For many people Rosalyn Tureck is Bach. There is
certainly no performer of our time who was more intimately, more
comprehensively or more energetically devoted to his music, but she was
never exclusively a Bachian. On the contrary. In her art, as in her
insatiably curious and well-stocked mind, she was always
exceptionally inclusive. Deeply versed in literature, history, philosophy
and many of the sciences, she shunned only compromise. She was a deeply
Although she appeared tall on stage, she was
actually 5 ft 2 in height; she had notably small but very flexible hands,
and at 22 she made her orchestral debut in New York at Carnegie Hall with
the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting, playing the Brahms
B flat Concerto (in a series in which the only other soloists were
Rachmaninov, Kreisler and Horowitz). She was known for many years as a
dazzling virtuoso who fearlessly dispatched the most formidable challenges
of Liszt, Chopin, Weber, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Albeniz, Ravel and
Rachmaninov, and her involvement in the contemporary world is reflected in
her performance of world premieres by a whole slew of 20th-century
modernists, including studies with the great Arnold Schoenberg. It would
be quite wrong, however (or at least inadequate) to describe her as
possessing one great technique. The truth is that she possessed several,
discerningly deployed according to the specific style, sonority and
structure of the music at hand.
"My technique was grounded, from
my earliest years of study, in the school of Mendelssohn as passed on by
Anton Rubinstein and many of his pupils, one of whom, Sophia
Brilliant-Liven, was my teacher. It's essentially a finger technique."
Brilliant-Liven was a stern taskmistress: "During the four years I studied
with her, from the ages of 9 to 13, she paid me a compliment only once."
She made up for this with a single compliment, fully, as Tureck said,
when she was present at the 13-year-old Tureck's performance in the
semi-finals of a piano competition in which 80,000 young pianists
participated. She told the young Rosalyn, "If I had been listening from
outside the auditorium, I would have sworn it was Anton Rubinstein himself
playing" - than which, from that source, no higher compliment was
possible.Rosalyn went on into the finals, winning first prize. A portrait
of Rubinstein dominated the front hallway of Tureck's
comfortable Oxford home. With Brilliant-Liven, her repertoire was directed
to Johann Sebastian, Carl Phillip Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and
skipping the rest of the nineteenth century, the Russian composers of the
late nineteenth, early twentieth century - Lyapunov, Glinka, Balakirev.
No performer of the 20th century had a greater knowledge of
historical and musicological sources than Tureck, or more experience
performing on period instruments as well as piano, yet she viewed with very
thoughtful reserve the kind of certainty that characterised the claims
of the "Authenticity" movement of the century. "The certainty about the
term 'authenticity' as a concept and practice has weakened considerably in
our time for many very significant reasons. Its weakness as a fundamental
concept is appearing increasingly clearly today in the area of music, and
is demonstrated in other fields, such as scientific and literary
disciplines, as well.
I aim to embrace a more holistic Bach. You
cannot imprison a mind such as his in any one medium. He himself did not.
I also dispense with the static concept of 'the' piano, 'the' harpsichord.
A harpsichord made in Northern Italy is different in sonority and texture
from that of the Flemish or English. The piano also is far from being
limited to a static, nineteenth century sonority and texture. The music
itself, composed for the piano by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt,
Debussy, Prokofieff, Boulez etc. proves the wide-ranging facets of piano
techniques and sonorities."
Tureck deplored narrowness of mind in
all its forms. "All my life, I've been interested in philosophy, the
sciences, history and art besides work in music and the varied forms and
styles of instrumental media. I've studied philosophy, history, religion
Asian music and art. A deeper understanding of all these fields enriches
one's own concepts and performance. The great central nourishing interest
for me has been in exploring fundamental concepts. My closest friends have
been composers, writers and scientists, and I always wished that in my
later life I could devote more time to writing the results of my work in
concepts, musicological studies and musical experience. Today I am happy
in dividing my time between these activities, public performances and
Tureck's interest in contemporary music was likewise
lifelong. She heard and met the visionary Russian inventor Leon Theremin when she
was only ten years old and studied with him under a scholarship at age 16.
Her debut at Carnegie Hall was at the age of 17 performing on a Theremin
instrument. After that she was in the vanguard of contemporary and
Rosalyn Tureck has received five honorary
degrees, including one from Oxford University, where she was an honorary
Life Fellow at St Hilda's. She was also awarded the Commander's Cross
of the Order of Merit from the government of the German Federal Republic.
Within her wide-ranging activities and deep-probing scholarship
her spirituality is the central force that enriched her work, her art and
relationship to people. Her article 'Philosophy of Performance' included
here reveals the deeper levels of the vital spirit in her
scholarly investigations and musical art.
Deutsche Grammophon, CD ROM insert, Jeremy Siepmann,
Rosalyn Tureck has championed music throughout her life,
performing such world premières as William Schumann's Piano Concerto and
David Diamond's Piano Sonata No. 1, which he composed expressly for her.
She premiered in New York City and introduced Wallingford Riegger's
Concerto for Piano, Wind, and Brass, in which Dennis Brain played the
French Horn, to Europe at the Venice Biennial Festival. She also
introduced Aaron Copland's Piano Sonata to England. She has performed on
the Moog in recitals and on television, CBS.
music society, Composers of Today, based in New York was created and
directed by her, 1949-53, for the performance of major contemporary works
with four annual programs of music by mostly living European and American
composers. She presented in 1952 the first program in the United States of
tape and electronic music.
Her continued involvement with
contemporary music and thought is demonstrated by her acceptance of an
invitation to speak on Theremin at the Brussels 2000 convention, in
association with the Musée Instrumentale.
A Philosophy of Performance