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William Kapell
1922 - 1953

for contemporary music and musicians

Founder and Executive Director

Dedicated to championing and furthering the composition
of new piano repertoire in the 21st century

Selection: Cameron-Wolfe Toccata: In Memoriam William Kapell





The William Kapell Piano Foundation for Contemporary Music and Musicians is dedicated to strengthening the relationship between composer and performer by commissioning new works for the solo piano repertoire and facilitating their performance, publication and recording.  This was a cherished value to William Kapell during his career and was eloquently described by Aaron Copland:

  Founded in 1978 by pianist Michael Sellers, the William Kapell Piano Foundation (WKPF) has been committed to enlarging the body of significant works for piano solo and reviving neglected but worthy piano works written after 1900 and to encourage the performance of neglected works by Franz Liszt which show his influence on 20th century music.

On October 26, 1983 the Foundation sponsored the William Kapell Memorial Concert in New Your City at Symphony Space to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Kapell's death and to officially launch the WKPF. 



"His programming of new music was an act of faith; it was his contribution toward a solution to one of the most disturbing factors in our musical life: namely, the loss of connection between the performer and the contemporary composer of his own time."
~ Aaron Copland

  Concert participants included Dickran Atamian, Richard Goode, Gary Graffman, Jerome Lowenthal, Willam Masselos, Shirley Rhoads and Michael Sellers.

Founding Members In Memoriam

Leonard Bernstein
Aaron Copland
William Masselos
Dane Rudhyar





Born in 1922 on the Upper East Side of New York City to parents of Spanish, Russian and Polish descent, William Kapell showed an early interest and promise in Music, and the piano in particular.


His career was fully launched in the summer of 1942, when Efrem Kurtz engaged him to play the new Khatchaturian Concerto with the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium.  He subsequently became known to some colleagues as "William Khatchaturian Kapell" for the frequency with which he played the piece.

He also began his concert tours in 1942; in 1944 the Philadelphia Orchestra signed him to an unprecedented three-year contract; in 1945 he toured Australia; 1946, South America; 1947, Europe.


His first teacher was Dorothea Anderson LaFollette. Six weeks after taking his first lesson, the young protégé won a contest open to children studying in the city's settlement schools (the prize was a turkey dinner as a guest of Jose Iturbi).

By 1934 he was playing recitals in private homes and small concert venues.  During his senior year at Columbia Grammar Scholl, Kapell was awarded a scholarship to study at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music under Mme. Olga Samaroff.  After a little more than a year there, he won the Youth Contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which resulted in a February 1940 appearance with the orchestra in the Saint-Saens G Minor Concerto.

The same year, he was awarded a fellowship to the Juilliard Graduate School, where he continued to study with Mme. Samaroff; he entered and won the Walter W. Naumburg debut in October 1941.  The following February an additional honor came his way: the Town Hall Endowment Series Award, provided for an artist under 30 years of age who had presented the outstanding performance  at the hall in the previous year.  (Kapell, at 19, was the youngest ever to be so honored.)


Although in these early years he was best known for his performances of the difficult late-19th century virtuoso repertoire for the piano, in fact, those who followed his career closely remarked upon the enormous breadth of his repertoire, mindedly devoted to excellence and truth in his music-making, and worked with the tremendous vigor that characterized his personality to continually learn and improve.

Kapell had a strong interest in the music of his own time, and was particularly devoted to Aaron Copland's piano works.  As the composer remarked, Kapell often chose thorny, difficult works to perform rather than more obvious crowd-pleasers.  Works by American composers were featured in all of his concerts abroad, for he felt a certain sense of mission in bringing these compositions to audiences around the world.

William Kapell was returning from a tour of Australia on October 29, 1953, when his plane crashed upon landing in San Francisco.  He was one of the 19 passengers who perished in the fiery wreck, leaving behind a legacy of artistry and commitment vividly recalled by those who had contact with him and with his work.  He was only 31 when he died.






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