Zuzana Růžičková – The Bach lover who introduced the harpsichord to new audiences

Zuzana Růžičková, who was born 95 years ago on January 14, 1927, was one of Europe's most acclaimed harpsichordists, who was best known for her performances of music written by the German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Her journey towards becoming an acclaimed musician was almost snuffed out at a young age due to the Holocaust.  

Born into a Czech-Jewish family in the West-Bohemian city of Plzeň, Zuzana Růžičková began taking piano lessons at the age of nine. Her teacher introduced her to the works of Johan Sebastian Bach and the young Zuzana ended up switching to the harpsichord thereafter. Her talent would secure her a spot in the École de Musique Ancienne in Paris, but before she could take up her studies, Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis.

Zuzana Růžičková | Photo: Post Bellum

While still a teenager, she and her whole family were sent to the Terezin Ghetto north of Prague. Only she and her mother survived. Both would later be transported to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but they managed to survive the ordeal. Later in her life, Růžičková said that, after the experiences of the Holocaust, she realised that there was no life for her without music.

She decided to dedicate her life to the art and, in 1947, was accepted into the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague where she perfected her skills on the harpsichord. This despite the fact that her hands were in such bad shape after the war that her teachers believed she would never be able to play at a high level.

Růžičková would go on to have an internationally successful career both as a performer and music teacher. Her records of playing Bach received much critical acclaim around the world and helped introduce the harpsichord as an instrument to wider audiences. After the Velvet Revolution, she became a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and would give master classes to students around the world.

She died on September 27, 2017, at the age of 90.