Musical giants and chess

by Albert Silver
3/7/2015 – The fascination with artists and chess is well-documented, and a special place must also go to the musicians who use it for entertainment, challenge and relaxation. Some have also taken it to extremes such as the famous Prokofiev-Oistrakh match. Here are some of the most notable personalities caught in front of a board, ranging from Leonard Bernstein to David Bowie.

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The great conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and superb violinist Zino Francescatti
manage a smile over a game of chess in the Carnegie Hall green room

Dmitri Shostakovich was a Russian composer and pianist, and probably the last of the great
classical music composers of the 20th-century. He was enjoyed chess [Image: Radovic]

Sergey Prokofiev was more than a chess aficionado, he was an unabashed chess fanatic. He
was also one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, along the ranks of Rachmaninoff,
Ravel, and Stravinsky. [Image: DimArt]

Among Prokofiev's many works is his Piano Concerto no.3. A personal favorite. Here it is performed by
the legendary Argentine pianist Martha Argerich playing with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted
by André Previn in 1977.

In 1937, the two musical giants, Sergey Prokofiev and violinist David Oistrakh played a
match that was publicized and featured even in Soviet chess magazines of the time.

The 1937 Prokofiev-Oistrakh match 

2/18/2013 – The year was 1937 and the match had been officially announced. Ten classical games were to be played at the Master of Art Club in Moscow, with grandmaster Vladimir Alatortsev and the famed theoretician Ilya Kan overseeing it. The players were the great composer, Sergey Prokofiev, and legendary violinist, David Oistrakh. It was the peak of the chess rivalry between the two music giants.

The great pianist Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist and conductor, and the preeminent
violinist Leonid Kogan. In case you wonder at all the adjectives such as 'great, legendary, and so
forth, it is because... they are.

Classical musicians are hardly the only ones enamored with chess.
Dizzy Gillespie, one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, was
seen regularly enjoying a game.

To showcase his talent, here is Dizzy Gillespie playing alongside saxophone giant Charlie Parker in 1951
playing "Hot House"

Ray Charles whose music transcends generations, never let his blindness be a factor, and
was a big chess fan, playing whenever he had the chance. Here he is playing his manager Taylor.

The eternally fun "Hit the Road Jack" by Ray Charles

Ennio Morricone is the composer of literally hundreds of movie soundtracks, many of which
are considered among the greatest ever. He was also a chess fan and participated in
competitions. Here he poses in a picture with Judit Polgar, against whom he played in 2004.
The game can be found in Mega Database.


Among his most famous movie themes, perhaps the most popular is from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"


Another unforgettable one is the theme from "The Godfather"

In the above image, pop star David Bowie is playing french actress Catherine Deneuve

Rapper GZA from the Wu-Tang clan is also know as a big chess buff. In 2005, he
released an entire album dedicated to the game, Grandmasters. Every song had a
chess-themed title: “Advanced Pawns,” “Illusory Protection,” and “Queen’s Gambit.” 

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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