In 1929, Maurice Ravel composed a piano concerto for the left hand for him. This, however led to a parting of the ways between the two artists. Wittgenstein had adapted essential elements of the concerto for the performance and Ravel was extremely displeased with this highhandedness. Ravel's saying 'Performers are slaves' dates back to this dispute.

Paul Wittgenstein plays Raff - La Fileuse

Paul was Professor of Piano at the New Vienna Conservatory from 1931 to 1938. Exiled from Austria by the Nazis, he emigrated to New York in 1938. There, he started his second career as a teacher and got US citizenship in 1946. He lived near New York City and died of heart failure in 1961. Wittgenstein's life can be described as the story of a man who stands up to seemingly insurmountable difficulties and overcomes them successfully. The renowned pianist visited his aunts Clara Wittgenstein and 'Milly' Brücke-Wittgenstein, who had settled in Thumersbach, on a regular basis.

logo Zell am See–Kaprun