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Friedrich Gulda

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Friedrich Gulda

Biography

Friedrich Gulda (16 May 1930, Vienna – 27 January 2000, Weissenbach, Austria) was an Austrian pianist and composer who worked in both the classical and jazz fields.

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.

He won first prize at the Geneva International Music Competition in 1946. 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 famous for his Mozart and Beethoven interpretations, Gulda also performed the music of J. S. Bach (often on clavichord), Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy and Ravel. His recordings of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier are well regarded by collectors.

From the 1950s on Gulda cultivated an interest in jazz, writing several songs and instrumental pieces, and at times combining jazz and classical music in his concerts. In 1956, he performed 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. Gulda wrote a Prelude and Fugue with a theme suggesting swing. Keith Emerson performed it on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's The Return of the Manticore. In addition, Gulda composed Variations on The Doors' 'Light My Fire'. In 1980, he wrote his Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra, which has been called "as moving as it is lighthearted", in five movements "involving jazz, a minuet, rock, a smidgen of polka, a march and a cadenza with two spots where a star cellist must improvise."

In 1982, Gulda teamed up with jazz pianist Chick Corea. In the late 1990s, Gulda organised rave parties, where he performed with the support of several DJs and Go-Go dancers. These unorthodox practices along with his refusal to follow clothing conventions (he was notoriously described as resembling, in one South German concert, "a Serbian pimp") or announce the program of his concerts in advance earned him the nickname "terrorist pianist".

His piano students included Martha Argerich, who called Gulda "my most important influence," and the conductor Claudio Abbado.

He expressed a wish to die on the birthday of Mozart, the composer he most adored, and did so.


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