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Tureck Bach Research Foundation
Rosalyn Tureck

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 principled artist.

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 recording."

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 electronic music.

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, Excerpts

Contemporary Music

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.

The contemporary 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