Pianist / composer Earl Wild wrote this set of variations using Stephen Foster's American Song Camptown Races as the theme. The melody is the same length as the famous Paganini Caprice theme that Rachmaninoff used in his Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and that Brahms used in his set of Variations for piano solo. Mr. Wild thus became the first virtuoso pianist / composer to perform his own piano concerto since Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Earl Wild has participated in many premieres. In 1944 on NBC radio, he performed the Western World premiere of Shostakovich's Piano Trio in E minor. In France, he was soloist in the world premiere performance of Paul Creston's Piano Concerto in 1949. He gave the American premiere of the work with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. In December of 1970, with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony, Mr. Wild gave the world premiere of Marvin David Levy's Piano Concerto, a work specially composed for him.
Mr. Wild has appeared with nearly every orchestra and performed countless recitals in virtually every country. In the past eighty-nine years he has collaborated with many eminent conductors including; Toscanini, Stokowski, Reiner, Klemperer, Horenstein, Leinsdorf, Fiedler, Mitropoulos, Grofe, Ormandy, Sargent, Dorati, Maazel, Solti, Copland, and Schippers. Additionally, Earl Wild has performed with violinists: Mischa Elman, Oscar Shumsky, Ruggerio Ricci, Mischa Mischakoff, and Joseph Gingold; violists: William Primrose and Emanuel Vardi; cellists: Leonard Rose, Harvey Shapiro, and Frank Miller: and vocalists: Maria Callas, Jenny Tourel, Lily Pons, Marguerite Matzenauer, Dorothy Maynor, Lauritz Melchior, Robert Merrill, Mario Lanza, Jan Peerce, Zinka Milanov, Grace Bumbry, and Evelyne Lear.
Highlights include a March 1974 joint recital with Maria Callas as a benefit for the Dallas Opera Company and a duo recital with famed mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel in New York City in 1975.
Mr. Wild has had the unequaled honor of being requested to perform for six consecutive Presidents of the United States, beginning with President Herbert Hoover in 1931. In 1961 he was soloist with the National Symphony at the inauguration ceremonies of President John F. Kennedy in Constitution Hall.
In 1960, at the Santa Fe Opera, Earl Wild conducted the first seven performances of Verdi's La Traviata ever performed in that theatre, as well as conducting four performances of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi on a double bill with Igor Stravinsky (who conducted his own opera Oedipus Rex). From 1952 to 1956 Mr. Wild worked with comedian Sid Caesar on the popular TV program The Caesar Hour. During those years, he composed and performed all the solo piano backgrounds in the silent movie skits. He also composed most of the musical parodies and burlesques on operas that were so innovative that they have now become gems of early live television.
A common element among the great pianists of the past and Earl Wild is the art of composing piano transcriptions. Mr. Wild has taken a place in history as a direct descendant of the golden age of the art of writing piano transcriptions.
Earl Wild has been called "The finest transcriber of our time." Mr. Wild's piano transcriptions are widely known and respected. Over the years they have been performed and recorded by pianists worldwide.
It was in 1976 that Mr. Wild wrote his now famous piano transcriptions based on George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess and revised his Virtuoso Etudes based on popular songs I Got Rhythm, Somebody Loves Me, Liza, Embraceable You, Fascinatin' Rhythm, The Man I Love, and Oh, Lady be Good. In 1989 he also composed an improvisation for solo piano based on Gershwin's Someone To Watch Over Me in the form of a Theme and Three Variations and included it on his 1989 CD "Earl Wild plays his Transcriptions of Gershwin."