Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
He was born in Cheb, Bohemia to a Jewish Russian family. The family moved to Vienna when Rudolf was nine, where he studied piano with Richard Robert and composition with Joseph Marx. (George Szell was also a pupil of Marx at the time.) Rudolf was hailed as a child prodigy, and he made his public debut with the Vienna Philharmonic at 12. He began a regular concert career in 1920.
In 1935, he married Irene Busch, daughter of the conductor and violinist Adolf Busch, with whom he had often played since the beginning of his career. Rudolf also played with the Busch Quartet, which was made up of family members including his wife.
Serkin made his first United States appearance at the Coolidge Festival in Washington, DC. The very next year, he launched his solo concert career 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 tone purity." In 1937, Serkin played his first New York recital at Carnegie Hall.
Because of the German Anschluss of Austria, the Serkins and Busches had to emigrate to the United States (through Switzerland) in 1939. Rudolf took a post as director of the Curtis Institute of Music, and they settled in Guilford, Vermont. Rudolf and Adolf founded the Marlboro Music Festival, and Rudolf made many solo recordings with Columbia in the 1940s.
Serkin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and, in March 1972, he celebrated his 100th appearance with the New York Philharmonic by playing Brahms's D Minor Piano Concerto. 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 1986, he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a guest artist with the orchestra. He toured all over the world and continued his solo career until 1988. He died of cancer at his Guilford home.
He is the father of pianist Peter Serkin.
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