Rudolf Serkin, was a Bohemian-born pianist. Serkin was born in Eger, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire to a Russian-Jewish family.
Hailed as a child prodigy, he was sent to Vienna at the age of 9, where he studied piano with Richard Robert and, later, composition with Joseph Marx making his public debut with the Vienna Philharmonic at 12. From 1918 to 1920 he studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg and participated actively in Schoenberg’s Society for the Private Performance of Music. He began a regular concert career in 1920, living in Berlin with the German violinist Adolf Busch and his family, which included a then 3-year-old daughter Irene whom Serkin would marry 15 years later. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Serkin performed throughout Europe both as soloist and with Busch and the Busch Quartet. With the rise of Hitler in Germany in 1933, Serkin and the Busches left Berlin for Basel, Switzerland.
In 1933 Serkin made his first United States appearance at the Coolidge Festival in Washington, D.C., where he performed with Adolf Busch. In 1936 he launched his solo concert career in the U.S. with the New York Philharmonic 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 tonal purity.” In 1937, Serkin played his first New York recital at Carnegie Hall.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Serkins and Busches emigrated to the United States, where Serkin taught several generations of pianists at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. From 1968 to 1976 he served as the Institute’s Director. He lived with his growing family first in New York, then in Philadelphia, as well as on a dairy farm in rural Guilford, Vermont. In 1951, Serkin and Adolf Busch founded the Marlboro Music School and Festival near Brattleboro, Vermont with the goal of stimulating interest in and performance of chamber music in the United States. He made numerous recordings from the 1940s into the 1980s, including one at RCA Victor of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in 1944, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Toscanini. Most of his recordings were made for Columbia Masterworks, although in the 1980s he also recorded for Deutsche Grammophon and Telarc. Serkin admired the music of Max Reger, which he discovered while working with Adolf Busch. In 1959, he became the first pianist in the United States to record Reger’s Piano Concerto, Op. 114, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.