All That Glitters Is Not Gulda

The other day, I stumbled upon a twentieth-century composer whom I had never heard of before: the Austrian pianist and composer Friedrich Gulda, who made a name for himself in both the classical and jazz worlds, respectively.

I happened on Friedrich Gulda by way of the French virtuoso cellist Edgar Moreau, who recorded Gulda’s Concerto for Cello and Wind Band a few years back with an ensemble with the delightfully witty name Les Forces Majeures. Gulda’s half-hour long cello concerto in five movements is both incredibly virtuosic and delightfully anachronistic, mixing rock and big band with baroque sensibilities, ending up seemingly in the middle of Oktoberfest, with a short intermission where the soloists starts shredding like a member in a blues rock band. Sounds crazy? It kind of is. But it is also kind of wonderful.

How much fun wouldn’t it be to witness this piece performed in concert, particularly with a brilliant cellist like this? I agree with Joanne Talbot’s description in The Strad of the concerto as a ”fantastically bizarre work”, but it wears its strangeness proudly and with a certain swagger that elevates it from simply being a grab bag of disparate ideas recklessly thrown together.

I discussed crossover projects in an earlier blog post, specifically the inherent difficulty in pulling them off successfully. I proposed that, in order to pull off a good crossover project, you need to be proficient in each of the styles involved, and not just one of them. Here is a musician who had a great understanding of music ranging from Baroque to jazz, as well as experimental free music. That is, to my mind, one reason why this strange 30-minute-long musical work, well, works.

Gulda’s pastiches and throwbacks are more than simple lip service, and contrary to ultra-processed acts like Il Divo, are more than just skin deep. Again, my personal issue with crossover projects is not in their nature, but rather the way in which they are done. While all that glitters is not gold, there is definitely something golden about such a brazenly individual work as Gulda’s cello concerto.

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Composer, arranger and songwriter for performance, recording, broadcast and interactive media.