Rudolf Buchbinder | Biography


Rudolf Buchbinder
Admired by fellow performers, acclaimed by critics and revered by music-lovers worldwide, Rudolf Buchbinder stands among the great pianists of our time. His interpretations flow from a unique fusion of spiritual insight and intellectual rigour, expressive spontaneity and technical control, refined over the course of a career spanning more than sixty years. The irresistible power of his artistry continues to grow, reinforced by tireless study and a lifelong passion for the masterworks of the piano literature.
Buchbinder is always guided by what the music tells him, never by the demands of fashion or the pursuit of personal glory. The influential critic Joachim Kaiser described him as the “greatest natural pianistic talent”, praising his innate ability to reveal fresh ideas and mine rich seams of expression in the moment of performance. “I aspire to experience the pinnacle of my pianistic career at the end of my life,” notes Buchbinder in his autobiography. “Of course, I do not know when that will be … which is a shame, in a way! Because in my profession you have never actually accomplished something – there is always more to be achieved.”
Rudolf Buchbinder opened the latest chapter in a long and distinguished career in April 2019 when he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. While hailed for his recordings of the music of Haydn and Mozart, he is most closely associated with the keyboard works of Beethoven. He has performed the complete cycle of thirty-two piano sonatas over sixty times, often on seven consecutive days. “I am never finished with this music,” he told the Guardian (London) a few years ago. “I learn every time. It is a challenge every time.” Appropriately enough, therefore, his initial collaborations with the Yellow Label formed part of the Beethoven 2020 celebrations, marking the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
For his first release, Buchbinder created a programme based on the Diabelli Variations, commissioning a new set of responses to Diabelli’s theme from eleven contemporary composers. He also recorded the original waltz theme, Beethoven’s monumental set of variations and a selection of the other variations commissioned by Diabelli. The Diabelli Project was released in March 2020 to coincide with the recital at the Vienna Musikverein at which Buchbinder gave the world premieres of the eleven new commissions.
His second DG recording, released in October 2020, paired Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Variations on an original theme in F major, op. 34. The Concerto was recorded live in 2016 with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann, while the Op. 34 Variations were recorded in August 2019, alongside the Diabelli Variations.
Issued in September 2021, Beethoven: Piano Concertos documented Buchbinder’s historic Vienna Musikverein cycle with five of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors. He recorded the Second Piano Concerto with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mariss Jansons, the conductor’s last concert recording before his death in late 2019. Andris Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester opened the cycle with the First, while the Third, Fourth and Fifth were recorded with the Münchner Philharmoniker and Valery Gergiev, Dresden Staatskapelle and Christian Thielemann, and Wiener Philharmoniker and Riccardo Muti respectively. In the event, only four of the five concerts could be given at the Musikverein as originally planned. The final concert, featuring No. 4, took place in Dresden in October 2020, during the interval between lockdowns.  
Buchbinder’s Complete Beethoven Sonatas, presenting his third recording of the cycle, was also released in September 2021. The works were recorded during seven concerts given by the pianist at the Salzburg Festival in 2014, the first time the cycle had been performed in full by one artist in a single Salzburg season.
Released in November 2022, the pianist’s latest album is entitled Soirée de Vienne. Featuring music by Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann and Strauss, it captures the lost world of the salon and pays tribute to the rich cultural life of 19th-century Vienna. “We all have impossible dreams,” says Buchbinder. “And one such dream gave rise to this album: I’d so much like to attend a Viennese soirée where all the composers on this recording are assembled.”
Among the highlights of the 2021–22 season were the five Beethoven piano concertos at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie with the Staatskapelle Dresden; Diabelli Project recitals everywhere from Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain to South Korea; a series of Beethoven concerts in which he directed the Wiener Philharmoniker from the keyboard; and Richard Strauss’s Burleske in Leipzig, London, Vienna, Hamburg and Paris with the Gewandhausorchester and Andris Nelsons.
His forthcoming appearances include Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Gewandhausorchester and Alan Gilbert in Leipzig (December 2022); performances of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major, K503 and Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrea Battistoni at venues across Israel (January 2023); and Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Budapest, Berlin, Luxembourg, Munich, Lugano and Paris (March 2023).  
Rudolf Buchbinder was born on 1 December 1946 in Leitmeritz, a market town in Czechoslovakia. He made meteoric progress on his parents’ piano and, at the age of five, became the youngest student ever to be admitted to the Vienna Academy of Music; five years later, he performed for the Austrian Chancellor at the Musikverein. His interpretations of the Viennese Classical and Romantic repertoire rest on technical foundations established during his studies with Bruno Seidlhofer in Vienna.
In his teens Buchbinder gave a recital tour in North and South America, and returned to the United States in 1966 to win a special prize at the Second Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In the 1970s he received international acclaim for his recordings of Haydn’s complete piano sonatas and other keyboard works. His reputation as an artist of the utmost integrity and discernment was soon enhanced with the release of the first of three complete recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.
Over the past half century he has performed with the world’s leading orchestras, worked with many of the finest conductors, and performed regularly as concerto soloist, chamber musician and recitalist on five continents. He has been artistic director of the annual Grafenegg Festival, near Vienna, since its foundation in 2007, and has overseen its development as a major event in the classical music calendar. Buchbinder is an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and was the first soloist to be awarded the Goldene Ehrennadel by the Staatskapelle Dresden. On 18 October 2020 he was presented with the Opus Klassik Lifetime Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech he said, “My life is a life for music … I’m particularly pleased to have received this Opus Klassik award in Beethoven’s 250th-anniversary year.”
Musical freedom lies at the heart of Rudolf Buchbinder’s artistic creed. He has studied countless manuscript sources, early editions and later revisions to gain a deep understanding of the expressive priorities valued most highly by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and their contemporaries. The greater one’s knowledge of their work, he observes, the more spontaneous one can be in performance. Above all, he notes, the learning process never stops.
On his seventieth birthday Buchbinder told Vienna’s Kurier that his role model had always been Claudio Arrau: “He was at the peak of his career at the end of his life. That’s the nicest thing that can happen to you.”