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Alfred Cortot


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Alfred Denis Cortot (Nyon, Switzerland, September 26, 1877 – Lausanne, Switzerland, June 15, 1962) was a Swiss pianist and conductor. He is renowned for his poetic and deeply melancholic interpretation of Romantic period piano works, particularly those of Chopin and Schumann.

Born in Nyon in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Cortot studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Emile Descombes (reputedly a pupil of Chopin) (as did Maurice Ravel), and with Louis Diémer, taking a premier prix in 1896. He made his debut at the Concerts Colonne in 1897, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Between 1898 and 1901 he was a choral coach, and subsequently assistant conductor, at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, and in 1902 he conducted the Paris premiere of Götterdämmerung by Wagner. He formed a concert society to perform Wagner’s Parsifal, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, Brahms’ German Requiem, and new works by French composers.

In 1905, Cortot formed a trio with Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals, which established itself as the leading piano trio of its era, and probably of any era. From 1907 to 1923 Cortot taught at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Vlado Perlemuter, and even Marguerite Monnot (French composer of most of the best songs of Edith Piaf and of the stage musical Irma la douce). In 1919 he founded the École Normale de Musique de Paris. His courses in musical interpretation were legendary. Extremely widely traveled as a pianist, he also appeared as guest conductor of many orchestras. He died in Lausanne.

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