Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Friedrich Gulda

Friedrich Gulda

*16 V 1930 Wiedeń, †27 I 2000 Weissenbach

Friedrich Gulda - was the son of a teacher and amateur musician. He began regular piano tuition at the age of 7 with Felix Pazofsky. In 1942-7, he studied at the Akademie für Musik in Vienna in the class of Bruno Seidlhofer (piano) and Joseph Marx (composition). He made his debut in 1944 at the Musikverein in Vienna, playing Schumann Concerto in A minor. In 1946 he reached his first major award, winning the 1st Prize at the piano competition in Geneva. In 1950 he appeared at Carnegie Hall. From 1954, he was gave private tuition to Martha Argerich in Vienna. In later years, he rarely appeared in concert in the classical repertoire, dedicating himself instead to jazz music and the organisation of music festivals. He was married three times, and his sons Paul and Rico also became concert pianists.

Initially considered an heir to the tradition of Wilhelm Backhaus and Wilhelm Kempff, Gulda was always an unruly pianist. Famous for his tirades against musical institutions, in 1969 he refused the Beethoven Prize awarded for his recordings of the composer's sonatas and in 1999 provocatively announced his own death. Atypically for an artist of his generation, he was deeply interested in jazz. From the 1950s he was among the leading performers of the Austrian jazz scene, playing in jazz ensembles not only as a pianist but also on the flute and saxophone. From 1982, he performed in a duo with Chick Corea. He was the founder of the Eurojazz Orchestra, jazz festival in Vienna and the music festival in Ossiach, Carinthia (1968), dedicated to musical improvisation. He was also a prolific composer, combining elements of classical music and jazz, notably in the Concert for Ursula (1981), written for his third partner, singer Ursula Anders; his other works include the Mass in B flat (graduation work at the Akademie für Musik), numerous songs and piano works, as well as the concertante symphony Concerto for Myself (1988).

Despite the 'eccentricism' he showed in his personal life, and which some critics were eager to detect in his interpretations of the great piano literature, Gulda remained a classical pianist, although he was more introspective and personal, less 'objective' than Backhaus and Schnabel to whom he was compared. He is chiefly remembered as an outstanding interpreter of the piano sonatas of Beethoven; he performed the complete sonatas on the concert stage as early as 1953. His second recording of the set (for Amadeo, 1967) remains a benchmark version: restrained, focused on formal and motoric aspects of the music, played with a rather limited tone, with a degree of meditative declamation that sets it apart from an earlier version of the sonatas recorded for Decca (1954-8). Among his other outstanding recordings are the cello sonatas of Beethoven with Pierre Fournier. Beyond Beethoven, Gulda's (not very extensive) discography also includes some finely balanced piano concertos of Mozart (several versions with Claudio Abbado, Karl Böhm and Rudolf Kempe, including the Concerto for two pianos in E flat major K365 with Chick Corea), the works of Debussy (Preludes, Images and Estampes), Prokofiev's Concerto in C major (with the Nordendeutsches Rundfunk dir. by H. Schmidt-Isserstedt, 1957), Schubert's Sonata in B flat major D960 and Impromptus, Richard Strauss' Burleske (1954).

Gulda played Chopin rarely but regularly. He left recordings of the complete ballades (twice) and preludes, as well as the Berceuse, Barcarolle, Andante spianato and Polonaise in E flat major Op. 22, some etudes and nocturnes, and especially the Concerto in E minor (with the London Philharmonic under Adrian Boult, 1954). Full of verve rarely heard in German pianists' Chopin, this interpretation makes a distant nod to Josef Hofmann.

Wojciech Bońkowski
February 2007 

Irene Suchy, Wilhelm Svoboda, Gulda, Brandstätter, Vienna 2006
Kurt Hofmann, Friedrich Gulda, Langen Müller, Munich 1990
Friedrich Gulda, Worte zur Musik, Munich 1971
For a documentation of Gulda's life with archive materials and a list of original compositions, see here
Filmography (officially released items only):
Mozart: piano sonatas in F major K332, in C minor K457, fantasies in D minor K397 and in C minor K475, Pioneer 11533 (DVD)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Munich Philharmonic, conducted by the pianist, Mozart: piano sonatas in B flat major K333 and in D major K576, Fantasy in D minor K397, Pioneer 10474 (DVD) [live recordings from 1989 - Beethoven and 1995 - Mozart]
Mozart: piano concertos in D minor K466 and in D major K537, with the Munich Philharmonic conducted by the pianist, Pioneer 99103 (DVD) [live recording from the Gasteiger Philharmonie in Munich, 1986; includes an interview with the artist]
Mozart for the People, Pioneer 14821 (DVD) [includes piano sonatas in E flat major K282, in D major K311, in F major K332, in C minor K457, Fantasy in C minor K475, live recording from the Amerikahaus in Munich, 1981, includes an interview with the artist and an excerpt from Chopin's Berceuse]
Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor BWV903, Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic dir. by George Szell, Andante 2100 (DVD+CD) [live recordings from the Great Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna, 24 June 1964 - Bach and 5 May 1966 - Beethoven; includes a CD with the same performances]
The Meeting - Friedrich Gulda & Chick Corea, dir. János Dárvas (Laserdisc) [live recording of piano improvisations at the Münchner Klaviersommer festival, 27 June 1982]


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