July 23, 2003 by

Rosalyn Tureck


Categories: Musicians, Writers/Editors

rtureck.jpgRosalyn Tureck was a distinguished pianist whose devotion to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach lasted for over 60 years.
Tureck started playing the piano when she was four years old. She took lessons with Russian pianist Sophia Brilliant-Liven, and made her public recital debut in Chicago at the age of nine.
As a teenager, Tureck auditioned for the Juilliard School of Music in New York by playing most of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues from memory. Although Bach was not considered a good career choice for a concert pianist, Tureck was accepted into the school. But when she made it to the finals of the Naumburg Competition, the jury refused to give her an award for playing an all-Bach program.
During her first week at Juilliard, Tureck taught herself to play the theremin. Her performance of “God Save the Queen” earned her a year-long scholarship, and her 1932 debut at Carnegie Hall consisted of playing a Bach concerto on the electronic instrument. Tureck eventually learned how to play the harpsichord and the clavichord, as well.
While performing numerous Bach concerts at Town Hall in New York, Tureck created a parallel career playing recitals of Chopin, Debussy, Brahms and Beethoven with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. But her adoration of Bach’s style only blossomed with time. Twenty years later, Tureck moved to London and formed the Tureck Bach Players and the International Bach Society. These projects, along with her continued performances of his work, earned Tureck the title, the “high priestess of Bach.”
In her lifetime, Tureck released more than 20 albums and gave orchestral performances as a soloist and conductor all over the world. She held teaching posts at the Philadelphia Conservatory, Juilliard and Columbia University, and published several books including the three-volume set, “An Introduction to the Performance of Bach.”
Tureck died on July 17. She was 89.

3 Responses to Rosalyn Tureck

  1. John Walsh

    Rosalyn Tureck’s performance of the partitas formed my first real appreciation of Bach’s keyboard music back in the sixties.
    Her ability to transport the listener with the magical intensity of her playing, and to give fresh insights into the music with her interpretations of the repeats is I think without parallel.
    Madame Tureck, I thank you for the energy and devotion you put into your life and art. Through the medium of your recordings, I draw upon it still.

  2. Fred Kiernan

    Rosalyn Tureck’s playing explains the music of Bach so well, and I wholeheartedly agree with her philosophy that ‘the medium is not the message.’ The music of JS Bach, especially I find the keyboard music, refers to such true aspects of human nature, and she understood this. As a pianist myself, I have learned much more through hearing her play. I could not hope for the talent to express so articulately the deeply poignant musical thoughts of Bach that she posessed, but I play on under Bach’s instruction knowing that it is the attempt that is the message. But what a joy is hearing the attempt of Rosalyn Tureck!

  3. Diana

    What a fascinating creature was she! She was, by the way, 89 when she died. I had the great pleasure of being her traveling companion from 1979 to 1989. We went to Toronto, Spain, and Oyster Bay. I often visited her in New York.She was as lovely as she was imperious. She indelibly had a place in my life. I al;ways addressed her as “Madame.” She deserved it.

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