Born in Budapest in 1964, he was the first child of a mathematician mother and a jazz pianist father. By the age of six, Varnus knew exactly what he would become. His first piano teacher was Emma Németh, one of the last pupils of Claude Debussy. He lit up the musical firmament of the world like a shooting star. He has played virtually every important organ in the world, including those in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Notre Dame, Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Eustache in Paris, Berliner Dom, Canterbury Cathedral, as well as the largest existing instrument in the world, the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia. However, fate reserved the most moving invitation for Varnus until 2014, when, near to his fiftieth birthday, Ullrich Böhme, organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, suggested he play the famous Sauer Organ over the grave of the mighty Johann Sebastian Bach. There was a slight altercation in the crowd gathered in front of the church when the doors opened an hour before the start. A younger woman indignantly told an elder American gentleman not to push as she had stood in line over an hour to get in. “Madam,” he replied, “I have been stood in line for 30 years to hear Xaver play in the Thomaskirche.”
Organist, improviser, author, lecturer and media personality, Varnus has had a dramatic impact on audiences’ acceptance and appreciation of organ music. Over the course of his career, Varnus has played live to more than seven million people worldwide, recorded fifty-three albums, made sixty concert films, and written five books. In 2006, he played the inaugural concert of the grand organ of the Palace of Arts in Budapest, and in 2009, he gave two sold-out concerts with the iconic French jazz pianist Jacques Loussier at the Palace of Arts. In 2011, he gave two joint concerts with the legendary Rhoda Scott, which sold 30,000 tickets in a single weekend. Mr. Varnus’ videos have surpassed 35 million views on YouTube. His Bach concert film, recorded at his recital in the Berliner Dom in 2013, has become the most watched organ concert movie in music history, with 15 million views. His “Quadruple Platinum Disc Award” winning album “From Ravel to Vangelis”, released by SONY in 2007, is the bestselling collection of organ recordings ever.
“Varnus is a monster talent, every bit as stimulating and individual as the late Glenn Gould.” These lines are by the distinguished North American critic Robert Everett-Green, which appeared in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail on 8 May 1986. A few years later, the Toronto Star music critic Ronald Hambleton wrote: “Varnus has been called the Horowitz of the organ (The New York Times), or contrariwise the Paganini of the organ (Le Figaro). And even the Glenn Gould of the organ. But he is none of the above. Instead, he is plainly the Varnus of the organ, a self-assured prodigy with a mind of his own”. As a Canadian citizen, Varnus spends much of his time at his official residence Villa Varnus, his family’s beautiful historical country estate at Lake Balaton, as well as at his 12th-century house in Todi (Italy) and his home in Berlin (Germany).
During the summer months Xaver Varnus resides in Nova Scotia (Canada) where he is the artistic director of his international music festival hosted in his own concert hall, within a 19th-century church building. In 2023, Xaver Varnus also bought another abandoned 19th-century church in the Transdanubia region, which he named Adam Varnus Memorial Hall in memory of his brother, who died young. Xaver Varnus has received many honours, including the Most Excellent Order of the Republic of Hungary, the Officer’s and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit.
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