Josef Bulva (January 9, 1943 in Brno, in the province of Moravia, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic) is a Czech pianist who began his training at the age of nine at the music school of Napajedla, and at the age of thirteen gave his first concerts playing works by Mozart, études by Liszt and the “Paganini Variations” by Brahms. He was excused from conventional education and entered the conservatory in Brno with a state scholarship and then went on to the Music Academy in Bratislava (where Lucia Popp and Editha Gruberova also studied), where he graduated with honors. Soon after, at twenty-one, he was promoted as an “artist of the State”.
The subsequent intense concert activities of the pianist in many countries were abruptly interrupted in 1971 for an entire year by a serious accident. His immigration to the West due to political reasons followed, and he took residence first in Munich and then in Luxembourg, where he resumed his concert and recording activities.
In 1996 another accident injured his left hand in a way which was considered at the time to be permanent, and forced him to end his career as a professional pianist. Since that time he has lived in Monaco.
However, contrary to all expectations, the injury healed over the years and thus Bulva was able after a pause of 13 years, to give in November and December 2009 various highly acclaimed concerts in Augsburg, Munich, Zurich and Stuttgart.
Bulva’s rich repertoire contains, among others, works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Rachmaninov and contemporary composers. In certain cases he made his own arrangements of existing compositions, as in the case of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” and Wagner’s Overture to “Tannhäuser”.
Bulva has always refused to give himself in to modern marketing and packaging and to thus become a mainstream pianist, and his playing has not been free of controversy. Whereas Joachim Kaiser, the doyen of European music critics, once called him “the pianist of the scientific age” under whose hands “masterpieces appear in a new light” and the Steinway Owners' Magazine stated that “he mirrors much of the credo of Steinway & Sons”, others criticized a certain analytic distance and lack of “romanticism”, the latter particularly in his interpretation of the music of Chopin. However, all have been united in praising his legendary pianistic qualities, his extraordinary virtuosity and bravura as well as his profound insight and musicality. To this extent, Josef Bulva has been, to say the least, “the pianists’ pianist” of his generation.
Bulva has made many recordings with labels such as TELDEC, RCA, ORFEO and MEDIAPHON-MADACY, parts of which are still available. Among them are:
- “Piano Recital” with compositions by Beethoven and Chopin, live recording on CEPA/Radio 100.7 FM
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21 (“Waldstein”) on ORFEO
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”) on ORFEO
- Liszt: “Transcendental Études” on ORFEO
- Prokofiev: “Romeo and Juliet”, Op. 75 (piano version) on TELDEC
Recently, the OREIKON label published “The Art of Josef Bulva”, containing on 7 CDs an authorized legacy of the pianist. The main works on this edition are:
- Beethoven: Concerto for Piano No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 (“Emperor”)
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat major, Op. 27 No. 1
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 (“Moonlight”)
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”)
- Brahms: Concerto for Piano No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83
- Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
- Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31
- Chopin: Polonaise No. 3 in A major, Op. 40 No. 1 (“Military Polonaise”)
- Chopin: Polonaise No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 44
- Liszt: Concerto for Piano No. 1 in E flat major
- Liszt: Concerto for Piano No. 2 in A major
- Liszt: Sonata in B minor
- Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor
- Liszt: Grande Étude d’après Paganini No. 3 in G sharp minor (“La Campanella”)
- Liszt: Rhapsodie Espagnole
- Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 17 in B flat major, K 570
- Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43
- Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23
- Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23
- Süddeutsche Zeitung
- Steinway Owners’ Magazine, October 2008 Edition
- Josef Bulva Society - official website: http://www.josefbulvasociety.com