Did this Beethoven genius just prefer jazz?

Did this Beethoven genius just prefer jazz?


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2021

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

The Viennese pianist Friedrich Gulda was a commanding interpreter of Mozart and Beethoven in the 1950s and 1960s. Had he stuck to the classics and modified his more eccentric behaviours, he might have filled the space in the record catalogues that was soon occupied by Alfred Brendel. 

Gulda, however, was a man of many parts….

Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.

More languages follow.


  • Patricia says:

    He was no Robert Levin.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      What do you mean?

    • Novagerio says:

      Patricia, you clearly have no f*cking idea who Gulda was. Have you even heard any of his Beethoven recordings? Or his Mozart or his Ravel? Or his jazz with Zawinul and Herbie Hancock?
      Incidently, who the hell is Robert Levin? The best thing in your own shelf at home maybe? According to who?….

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Check also Friedrich Gulda’s Konzert für Violoncello und Blaserorcherter, Concerto for Ursula, and Concerto for Myself. Wonderfully funny.

    • Herbie G says:

      Like Glenn Gould, he was one of those prodigously gifted nutcases.

    • Dan Oren says:

      He also wrote a violin concerto for Silvia Marcovici, but she never performed it.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        Wings – A Concert Piece for Solo Violin, String Orchestra and Rythm Section (Komponiert 1973, UA 1974; gewidmet Sylvia Marcovici).

        There is a recording (2005) with Benjamin Schmid and the Ensemble “Die Reihe”. This work is inspired in the music of Miles Davis and “jazz fusion”, very popular in the 70’s. I think that it is not as interesting as the works mentioned above.

  • Ed says:

    Glorious pianist. He visited Buenos Aires very often.

  • Alexander T says:

    Far better musician than Brendel.

  • Amos says:

    If I recall correctly for their 1966 live performance of the Emperor Concerto with the VPO both George Szell And FG were fully clothed. The performance was commanding and imo unlike any given by Alfred Brendel.

    • microview says:

      First international figure I saw as a teenager visiting the RFH for the first time (me not him!). Beethoven Fourth. In that Emperor film with Szell I was amazed at his facility for trills with thumb and first finger. Just have a look if it is still on YouTube.

  • William Lansbury says:

    “Omg a classical musicians not being snobby and appreciating other genres”

  • Nijinsky says:

    If he had modified his eccentric behavior?
    Don’t make me laugh, OK!
    What kind of a stultifying game theory would that end up being?
    I supposed a psychiatrist would have helped him to curb his desire to walk on stage naked, it being so much more sane that people are arrested for doing that in public in places like the great savior and policing faction of the world, the USA. More military ability to destroy all life on the planet, less food, and decent clothed people, all “sane.”

    Why, he could have been like all of the performing wonders during Mozart’s time, that all had extensive careers singing operas, etc. their longer lives amounting to the resonance with “reality” that’s been mostly forgotten it was such an experience. Oh, and he could have had a chip on his shoulder, having taken over part of the category of umpteen recordings of said standard repertoire that’s more about exploiting the music to show one’s ability rather than what the music expresses or why it really exists, and miraculously remains expressing despite the competition of egos and their divine truths.

    Such loss!

    Really, don’t make me laugh….

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Friedrich Gulda was of course misunderstood by the old fogey contingent of classical music critics, who never caught on to the fact that a sense of humor is a GOOD thing. Gulda’s behavior was no more eccentric (except for the VERY occasional nudity) than Pachmann, Elly Ney, or Beethoven himself.
    He was one of the greatest ever players of Beethoven (orders of magnitude greater than the increasingly wan Brendel), Mozart, Schubert, and Bach.
    But his genius – and that’s what it was – would not be confined to the classics alone. He loved jazz and he loved to play jazz. “Friedrich Gulda at Birdland” is an absolutely joyous blowing session, featuring a number of Gulda jazz originals. Gulda simply cooks! (Look for the German Decca CD release, 06024-984-7128, which contains bonus tracks not found on the original LP and an a fabulous photo of Gulda playing bari sax.)
    I will be listening to this new CD of his Symphony in G soonest, and with the greatest anticipation.

  • violin accordion says:

    Variations on Light My Fire

  • Paul says:

    His Beethoven Sonatas, two or more complete cycles, are among the best versions recorded by anyone. A brilliant, vital pianist in everything that he played.

  • Mecky Messer says:

    Wait. People may get tired of regurgitating the same 50 works over and over again until the end of time?

    Breaking news!

  • John Humphreys says:

    He, to my mind was the greatest of the Viennese ‘brood’ of pianists. As a student in Vienna in 1967 I heard him in recital in the Konzerthaus. At the end of his (shortish) programme he announced to a startled audience that he was off to play jazz in a club nearby and all were welcome. In 1999 he put it about anonymously that ‘Friedrich Gulda’ had died so anxious was he to see what the obituaries had to say about him, later declaring (shades of Mark Twain here) that he was, in fact very much alive and planned a ‘Resurrection Concert’ (a novel way to plan a recital, must try it some time). Curiously at his actual death the following year he insisted that there be no obituaries. An unique artist…

  • Sebastian says:

    Gulda live in Vienna in the 1970s was always an experience. Sometimes with Ursula on percussion (the hall tended to thin out a bit for that), sometimes just him and a piano. Never to be forgotten was a semi-improvised virtuoso response to Johann Strauss and that stuffy audience (somewhere there is a recording).

    Of more importance is that Gulda recorded the complete Beethoven sonatas *three* times, the first time at the age of 23, which to many is the finest set (and in a different class to some currently over-promoted young pianists):-

    – Orfeo / Munich, 1953/1954, mono.
    – Decca, 1954 – 1958, issued on LP in 1973.
    – Amadeo, 1967, issued on LP in 1968 and reissued on Brilliant Classics.

    Not every sonata will please everyone but there is extraordinary playing, deep musicianship and much food for thought to be found in the three sets. Unjustly ignored by the BBC during his lifetime (I caught a glimpse of their disgraceful in-house notes on Gulda) his recordings are a special treat for those who don’t know them.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I agree that Gulda was an exceptional interpreter of Beethoven, but I like his Mozart even more (!)

  • BruceB says:

    I used to have a cassette back in the day, of Gulda playing Beethoven Op. 111 on one side and his own “Winter Meditation” (or something like that) on the other. The Beethoven was stellar; I don’t remember the winter piece very well, but I remember find it kind of absorbing. (Not offensive and not dull basically = good, nowadays at least)

  • Bill Ecker says:

    Gulda was fun, he didn’t take his life very seriously and he did what made him happy. That said, he performed both classical and jazz until the end and they were intertwined.