Rudolf Firkusny (Piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester, Philharmonia Orchestra
“You don’t need a teacher; what you need is an audience.” Those were the words of the great pianist and teacher Alfred Cortot, after the young Rudolf Firkušný had auditioned for him in Paris. Born in southern Moravia in 1912, Firkušný and his mother moved to Brünn after the death of his father. The boy’s musical ability was already in evidence at the domestic piano, where he enthusiastically played by ear tunes that he had heard. A friend of the family accordingly recommended him to the local conservatory, whose teachers included Leoš Janácek. Firkušný’s relationship to Janácek and his works would do much to shape his international career. Janácek concentrated principally on music theory and composition. His career as a concert pianist began in London in 1933 and he was soon playing in the great centres of music across Europe. He travelled to New York in 1938 and went on to tour North and South America. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 prompted him to take refuge in Paris, from where he travelled to the USA by way of Portugal in 1940. The persecution and expulsion of Jews from large parts of Europe resulted in a tremendous enrichment of American cultural life by Jewish émigrés. Under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf, the Metropolitan Opera soon assembled a Wagner ensemble of world-class singers; conductors like William Steinberg and George Szell placed their stamp upon orchestras with new repertoire, and the concert halls opened their doors to European soloists. A celebrated concert of 1941 in New York’s Town Hall gave Rudolf Firkušný his own opening to a successful career in the New World. This was further enhanced by his grand tour of South America in 1943 and showed no sign of abating when he returned to his native Czechoslovakia after the end of the war.