ZUZANA
RŮŽIČKOVÁ
THE OUTSTANDING CZECH
HARPSICHORDIST

 

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REMEMBERING ZUZANA RŮŽIČKOVÁ
14 JANUARY 1927   ‒   27 SEPTEMBER 2017


ZUZANA RŮŽIČKOVÁ was born 14 January 1927 in the city of Plzeň in western Bohemia. Her musical ability and predilection for Bach were apparent from an early age, and she prepared for admission to Wanda Landowska's classes at Saint-Leu-la-Forêt near Paris. The opportunity to study abroad soon became an impossibility with the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, and in January 1942 she and her family were interred at the Terezin ghetto. After the death of her father and grandparents at Terezin, she was sent to Aushwitz along with her mother. In 1944 they were both sent to Hamburg as forced laborers, and later spent the final days of the war interred at the Bergen-Belson concentration camp. Upon her recovery she was determined to resume her musical education and studied piano with Bohdan Gsöllhofer in Plzeň. From 1947-51 she attended the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague where her professors included pianists Albín Šíma, František Rauch and harpsichordist Oldřich Kredba. At this time she decided to specialize in the interpretation of early music and gave her first harpsichord recital in 1951. In 1956 she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich and accepted a scholarship from jury member Marguerite Roesgen-Champion to continue her harpsichord studies in Paris.

Her success at the Munich competition marked the beginning of an international career. She performed regularly throughout Europe and made repeated visits to Japan and the United States. She performed at Bach Festivals in Leipzig, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Ansbach, Frankfurt, Schaffhausen, Bath and Oregon. In 1962 she co-founded the Prague Chamber Soloists with conductor Václav Neumann and in 1963 formed a very successful duo with violinist Josef Suk. Other chamber music partners included János Starker, Pierre Fournier, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Aurèle Nicolet and Maxence Larrieu, and she worked with noted conductors including Serge Baudo, Paul Sacher, Herbert Blomstedt, Libor Pešek, Neville Marriner and Helmut Rilling. Her recorded repertoire is vast, spanning works by the English virginalists through contemporary composers including Martinů, Poulenc, Falla and Frank Martin. The music of Bach, however, always remained central to her art, culminating in an integral edition of his solo harpsichord music published in 1975 by the French label Erato. Several composers dedicated works to her, among them Jan Rychlík's Hommagi clavicembalistici (1964), and she premiered compositions by Emil Hlobil, Hans-Georg Görner and Elizabeth Maconchy. For 54 years she was married to composer Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006), a union which inspired him to compose several significant works for harpsichord: Six Two-Voice Canonic Inventions (1962), Aquarelles (1979), Preludio, Aria e Toccata (1992) and the magnificent Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings (1975). Her career as an educator began at the Academy of Performing Arts in 1950, but only after the fall of communism in 1990 did she finally receive the title of professor. She also established a harpsichord class at the Music Academy in Bratislava where she was guest professor from 1978-82. For twenty-five years she gave master classes in Zürich, with additional classes taking place in Stuttgart, Kraków, Budapest, Riga and Tokyo. Her many students include Jaroslav Tůma, Giedré Lukšaité-Mrázková, Anikó Horváth, Borbála Dobozy, Sylvia Georgieva and Monika Knoblochová.

She retired from performing and teaching in 2006 but remained active in Czech musical life, serving as vice-president for the Prague Spring International Competition Committee and on the advisory boards of the Czech Chamber Music Society and the Concertino Praga International Competition. She did not forget her war experiences and actively supported the Hans Krása Initiative and, as a participant in the Terezin Initiative, often spoke publicly of her internment and recovery. She was also instrumental in establishing a memorial for Fredy Hirsch, the young man responsible for saving the lives of countless children at Terezin and Aushwitz.

The awards for her accomplishments are numerous. Her recordings of music by Bach and Benda have won the Grand Prix de L'Académie Charles Cros and her Purcell recital was awarded the Diapason D'Or. She has received the Supraphon Golden Disc, signifying sales of more than 300,000 recordings. In the Czech Republic she was awarded the titles Artist of Merit in 1968 and National Artist in 1989. In 2003 she received two important honors: the title Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Minister of Culture, and the Medal of Merit, one of the Czech Republic's highest state distinctions. In 2007 she received the Czech Music Council Award, which is conferred annually for lifetime achievement by the Czech branch of the UNESCO International Music Council. She was an honorary member of several musical organizations, including the Neue Bachgesellschaft, Britain's National Early Music Association and the Dvorak Society for Czech Music.


Soprano Cecilia Bartoli presented Zuzana Růžičková with the Bohemian Heritage Fund Award in recognition of her continuous enrichment of national culture on a global level. The ceremony took place 12 November 2013 at the Rudolfinum in Prague.

 


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Last update: 15 October 2017