Rosalyn Tureck — In Her Own Words; a one-hour radio feature

Compiled By: Jennifer Gillett

From the Rosalyn Tureck Collection,
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University

NARRATOR:

What type of books does, she read? What does she eat? Does she ever go to the cinema? What is she like as a person? These and many other questions have been asked of me—but, just because I've acted as Rosalyn Tureck's secretary for seven years, doesn't make me a Tureck authority. That would take a lifetime of study.

She too is often asked questions, especially about her concepts in relation to Bach. Neither Tureck, nor her concepts can be defined in any short form. What I will try to give you is a glimpse or two of the person, plus—in her own words—an indication, only of the scholarship which lies behind her performance.

Now, let's be aware of three things; first, the powerful strength of mind and personality. Second, the effort needed to translate that powerful duality plus talent into performance. Third, the effect those performances have over people. I've witnessed rhapsodic devotions, the instinctive giving, the deep emotions; such phenomena are difficult to explain...

The Theatre Royal in Madrid. The auditorium, is packed to overflowing including Queen Sophia. Standing room only meant over 3000 people. Television cameras poised for relay live to the whole of Spain, microphones ready to relay on radio. A mammoth three-way production.

As the very alone, diminutive figure walked toward the Steinway—the roar which greeted her was deafening. "My God! What a pair. Tureck and Bach." She commenced the Goldberg Variations.

C.O. FX: FADE IN COMMENCEMENT OF GOLDBERG VARIATIONS UNDER
Immersed in Bach, she wouldn't realise I'd left the backstage area. I raced up mountains of stairs, got tangled up in security because of Queen Sophia's presence. Finally found the television control box. I looked down, down, down. The now teeny, weeny figure on the stage was extremely alone. Tureck and Bach sounded perfect in that control room. Just perfect. I looked at the man directing the T.V. cameras. His attention riveted on the stage. He had tears running down his cheeks.
C.O. FX: FADE UP AND ROSALYN TURECK CONTINUES TO PLAY THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS (1 to 10) ON THE HARPSICHORD BWV 938. COLUMBIA MASTERWORKS. M2 35900
NARRATOR:

A great deal has been written about the Goldberg Variations, in combination with a performance of them by Dr. Tureck. Never more so than when in one evening she played the entire work, first on the piano then on the harpsichord with only an hour's dinner intermission in between. For such a feat you need stamina as well as total control of your subject.

About this work Tureck has written:

R. TURECK READS: ..."In our present full knowledge of the developments in keyboard style through the last two centuries, it is amazing to see how for sheer keyboard style, Bach exhausts the full gamut of keyboard figurations in this work. Outside of octave figurations, there are no keyboard devices, which so many believe to have developed with the enlargement of possibilities throughout the history of piano writing, which do not appear in these variations." ...
NARRATOR:

Tureck has been admired, adored and applauded as a musician, as a performer, as a conductor and most of all as the Bach specialist. Yet she in turn admires and applauds.

During the years she was living in London, she met Albert Schweitzer on one of his visits there. When he died she wrote a long, honest article about him, at the invitation of the Saturday Review of Literature. A snippet from which reads: ...

R. TURECK READS: ... "Schweitzer's own mind reflects the nineteenth century, but his brilliant, insight into the deep relationship of word and music takes the best from this period and transcends it. Research through several decades since Schweitzer has revealed the validity of his thesis. In the light of recent research we have found that fashioning the music to the text was the general practise of baroque composers and that Bach was following a way of composing rather than creating it." ...
C. O. FX: ROSALYN TURECK PLAYS ON THE PIANO FROM THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER BOOK II PRELUDE AND FUGUE IN G. MAJOR (3.40)
NARRATOR:

Other people's causes are also greatly felt. Rosalyn Tureck was the first solo artist to cancel a fully booked two month return tour of South Africa as early as 1960. In 1958 during a tremendously successful tour, she saw for herself the conditions of apartheid in South Africa. Pandemonium and shock resulted from her action.

The Paris Herald-Tribune carried a large news article about her refusal to return to South Africa as a protest against apartheid. Letters poured in, some angry, but mostly congratulating her on her courage to do what had not been done before. At a national congress of South African academic institutions one black teacher rose and said...

"We are grateful to those who come to share their art with us but Miss Tureck in cancelling her tour, as a protest of our conditions here, has given us faith."

Despite her refusal to tour in 1960, Tureck received repeated invitations to return for concert tours. She steadfastly has refused to return until apartheid conditions of life are relaxed, rescinded and so, to this day has never returned.

In 1975 she was asked—amongst other famous people—to write on the 'Boycott of South Africa'. She began...

R. TURECK READS: ... "The act of boycott is in itself violent. A cultural boycott of South Africa in any degree creates deprivation which will assure hardship for those whose work and personal energy are sustained by the fresh experiences that an exchange of artists and scholars can give. They lose thereby, a major element in their spiritual and intellectual life. It is with a deep sense of responsibility that I re-confirm today the need for a cultural boycott. While its very nature is deplorable, an act of boycott expresses my protest against the larger evil of man's inhumanity to man." ...
C.O. FX: ROSALYN TURECK PLAYS ON PIANO - Minuet: ANH 116 G.MAJOR (2.26) FROM: AN INTRODUCTION. TO BACH. CBS MASTERWORKS D.37275 (cb/331)
NARRATOR: Dr. Tureck continually studies, questions and observes. She has spent most of her life in the double areas of scholarship and the art of music and performance. Within the realm of her teaching privately or at universities, her Fellowships, her degrees, her Tureck Bach Institute, ... she has been concerned with the relationship of musicology and performance—and their integration. One long published article she wrote was pointed toward the unification of these. ...
R. TURECK READS: ... "The field of Bach performance is particularly fascinating in that it requires one to be competent both as a historian and as a performing artist. To this generally recognized double requirement I believe it necessary to add the element of study in 20th-century perceptions and practices in both the creative and performing arts. This study is indispensable to an enlightened awareness of the past because it provides greater objectivity, which, born of self-knowledge, can be used to assess our own judgements about a past era. The concentration of energies on studies of a period different from one's own poses the dangers of non-investigation of oneself and the concepts of one's own time." ...
C.O. FX: ROSALYN TURECK PLAYS ON THE PIANO PRELUDE AND FUGUE NO. 1 IN C MAJOR (BOOK I) FROM WELL TEMPERED. CLAVIER. DL 7101 20 Decca (5.30)
NARRATOR:

Rosalyn Tureck has been credited as being the prime mover for spreading interest in Bach's music during the 20th century. In England it was said of her—"she made Bach box office." The late Artur Rubinstein went so far as to attribute the great international public interest in Bach to her.

She has also been censured for performing Bach's works on the modern piano. In 1977 Tureck performed the entire 48 Preludes and Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier over four days. This was in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her first all Bach series in New York in 1937 when she performed the entire Forty Eight, The Goldberg Variations, Suites, Partitas and miscellaneous works of Bach in six weekly recitals.

Her own programme notes for the 40th anniversary series of performances reads. ...

R. TURECK READS: ... "In my view, Bach's music is essentially abstract, that is, independent of specific textures and sonorities. I have performed the Preludes and Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier on the clavichord, harpsichord, modern piano and organ. They are illuminatory on all these keyboard instruments. For piano performance I have found it necessary to create a new pianistic technique for the production of tone, textures, articulation etc. including the employment of Bach's own style of fingering in order to suit his musical and structural thought and to achieve the full clarity of his part-writing. The combination of historical scholarship, instrumental skills, and inspiration which identifies with Bach's structures and style can recreate this music with full integrity regarding his intentions and rise beyond a single-minded approach whether applied to historical or modern instruments. Bach's own frequent transfers of his music to and from instruments of polar differences demonstrate that Johann Sebastian himself was not single-minded in his requirements for specific sonorities and textures." ...
NARRATOR: Tureck's studies, and writings involve years of solitary study in libraries, museums or resident fellowships in universities. To pass on these studies to others, in books, lectures, articles or master classes—many drafts are created before she is satisfied. Her performances involve the same meticulous solitary study, practise and continual involvement with original manuscript sources and historical performance practices with the goal of fulfilling historical authenticity and at the same time, artistic spontaneity. To give you an idea of the meticulous work in which Dr. Tureck involves herself regarding interpretation, here is a quotation from her programme notes for one of her concerts at Carnegie Hall. This particular one is from the 1981 concert with the Tureck Bach Players involving the Clavier Concertos...
R. TURECK READS: ... "The listener may be sure that the more radical the phrasing heard in my performances, the more likely it is an original indication. Dynamic indications are also often carefully set down in the original sources of both orchestral and solo parts. I have worked out the phrasing and dynamics based on these models and also on the internal evidence of the musical structures, thus the phrasing and dynamics in these performances are a continual fulfillment of the original interpretive directions." ...
C.O. FX: ROSALYN TURECK PLAYS ON. THE PIANO PRELUDE AND FUGUE NO. 11 IN F MAJOR BOOK 1 (2.22) FROM THE WELL TEMPERED CLAVIER.
NARRATOR: Throughout Tureck's life she's been the subject of biographical interviews. The results not always successful nor even truthful. Reality being a long way from such descriptive compositions. Such inaccuracies she usually let pass. Only once has she written a resounding article in reply to a very inaccurate interview. Her final paragraph reads....
R. TURECK READS: ... "Characterization of a personality by means of anecdotes told by persons unknown and un-named prevents the shedding of light upon the mind, matter or manner of an artist. Scholars as well as journalists run that risk. The fascination of biography and history in general is contained in searching out the bedrock of actuality, an exercise equivalent to an archaeological dig. The uncovered facts form the foundation for judgment but give rise to more complex factors involving their overall assessment. Yet in these circumstances, if one focuses upon unalloyed reality, the substance of facts, no matter how interpreted, remains the touchstone."
NARRATOR: There speaks an artist who has been the recipient of anecdotes since the age of nine.
C.O. FX: ROSALYN TURECK PLAYS ON THE PIANO THE ITALIAN CONCERTO IN F MAJOR BWV 971 by J.S. Bach (12.31) CBS MASTERWORKS. M. 35822