Rudolf Firkušný

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Rudolf Firkušný, Nikita Magaloff and Arthur Rubinstein in 1960

Rudolf Firkušný (Czech: [ˈrudolf ˈfɪrkuʃniː]; 11 February 1912 – 19 July 1994) was a Czech-born, Czech-American classical pianist.


Born in Moravian Napajedla, Firkušný started his musical studies with the composers Leoš Janáček and Josef Suk, and the pianist Vilém Kurz. Later he studied with Alfred Cortot and Artur Schnabel. He began performing on the continent of Europe in the 1920s, and made his debuts in London in 1933 and New York in 1938. He escaped the Nazis[citation needed] in 1939, fled to Paris, later settled in New York and became a U.S. citizen.

Firkušný had a broad repertoire and performed with skill the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Brahms as well as Debussy and Mussorgsky. However, he became known especially for his performances of the Czech composers Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, and Bohuslav Martinů (who wrote a number of works for him), as well as recordings of the complete piano works of Janáček.

Firkušný championed Dvořák's only piano concerto, which he played with many different conductors and orchestras around the world and also recorded it several times. Originally he performed the revised version made by his teacher Kurz, and even arranged it further; yet in the end, he came back to the original Dvořák score.

Firkušný was also a devoted chamber player, and among his most prominent partners were cellists Pierre Fournier, Gregor Piatigorsky, János Starker and Lynn Harrell, violinists Nathan Milstein and Erika Morini, violist William Primrose and the Juilliard String Quartet. He also gave many first performances of contemporary composers, not only Czech like his friends Bohuslav Martinů or Vítězslava Kaprálová, but also of Howard Hanson, Gian Carlo Menotti, Samuel Barber and Alberto Ginastera.

Firkušný taught at the Juilliard School in New York, and in Aspen, Colorado as well as in the Berkshire Music Centre in Tanglewood. Among his students were Yefim Bronfman, Eduardus Halim, Alan Weiss, Sara Davis Buechner, Carlisle Floyd, Kathryn Selby, Avner Arad, June de Toth, Richard Cionco, Robin McCabe, Anya Laurence, Natasa Veljkovic and Carlo Grante. After the fall of the communist regime in his homeland (the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989), Firkušný returned to Czechoslovakia to perform for the first time after more than 40 years of absence. This was acclaimed as one of the major events of his festival, as well as return of his compatriot and friend Rafael Kubelík. He retained his remarkable talents well into his later years and, for example, played a full Dvořák-Janáček-Brahms-Beethoven sonata recital in Prague on 18 May 1992 together with the violinist Josef Suk (the namesake and grandson of his teacher, and great-grandson of Dvořák). He played only two times at the Prague Spring International Music Festival, first in 1946 performed Dvořák's piano concerto, and in 1990 he played the second piano concerto of Bohuslav Martinů.

He died in Staatsburg, New York in 1994. In 2007 his and his wife's ashes were reburied together in an honorary place at the Central Cemetery in Brno, close to his first teacher Leoš Janáček, and directly next to the grave of Czech composer, Jan Novák. In 2012, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of his birth, there was a large festival held by Brno's Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts to commemorate the centennial, featuring many of his former alumni from The Juilliard School.

His student Carlisle Floyd wrote his only Piano Sonata in the 1950s, for Firkušný, who performed it once, at a Carnegie Hall recital. It then languished until being taken up in 2009 by the 74-year old Daniell Revenaugh, who studied it with the composer and made its first recording.[1]

Discography selection[edit]

  • Beethoven: Sonatas No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique"; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 "Moonlight". Capitol
  • Beethoven: Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. New York Philharmonic, Guido Cantelli. AS Disc
  • Beethoven: Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg. Capitol, Decca
  • Beethoven: Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12, for violin and piano; Mozart: Sonata in C major, K. 296 for violin and piano. Erica Morini (violino), Rudolf Firkušný (piano). Decca.
  • Beethoven: Sonata No. 8 in G major, Op. 30, for violin and piano;
  • Benda: Sonata No. 9 (Dusík, Voříšek, Tomášek). VOX Candide.
  • Brahms: Sonatas No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120, for viola and piano; No. 2 in E flat, Op. 120, for viola and piano. William Primrose (viola), Rudolf Firkušný (piano). Capitol.
  • Brahms: Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg. EMI.
  • Brahms: Firkušný plays Brahms. Capitol.
  • Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108, for violin and piano. Erica Morini (violino), Rudolf Firkušný (piano). Decca.
  • Brahms: Cello Sonatas, op. 38 & 99. Pierre Fournier (cello), Rudolf Firkušný (piano). Deutsche Grammophon.
  • Debussy by Firkušný. Capitol.
  • Debussy: Estampes. Sugano Disc 2002.
  • Dvořák: Concerto for piano and orchestra in G minor, Op. 33. Czech Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelík. Multisonic.
  • Dvořák: Piano Quartets, Opp. 23 31, and 87, Bagatelles, Op. 47. Juilliard Quartet. CBS.
  • Dvořák: Piano Quintets. Ridge Quartet. RCA.
  • Franck: Symphonic Variations. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Claus Peter Flor. RCA.
  • Haydn: Sonatas for piano Nos. 33 and 59. BBC Legends.
  • Chopin: Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, Nocturne in E flat, Polonaise in C minor, Scherzo in B flat minor, Barcarolle, Waltz in C sharp minor, Nocturne in D flat, Grande valse brillante. Capitol.
  • Janáček: Concertino for piano, 2 violins, clarinet, bassoon a French horn; Capriccio forpiano and wind ensemble. Czech Philharmonic, Václav Neumann. Supraphon, (CD).
  • Janáček: Complete Works for Piano. Bayerische Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelík. Deutsche Grammophon.
  • Martinů: Piano Concerto No. 2. Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek. Supraphon.
  • Martinů: Piano Works. BMG R32C-1176.
  • Martinů: Piano Concertos Nos. 2, 3, 4. Libor Pešek, RCA.
  • Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor. Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra, Louis Froment. Vox
  • Mozart: Fantasia in C minor K. 475; Sonata in C minor K. 396. Columbia ML 4356.
  • Mozart: Piano Concertos K. 271, K. 451, K. 456, K. 466, K. 491, K. 503. SWF Sinfonie-Orchester Baden-Baden, Ernest Bour. Intercord.
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.
  • Ravel: 3 piano pieces. Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.
  • Schubert: Impromptus, Opp. 90, 142. Philips.
  • Schubert: Drei Klavierstucke, D. 946. BBC Legends.
  • Schubert: Sonata in B flat Major, D. 960. BBC Legends.
  • Schumann: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54. Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra, Louis Froment. Vox
  • Smetana: Czech Dances. Capitol P 8372.
  • Smetana: Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, Trio in G minor. Firkušný – Kaufmann Van den Burg. Columbia.
  • Tomášek: Eclogue. VOX Candide.
  • Voříšek: Impromptu No. 4, Op. 7. VOX Candide.


  1. ^ Tabitha Yang (September–October 2009) The Restoration of Carlisle Floyd. Tallahassee Magazine


  • Beith, Richard; Melville-Mason, Graham: Rudolf Firkusny. Essex: The Dvořák Society, 1999. ISBN 0-9532769-0-2
  • Dubal, David: Reflections from Keyboard: The World of the Concert Pianist. New York: Summit Books, 1984. ISBN 0-671-49240-3
  • Mach, Elyse: Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves. New York: Dover Publications, 1991. ISBN 0-486-26695-8
  • Marcus, Adele: Great Pianists Speak. Neptune, New Jersey: Paganiana Publications, 1979. ISBN 0-87666-617-9
  • Noyle, Linda J.: Pianists on Playing. Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 1987, reprint 2000. ISBN 0-8108-3889-3
  • Schonberg, Harold C.: The Great Pianists. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987, 1963. ISBN 0-671-64200-6
  • Šafařík, Jiří: Rudolf Firkušný. Brno: Universitas Masarykiana, 1994. ISBN 80-85834-10-3
  • Vrkočová, Ludmila: Slovníček hudebních osobností. 1999. ISBN 80-901611-5-4

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