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Crossing the Line: The Life and Musical Legacy of Friedrich Gulda through a Study of Play Piano Play

William Travis Worsham, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In the 1950s, Austrian pianist Friedrich Gulda shocked the classical music community by publicly venturing into the realm of jazz. As one of the leading classical pianists of his generation, Gulda's decision to explore a different type of music was seen as a scandal, leading many in the classical world to label Gulda as an eccentric who sought to upend centuries of musical tradition. Although Gulda had grown weary of the conventions of classical music, it was his lifelong love of jazz that propelled him to devote time and energy studying the techniques of jazz performance. He gave his first professional performance as a jazz artist at New York City's Birdland in 1956, beginning a unique and controversial career that forever walked between the world of classical and jazz music. Having gained the respect of many in the jazz community, Gulda became known for his programs and recordings of both classical and jazz music. Many of these featured his own compositions, such as Play Piano Play—a ten-piece cycle in which Gulda presents jazz techniques and styles within classical formal structures. In addition to being effective pieces for the concert stage, Gulda wrote these exercises as a tool to teach the classical pianist how to perform jazz. Through a pedagogical and performance analysis of Play Piano Play, this document will help musicians discover how Gulda's unique compositional approach of combining notated music with elements of improvisation progressively instills the fundamentals of jazz technique throughout the cycle. A brief consideration of three additional solo-piano works continues to show the important contributions Gulda has made to the classical-jazz genre of the piano repertoire. Friedrich Gulda's career took him on a journey from the finest concert halls to the darkest smoke-filled jazz clubs. Through it all, he remained uniquely himself—an artist confident in his musical vision. Today, his legacy lives in works such as Play Piano Play, as each note describes the journey of one of the twentieth century’s most rebellious, radical, and revolutionary pianists.

Subject Area

Music|Pedagogy|Performing Arts

Recommended Citation

Worsham, William Travis, "Crossing the Line: The Life and Musical Legacy of Friedrich Gulda through a Study of Play Piano Play" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13862500.