Rosalyn Tureck and Bach


Rosalyn Tureck sat down at the piano at the age of four and began to play. She didn't pounce on the keys. She didn't use a fist, nor did she pick out the notes with one finger. Tureck used both hands and played. For four years she played, picking out the melodies and finding the harmonies, she reported. By the time she was nine, the entire baseboard of the piano from the keyboard down to the pedals was covered with dents and scratches, each the result of a kick at her distress over not bing able to find a note, a chord, or a harmony. She didn't read music, so Tureck tried to play what she heard from her sisters and her mother's singing. She reported that she tried to play music with both hands because she thought of music in terms of a complete score rather than single melodies with an occasional harmonic chord.

Finally she began formal lessons at age eight. But from age ten she began more serious studies and for the next four years she studied Scarlatti, Mozart, Bach, Weber, and Beethoven, but very little Romantic music. She studied some Chopin and Mendelssohn, but no Listz. At age thirteen she was entered in the Greater Chicago Piano Playing Tournament and joined semifinalists who played at Kim ball Hall where she won against forty others.

From seventh grade on through high school, Tureck spent two to three hours daily at the piano. Her teacher's idea was that as a musician you devote all your energies to your work and be extremeley disciplined. Under Brilliant-Liven she learned technica perfection, singing tone and meticulous musicianship. Under Chiapusso, however, she became a Bach scholar. Tureck had been learning Bach works with her former teacher for four years, and found Bach easy to absorb, memorize, and play naturally. From then on, she worked continuously with a great deal of Bach repertoire.

At the same time she was doing specialized studies in Bach, she studied his style, the history, period instruments, sonorities, Baroque, and pre-Bach music. This included the styles of Bach transcribers such as Busoni, D'Albert, and Liszt. She learned how to relate Bach to the instruments of his time as well as to the contemporary piano.

By the time Tureck was auditioning for entrance in Julliard, she had learned so many works from the Well Tempered Clavier that she simply asked the judges which piece they would like to hear. Due to her interest in continuing work on Bach, she learned three preludes and fugues a week in order to complete the entire forty-eight. Every Mnday she would begin a new set. On Friday, she would bring in the three preludes and fugues memorized and worked out in interpretation. At age seventeen, she gained suddent insight into Bach's structure, his musical psychology, his sense of form, with an entirely new concept which emerged from the necssities of the musical sources and original structures as Bach composed them.

It was at this moment that Tureck knew she had to create an entirely new technique for playing the piano to parallel this whole new concept of Bach's music. Her approach to Bach changed. Tureck kept working at a wholly new technique on playing Bach on the piano and a wholly different intellectual process. According to Tureck, "It is a process of thought that pianists ordinarily do not experience because their intellectual processes . . . are concerned with music that is composed as a result of entirely different fundamental musical and structural concept. They are more often involved with the forms which grew from emphasis on the harmonic system, for instance, sonata form, so prominent in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."

Her fingering underwent changes, too. Each of her ten fingers she perceived as totally independent and capable of something different from the other every second she played. She demanded uncompromising control of every single finger. Each finger must be capable of every type of touch while every other finger is doing another type of touch simultaneously. The dynamics must be such that a different quantity of tone can be produced at different levels of playing so that the texture and quality of tone, although different for each finger, can be interrelated and can blend in the different motifs that are going on simultaneously. The fingers' touch, tonal quantity and quality must relate as the lines move horizontally and contrapuntally to each other as, for example, in a harmonic progression from one section to another; even within short phrases they must relate contrapuntally and harmonically so that, although each phrse, long or short, is an entity in itself, the differences in touch create a complete unified structure.

The piano of Bach's time was different than then piano of today. just as it is different from the piano of Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofieff, Stravinsky, and Boulez. These instruments, reported Tureck, require fundamentally different techniques from each other.

Tureck's research continued throughout her entire life. She also worked in the field of embellishment, which is one of the major areas in which a pianist must be thoroughly, deeply, and widely versed before playing any major work of Bach. Stated Tureck, one must understand embellishment performance practices.