playing it “Bach’s way” . . .

by mulberryshoots

Sometimes I go on music playing binges. Right now, it’s listening to Rosalyn Tureck playing the Well-Tempered Clavier Preludes and Fugues of Bach. She was born in Chicago in 1913 and died in 2003. Glenn Gould, the infamous piano interpreter of Bach hailed Rosalyn Tureck as the only pianist that he revered, which she acknowledged graciously since she never achieved the stardom that he did emulating her playing style. Here are excerpts from an obituary that appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, written by Jessica Duchen and published Saturday 19 July 2003.

“You play it your way; I play it Bach’s way.” Addressing the indomitable harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, the equally indomitable Rosalyn Tureck, who has died aged 88, made one of her most famous and characteristic statements. For JS Bach was the composer to whom this strong-willed, demanding and fearsomely intelligent American keyboard player dedicated her life, both as performer and scholar.

She was born in Chicago, the granddaughter of a famous Kiev cantor; she related, with great pride, her father’s tales of a carriage, pulled by eight white horses, taking her grandfather on tour for the high holy days. Her main teachers were Sophia Brilliant-Liven, Jan Chiapusso and Olga Samaroff (the American wife of conductor Leopold Stokowski) and, for harpsichord, Gavin Williamson.

Her talent showed itself early, and she made her public recital debut in Chicago at the age of nine. When, at 16, she auditioned for the Juilliard School of Music, New York, she startled the panel by offering to play most of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues from memory.

Shortly afterwards, she settled on her future direction during a strange episode in a Juilliard practice room. While working on a Bach fugue, she blacked out for a short time; she came round with an inner revelation that she needed to create a different type of keyboard technique specific to the playing of Bach. Her teacher told her it was a wonderful, but impossible, idea; in response, she changed teachers. She never stopped perfecting this apparently elusive notion.

Tureck’s pianistic style, which (unfairly enough) was a huge influence on the more celebrated Glenn Gould, was uncompromisingly rigorous, intelligent and full of attention to detail: she took, for example, great care over the appropriateness of ornamentation. But what always convinces the listener is the compelling, incandescent, almost evangelical spirit that shines through that detail. She was hailed as “the high priestess of Bach” – and that is how she will be remembered.”

She was the “High Priestess of Bach.” If you have not had a chance to listen to her Bach recordings, you are in for a treat. I introduced them to one of my daughters who wrote back that she had two words to describe her listening experience: “Hubba, Hubba.”