Some artists can be consumed by their inner contradictions but with Emil Gilels they were all fruitful. Trained as the archetypal Russian Klaviertiger, by the early 1950s he had already developed into a great classical pianist. Stocky and pugnacious looking, he could play with immense power and percussiveness in Prokofiev or Shostakovich and rise effortlessly to the challenge of a Tchaikovsky concerto, but could also make the piano sing with a deceptive simplicity in Scarlatti, Mozart or Schubert. Heart, mind and humour, kept in perfect poise, made him the great Beethovenian of his time. Brahms brought out his warmth, Schumann and Chopin his sense of poetry.
- 1921: First piano lessons with Yakov Tkach in Odessa.
- 1929: First public concert.
- 1929–35: Odessa Conservatoire, class of professor Bertha Reingbald.
- 1931: Wins National Competition of the Ukraine.
- 1933: Triumphant victory on the First All-Union Competition of Performers in Moscow.
- 1935–37: Studies with Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow.
- 1938: First Prize in the Concours Eugène Ysaÿe in Brussels, which launches his career.
- 1938–85: Teaches (with intervals) at the Moscow Conservatory, from 1952 on as professor.
- 1944: Premières Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.
- 1947: First appearance as soloist outside the USSR. Tours Europe afterwards.
- 1950: Forms a trio with Leonid Kogan and Mstislav Rostropovich.
- 1955: First appearance in the USA with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
- 1961–68: Receives twice the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Commandeur Mérite Culturel et Artistique de Paris and the Order of King Leopold I in Belgium.
- 1981: Suffers a heart attack after a recital in Amsterdam.
- 1984: Gramophone Award for his recording of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata.