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André Watts (born June 20, 1946) is a classical pianist and Professor at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University. Born in Nuremberg, Germany, Watts is the son of a Hungarian mother, Maria Alexandra Gusmits, who played the piano, and African-American father, Herman Watts, a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer. After studying music in Philadelphia and appearing with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age nine, he received a wider audience when he made his television debut in a nationally televised concert with the New York Philharmonic in 1963 at just sixteen. His first world tour was in 1967. He is mostly associated with 19th century music.

Watts was raised in Europe, living mostly near army posts where his father was stationed, until he was eight years old and Herman's military assignment led to the family moving to the United States. They settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Watts began to study the violin when he was four. By six he decided the piano was his instrument. His mother, a pianist herself, started him with his first lessons. Like most children, Watts disliked practicing. For encouragement, his mother would tell stories of great musician, pianist and composer Franz Liszt, making it clear that Liszt practiced faithfully. Watts found inspiration in Liszt, adopting his theatrical playing style. After the divorce of his parents in 1962, Watts remained with his mother, who supported the two, working as a secretary and later as a receptionist.

He enrolled at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now a part of The University of the Arts), where he studied with Genia Robinor, Doris Bawden, and Clement Petrillo, graduating in June 1963. He entered his first competition at nine, with forty other children for the opportunity to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra Children's Concerts. Watts won the competition playing a piano concerto by Joseph Haydn.

At ten, Watts performed Mendelssohn's G minor concerto with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra and at fourteen, the César Franck Symphonic Variations, again with the Philadelphia Orchestra. At sixteen, he auditioned at Carnegie Recital Hall. He played the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. A Young People's Concert was taped and shown on CBS, January 15, 1963, in which Bernstein introduced his pianist to the national television audience.

Three weeks later, on January 1, 1963, Bernstein asked Watts to fill in for the ailing Glenn Gould, the scheduled soloist for the New York Philharmonic regular subscription concert. Watts again played the Liszt E-flat Concerto, making international headlines and earning a contract with Columbia Records. When he had sounded his final cadenza, the whole orchestra joined the audience in a standing ovation. Even the violinists put down their bows and applauded him. Watts recorded the album The Exciting Debut of André Watts. His performance of the Liszt concerto with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic has been issued on CD by Sony Classical.

Following graduation, Watts enrolled at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland where he studied part-time for a bachelor of music degree with pianist Leon Fleisher. He graduated in 1972. The following year, he appeared at New York City's Lewisohn Stadium with conductor Seiji Ozawa, and the New York Philharmonic, performing Camille Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 2 in G minor. In September 1963, he again performed the Liszt concerto at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California. He opened the 1964-65 season of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., again performing the Saint-Saëns concerto. He returned to New York in January 1965 to perform Chopin Concerto No. 2 in F minor. Watts made his European debut in a London performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in June 1966.

Watts signed a long-term exclusive contract with CBS Records on his 21st birthday. By 1969 he was on a full-scale concert schedule, booked three years in advance. Watts made his Boston debut in 1969 for the Peabody Mason Concert series.[1] Gradually the number of concerts increased, reaching 150 concerts a year by the mid-1970s, when Watts was performing about eight months out of the year. In the late 1970s, he fulfilled roughly 100 dates per year, divided between concert appearances and solo recitals. At age thirty, he celebrated his tenth consecutive appearance in Lincoln Center Great Performance Series at Avery Fisher Hall in 1976.

Since he was the first classical artist to make his debut on television, the producers believed he should have the first solo televised recital. The performance was shown live in its entirety from Lincoln Center. His PBS Sunday afternoon telecast in 1976 was the first solo recital presented on Live from Lincoln Center and the first full-length recital to be aired nationally in prime time.

Watts lived up to his early promise, something many child prodigies do not, and became a greater sensation as time passed. In 1964 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Watts with a Grammy Award and in February 1973 he was selected as Musical America's Musician of the Month. Other honors and awards include doctor honoris causa from Albright College and Yale University, the Order of Zaire, and a University of the Arts Medal from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Watts continues as one of the world's "greatest in demand" pianists, performing on the most prestigious concert stages and with the most preeminent orchestras and conductors.


  1. ^ Record American, 7-Mar-1969, George Gelles, "Watts outstanding in all-Liszt recital", Boston

Awards and Recognitions

Contrary to his biography, Andre Watts did not graduate from Peabody. Now a full Professor of Music, Mr. Watts refused to take a one hour course in piano pedagogy, and therefore did not complete the course requirements for his degree.

Selected discography

As of March 2008, Watts has in-print recordings that concentrate on Romantic era composers, such as Chopin and Liszt.



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