Born: March 28, 1903 - Eger, Bohemia (now Cheb, Czech Republic)
Died: May 8, 1991 - Guilford, Vermount, USA
The Austrian-born American pianist and pedagogue, Rudolf Serkin, was born to a Jewish Russian family. The family moved to Vienna when Serkin was nine, where he studied piano with Richard Robert and composition with Joseph Marx and Arnold Schoenberg. Rudolf was hailed as a child prodigy, and he made his public debut with Oskar Nedbal and the Wiener Symphoniker at 12.
Rudolf Serkin began a regular concert career in 1920, living in Berlin with violinist Adolf Busch and his family, which included the then three-year-old daughter Irene whom Serkin would marry 15 years later (1945). Throughout the 1920's and early 1930's, Serkin performed throughout Europe both as soloist and with Busch Chamber Orchestra and the Busch Quartet, and in joint recitals with Adolf Busch. With the rise of Hitler in Germany, Serkin and the Busches left Germany first for Vienna, and then after the Anschluss, for Switzerland.
In 1933 Rudolf Serkin made his first USA appearance at the Coolidge Festival in Washington, D.C. In February 1936, he launched his solo concert career in the USA with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. The critics raved, describing him as "an artist of unusual and impressive talents in possession of a crystalline technique, plenty of power, delicacy, and tone purity." In 1937, Serkin played his first New York recital at Carnegie Hall. Seeing the war approaching, the Serkins and Busches emigrated to the USA in 1939 and the same year Rudolf Serkin became naturalised USA citizen. After World War II, he pursued an international career. He appeared as a soloist with all the major orchestras of the world, gave recitals in the leading music centres, and played in numerous chamber music settings. He also made many solo recordings with Columbia in the 1940's.
In 1939 Rudolf Serkin was appointed as head of the piano department at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and was its Director from 1968 to 1976. He taught there many of today's finest pianists until 1978. In addition to homes there and later in New York, the extended family settled on a dairy farm in rural Guilford, Vermont. In 1950 Serkin and Adolf Busch founded the Marlboro Music School and Festival near Brattleboro, Vermont, and subsequently Serkin served as its director.
Rudolf Serkin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and, in March 1972, he celebrated his 100th appearance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra by playing Johannes Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1. The orchestra also named Serkin an honorary member of the Philharmonic's Symphony Society of New York, an elite musical society that includes Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, and Paul Hindemith. In 1985 he celebrated his 70th anniversary as a concert artist, and in 1986 his 50th anniversary as a guest artist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1988 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
The authority and faithfulness of his interpretations of the Viennese classics placed Rudolf Serkin among the masters of the 20th century. Revered as a musician's musician and a father figure to a legion of younger players who came to the Marlboro Festival, he toured all over the world and continued his solo career and recording activities until illness prevented further work in 1989. He died of cancer at his beloved Guilford farm. He and Irene were the parents of six children (one of whom died in infancy), including pianist Peter (Adolf) Serkin. Irene Busch Serkin died in 1998.