Het is al twintig jaar geleden dat de excentrieke Oostenrijkse pianist Friedrich Gulda is overleden (foto YouTube).

Born in Vienna the son of a teacher, Gulda began learning to play the piano from Felix Pazofsky at the Wiener Volkskonservatorium, aged 7. In 1942, he entered the Vienna Music Academy, where he studied piano and musical theory under Bruno Seidlhofer and Joseph Marx.

During World War II as teenagers, Gulda and his friend Joe Zawinul would go out and perform forbidden music like jazz, in violation of the government’s prohibition on the playing of such music.

Gulda won first prize at the Geneva International Music Competition in 1946. Initially, the jury preferred the Belgian pianist Lode Backx, but when the final vote was taken, Gulda was the winner. One of the jurors, Eileen Joyce, who favoured Backx, stormed out and claimed the other jurors were unfairly influenced by Gulda’s supporters.

Gulda began to play concerts worldwide. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1950. Together with Jörg Demus and Paul Badura-Skoda, Gulda formed what became known as the “Viennese troika”. Although most renowned for his Mozart and Beethoven interpretations, Gulda also performed the music of J.S.Bach (often on clavichord), SchubertChopinSchumannDebussy and Ravel.

From the 1950s on Gulda cultivated a professional interest in jazz, and in free improvisation or open music improvisations, writing songs. Gulda spoke of a fascination with the boundaries between music, and the reaction when such boundaries were broken. He also recorded as a vocalist under the pseudonym “Albert Golowin”, fooling music critics for years until it was realized that Gulda and Golowin were the same person. He played instrumental pieces, at times combining jazz, free music and classical music in his concerts.

In 1956, Gulda performed and recorded at Birdland in New York City and at the Newport Jazz Festival. He organized the International Competition for Modern Jazz in 1966 and he established the International Musikforum, a school for students who wanted to learn improvisation, in Ossiach, Austria, in 1968. He once said: “There can be no guarantee that I will become a great jazz musician, but at least I shall know that I am doing the right thing. I don’t want to fall into the routine of the modern concert pianist’s life, nor do I want to ride the cheap triumphs of the baroque bandwagon.” In jazz, he found “the rhythmic drive, the risk, the absolute contrast to the pale, academic approach I had been taught.” He also took up playing the baritone saxophone.

In the 1960s, Gulda wrote a Prelude and Fugue with a theme suggesting swingKeith Emerson liked Gulda’s Fugue so much, that he often performed it in Emerson, Lake & Palmer concerts in the 1970s, and a studio version was also issued on Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s The Return of the Manticore. In addition, Gulda composed “Variations on The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire‘” (aka ‘Variationen über “Light My Fire” (von Jim Morrison)‘) for solo piano.

Gulda believed experiments in what he called ‘free music’ were wonderful musical experiences, even if nobody else thought it music. One such experiment was a performance where he and Ursula Anders would both would improvise in the nude and shout about madness.

In 1982, Gulda teamed up with jazz pianist Chick Corea, who was between the breakup of Return to Forever and the formation of his Elektric Band. Issued on The Meeting (Philips, 1984), Gulda and Corea communicate in lengthy improvisations mixing jazz (“Some Day My Prince Will Come” and the lesser known, adapted by Miles Davis song “Put Your Foot Out”) and classical music (Brahms’ “Wiegenlied“). Gulda and Corea continued their musical relationship and recorded Mozart’s Double Piano Concerto with the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Nikolaus Harnoncourt (conductor).

In 1988, he cancelled a performance after officials of the Salzburg Festival objected to his including jazz musician Joe Zawinul on the program. To promote a concert in 1999, he announced his own death in a press release so that the concert at the Vienna Konzerthaus could serve as a resurrection party. Gulda actually died of heart failure at the age of 69 on 27 January 2000 at his home in Weissenbach, Austria.

Gulda was married twice, firstly to actress Paola Loew (1956–1966) with whom he had two sons, David Wolfgang and Paul, and secondly to Yuko Wakiyama (1967–1973) with whom he had another son, Rico. Both Paul and Rico became accomplished pianists. In 1975 Gulda began a relationship with the oratorio singer Ursula Anders which lasted until his death. His piano students included Martha Argerich and the conductor Claudio Abbado. [Wikipedia]

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