On his 21st birthday, Friedrich Gulda was the subject of a newspaper homage headed Our Gulda comes of age! , and his teacher Bruno Seidlhofer sent him a photo inscribed: To my Gulda, with best wishes . The young man was prepared to be possessed by music, but not by the music business, or by his audiences: he had to escape to survive. And he refused to cower in humility before anyone, even the Old Masters, whom he was ready and willing to confront in his own right as a composer.
A further polarity led Gulda in 1969 to produce a newspaper article in conjunction with his complete Beethoven cycle. His thesis: that Classical balance was no longer accessible to the generations of today. His conclusion: utmost strictness in studio recordings; the greatest possible freedom on stage. Could he really pull this off? I m not the only person who can remember the freedom with which he could share music in private Mozart and Bach, even Strauss and Schumann! Lavish and poetic, yes, but never undisciplined.
The word share calls to mind another important polarity: Gulda did not find it easy to form long-term musical partnerships with classical musicians in the long run, he simply lost interest. (Improvised music was a different matter altogether.) The music of Mozart is all about discourse, the spirit of the Enlightenment. Too bad Gulda never found a violinist with whom he could take on the wonderful sonatas, but his orchestral recordings give a good sense of the enjoyment he took in dialogue, in the exchange of musical ideas. It s particularly obvious in the albums he made with his Vienna-based Classical Gulda Orchestra . Classical musicians, organised like a band: that was the concept behind this ensemble. Everyone to be paid the same, including the soloist.
In his last interviews, the detachment of Friedrich Gulda the soloist is starkly evident. Friends, colleagues and family had become unimportant. Like writer Thomas Bernhard, Friedrich Gulda had chosen to tread a solitary path. And yet, not quite: playing the Clavinova with an imaginary partner (taking a lesson from Mozart and his sister cf. Gulda s booklet notes for the 1999 release Mozart Lives!, Universal 986 5350) enabled dialogue to be elevated to the desired level. By using playback, Gulda could duet with himself or with the divine master he invoked, idolised and, at the same time, identified with (CD 6, Sonata in C minor, K. 457). Yes, in this reality there is indeed no dualism. Add to this the beautiful Spanish dancer Pilou costumed as Mozart, and we have the promise of eternal youth and vitality.
For Friedrich Gulda, bridging the polarities of seriousness and joie de vivre, the learned and the popular, love and deadly menace, was a goal worth a lifetime s measuring himself against Mozart, chafing against Mozart, being inspired by Mozart. It was valid to emulate him with youthful tempos as well as measured steps. What does time matter anyway? Who cares about how long things take?
In jazz, swing denotes a relationship with a temporal axis, with the beat: sometimes pressing ahead of it, then going along with it again, and, in solos, swimming against the current of time. Friedrich Gulda s life revolved or swung around the central axis of his greatest passion: the music of Mozart, which embodied both his path and his destination. On 27 January 2000, the final chord in Gulda s life was played in unison with Mozart, as it were.
I hope listeners to these performances will take pleasure in the sheer variety and perfection of Mozart s music, as well as in following a great artist s exploratory travels. And if they gain some insight along the way, then the dialogue will go on and on ...