Pianist `faked death to see his obituary'

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The Independent Online
WHEN LAST Sunday a report from the Austrian Press Agency (APA) announced the unexpected death of Friedrich Gulda, the world of classical music seemed to have lost one of its most talented and eclectic exponents.

Fellow heavyweights of the music world lined up to pay tribute to the internationally renowned pianist, lauded as a genius for his interpretations of Mozart and Bach, and later for his jazz playing, who had apparently suffered a heart attack and died at Zurich airport.

But Gulda, a pianist with a complex life, seemed to have no intention of making its end any more straightforward. Shortly after the news of his demise had reached newsrooms, the APA sent another message: "Do not use the item `Austrian Pianist Gulda Dead' - the news agency has retracted this report."

Now the mysterious "death" of Gulda has become a classic whodunit - with the finger of blame pointing most firmly at the pianist himself.

For two days after the APA report, the fate of the pianist was shrouded in darkness. He apparently disappeared, and members of his family would not answer the phone. A journalist reported seeing Gulda at Zurich airport looking unwell.

Then, two days ago, a Geneva concert agent contacted the APA, saying he had seen the pianist a day earlier and that he had seemed "remarkably alive". But sensationally, he also alleged he had been approached by Gulda and asked to participate in the hoax by filing an obituary. He declined.

Many now believe thatGulda, who is renowned as a pianist of genius, an eccentric, and a musical anarchist (he once played a television duet with his girlfriend in the nude), was responsible for the fax announcing his death. The fax was sent from Zurich airport at a time when the pianist was there. Gulda is "unavailable" for comment, so theories for the hoaxed death abound.

In a recent interview, Gulda had forbidden any obituaries to be written about him, saying: "People have thrown so much muck at me while I am alive, I do not want them to chuck it into my grave as well." Some believe he wanted to test how seriously this "injunction" was taken by journalists.

It may also have been his idea of a practical joke. "There are varying opinions about the question what Mr Gulda finds funny," an APA journalist said.

But there is another possible reason for this hoax: on Monday, the pianist is scheduled to play Mozart at a rare classical appearance in Salzburg. The title of this concert is "Resurrection Party". It is now fully booked.