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Paul Wittgenstein
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Musician
    (November 5, 1887-March 3, 1961)
    Born in Vienna, Austria
    Classical pianist
    Lost his right arm during World War I
    Commissioned works for the left hand
    Best-known composition was Maurice Ravel's 'Piano Concerto for the Left Hand' (1930)
    Older brother of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein
    His post-amputation career was made possible mainly by his family's wealth, which enabled him to commission new works.
    He eventually had fallings out with almost every composer he worked with, since he usually tinkered with their pieces to highlight his playing at the expense of the orchestra.
    Sergei Prokofiev wrote, 'It may be that his misfortune has turned out to be a stroke of good luck, for with only his left hand he is unique but maybe with both hands he would not have stood out from a crowd of mediocre pianists.'
    That may have been sour grapes, since his response to the concerto he commissioned from Prokofiev was, 'I don't understand a note of it, and I shall not play it.'
    He said of returning to performing, 'It was like attempting to scale a mountain. If you can't climb up from one side, you try another.'
    He also taught himself how to box one-handed.
    When a piano company offered to install custom-made pedals, he refused, saying 'People would say the piano was fixed.'
    He never charged for piano lessons.
    Critic Lawrence Gilman wrote, 'After the first few moments of wondering how the devil he accomplished it, one forgot that one was listening to a player whose right sleeve hung empty at his side.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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