Rosalyn Tureck’s parents were Russian émigrés and her grandfather was a cantor in Kiev. She taught herself the piano for four years before studying in Chicago with a pupil of Anton Rubinstein, Sophia Brilliant-Liven, and a pupil of Leschetizky, Jan Chiapusso. Chiapusso was an early music enthusiast who laid the foundation for Tureck’s predilection for Bach. Tureck also studied for a year with Gavin Williamson. She had played in public from the age of nine and by the time of her audition for the Juilliard School of Music she could play most of Bach’s forty-eight preludes and fugues from memory. At Juilliard Tureck studied with Olga Samaroff, and by the time she graduated she was a pianist of distinction with a wide repertoire. At her orchestral debut, given at the age of twenty-two, in Carnegie Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy, Tureck played Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op. 83, and at the beginning of her career she played many large-scale works including Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto Op. 73 and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18. However, a year after her debut, she gave a series of six Bach recitals at New York’s Town Hall where she played Das wohltemperierte Klavier complete, the ‘Goldberg’ Variations, the French and English Suites, the partitas, the Italian Concerto and miscellaneous other works. Tureck also performed a good deal of contemporary American music, giving première performances of David Diamond’s Piano Sonata No. 1 and William Schuman’s Piano Concerto. Tureck also played Bach on the Moog synthesizer and studied the theremin with its inventor Lev Theremin.
Tureck performed and toured in North America for the next ten years and made her European debut in Copenhagen. Subsequently she toured frequently in South America, South Africa, Israel, Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. At her London debut she played three recitals of the music of Bach, including in the third the ‘Goldberg’ Variations BWV 988. ‘The mastery of Miss Tureck’s Bach playing may be thus explained: she controls touch and pedalling with a nicety that gives Bach’s polyphonic lines an independently appreciable life and contour (they are presented with such clarity that one does not have to listen for inner-part movement); she phrases each part with this same control and relish; and she blends painstaking scholarship, whereby every semiquaver and ornament had been thought out, with expressive appreciation – her playing is both intellectual and emotional.’ The following year, on a visit to London, Tureck was described as ‘…one of the most discerning interpreters of Bach in the world today’.
From the early 1950s Tureck became known as a Bach specialist. She claimed that at the age of sixteen, during her first year as a student at the Juilliard School, she had fallen briefly into a coma and ‘…was granted an interior vision of the “true” Bach style’. During 1959 and 1960 Tureck published An Introduction to the Performance of Bach in three volumes which was translated into Japanese in 1966 and Spanish in 1972. She has also published many editions of Bach’s keyboard music including an Urtext edition of the Italian Concerto BWV 971 and some of the lute suites. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Tureck made some orchestral appearances conducting from the keyboard with such orchestras as the (London) Philharmonia, Scottish National Symphony, Oklahoma Symphony and her own Tureck Bach Players, anthe harpsichord, and, after a fifty minute interval, on the piano.
During the twentieth century there were three major keyboard players who specialised in Bach and all claimed to play his music the way the composer had intended it. The first was Wanda Landowska, who is reported as saying, ‘You play Bach your way, and I’ll play him his way.’ It was the second however, Glenn Gould, who had the greatest impact, his recordings of Bach bursting upon the scene at around the same time as those by the third major exponent, Tureck. She was not really overshadowed by Gould as their approaches were so different, almost opposite: he thrilling and new, she more intellectual and informed. After hearing the fleetness of Glenn Gould, and the sheer unfettered natural musicality of another expert Bach player like Tatyana Nikolayeva, Tureck’s performances sound deliberate, heavy-footed and slow. As the ‘High Priestess of Bach’ however, she preaches to the converted and has countless admirers.
Tureck made many recordings which have been released by labels such as Decca, HMV, Brunswick, Odéon, Allegro, Capitol, Columbia and Deutsche Grammophon. Her earliest recordings, taken from live performances, have been issued on compact disc by VAI where she can be heard in works such as Liszt’s Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini. VAI have also issued an interesting disc of première performances of works, including the Sonata No. 1 for Piano by David Diamond from 1948, William Schuman’s Concerto for Piano and Small Orchestra from 1943 and Dallapiccola’s Two Studies for Violin and Piano with violinist Ruggiero Ricci from 1952. Tureck’s 1961 performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor K. 491 was recently described by Rob Cowan as ‘…a pretty austere affair, bold and largely unsmiling with solid orchestral support’. The Bach concertos also on the disc are described by Cowan as ‘unremittingly slow’.
As a specialist in Bach, Tureck recorded many of his works more than once; and the ‘Goldberg Variations’ BWV 988, for example, six times over a period of forty-eight years. Her best Bach recordings were made for HMV in London and date from the mid 1950s. These classic recordings of the six partitas, ‘Goldberg’ Variations BWV 988, Italian Concerto BWV 971, French Overture and four duets have recently been issued in Philips’ Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century Series. Also of importance is her recording of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier made for American Decca in 1952 and 1953. This was reissued by Deutsche Grammophon in 1999, at which time they also recorded Tureck in another performance of the ‘Goldberg’ Variations BWV 988 where Tureck unbelievably takes over ninety minutes and rarely varies the repeats.d, from 1960, occasionally as a harpsichordist and clavichordist. In 1973 she gave a concert in Carnegie Hall where she played Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations BWV 988; first on Some compact discs appeared in the late 1980s entitled A Birthday Offering, on which Tureck played a large amount of Bach for a friend. These performances were recorded and released by the Albany label. Sound is variable, and Tureck seems at her best before an audience, such as that in St Petersburg in 1995. On this recital disc, her performances have so much more vitality and life to them. She gave an all-Bach programme, and the Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettissimo BWV 992 is particularly well characterised, as is the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue BWV 903.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist