Tureck, Rosalyn (1914—)

views updated

Tureck, Rosalyn (1914—)

American pianist and musicologist. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 14, 1914; daughter of Samuel and Monya (Lipson) Tureck; studied with Sophia Brilliant-Liven, 1925–29, Jan Chiapasso, 1929–31, Leon Theremin, 1931–32; graduated cum laude from the Juilliard School of Music, 1935.

Conducted and taught at the Mannes School, the Juilliard School and elsewhere; known as the most convincing advocate of presenting Bach's works on the piano rather than the harpsichord or clavichord.

Recognized the world over as an authoritative interpreter of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, American pianist Rosalyn Tureck has also played a significant role in bringing contemporary music to the concert stage. For Tureck, Bach serves as a springboard to contemporary composers. "The music of Bach is so universal in its human meaning and so all-embracing in its musical structures," said Tureck, "that for the receptive mind it illuminates all other music, including contemporary music. The artist need never feel limited with Bach as the fountainhead."

Rosalyn Tureck was born in 1914 in Chicago, Illinois, to parents of Russian and Turkish ancestry. She began her musical studies at age nine, under the tutelage of Sophia Brilliant-Liven . Tureck later characterized her first teacher as a hard taskmaster, whose only compliment in the four years they worked together, came after Tureck's performance in the semifinals of a piano competition. Brilliant-Liven told the 13-year-old prodigy: "If I had been listening from outside the auditorium, I would have sworn it was Anton Rubinstein himself playing." Tureck went on to win the competition and still keeps a portrait of Rubinstein prominently displayed in her London home.

Tureck continued her studies with Dutch-Italian pianist and Bach specialist Jan Chiapusso. At 16, she received a four-year fellowship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where she studied with Olga Samaroff , among others. After graduating cum laude in 1935, Tureck joined the faculty of the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music. That October, she also made her debut at New York's Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra, playing Brahm's Concerto in B-Flat.

In 1937, Tureck performed her first series of all-Bach recitals at New York's Town hall, executing the complete 48 preludes and fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier, the "Goldberg Variations," and miscellaneous works. Since that time, she has devoted much of her concert career to Bach, becoming the most convincing advocate of the master and performing his works on the

piano rather than the harpsichord or clavichord. "I aim to embrace a more holistic Bach," said Tureck. "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."

Tureck, who appears tall on stage, is only 5'2", and has small hands for a pianist. Her mastery of the works of Bach are the result of immense effort. She worked for 12 years before she felt prepared to publicly perform Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, and the preparation included a detailed investigation of the 22 manuscripts from Bach's time that have survived, as well as 50 printed editions of the piece. The results of her research and performance experience were summed up in her three-volume study, An Introduction to the Performance of Bach. She has also recorded much of the master's music, including the 48 Preludes and Fugues (Das wohltemperirte Clavier).

Tureck refuses to be classified as exclusively a Bachian, however, and deplores narrowness of mind in all 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," she said. "I've studied philosophy, history, religion, Asian music and art. A deeper understanding of all these fields enriches one's own concepts and performance." Her musical repertoire incorporates works of Liszt, Chopin, Weber, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Albeniz, Ravel, and Rachmaninoff, as well as contemporary composers, such as American Paul Nordoff. She has been in the vanguard of contemporary and electronic music since the age of ten, when she heard and met Russian inventor Leon Theremin, with whom she later studied. In 1952, she presented the first program in the United States of tape and electronic music and has played Bach on the Moog synthesizer, performing in a 1971 concert, "Bach and Rock." In addition to her numerous world concert tours, Tureck has also made appearances as a soloist and conductor. In 1958, she was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic. While directing an orchestra, she strives to capture the stylistic and emotional essence of the music, instead of emphasizing the instruments.

Tureck held her teaching post at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music for seven years (1935–42) and subsequently taught at Juilliard (1943–55) and at the University of California, San Diego (1966–72). She founded the International Bach Institute, New York, in 1966 and The Tureck Bach Research Foundation, Oxford, England, in 1993. Tureck has received five honorary degrees, including one from Oxford University, where she is an honorary Life Fellow at St. Hilda's. She was also granted the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit from the government of the German Federal Republic in 1979. Since 1956, she has made her home in London.


Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1959.

Dubal, David. The Art of the Piano. NY: Summit, 1989.

Hinson Maurice. Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire. 2nd rev. ed. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987, p. 59.

Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. 8th ed. NY: Schirmer, 1992.

Tureck Bach Research Foundation.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts