22 April 1944 (age 73)
New York, New York, United States
Joshua Rifkin (born April 22, 1944 in New York) is an American conductor, keyboard player, and musicologist. He is best known by the general public for having played a central role in the ragtime revival in the 1970s with the three albums he recorded of Scott Joplin's works for Nonesuch Records. The albums - which were presented as classical music recordings - were critically-acclaimed, commercially successful and led to other artists exploring the ragtime genre. Rifkin's work as a revivalist of Joplin's work immediately preceded the adaptation of Joplin's music by Marvin Hamlisch for the film The Sting (1973).
Rifkin first came to public attention in the mid-'60s, with an album of Baroque arrangements of Beatles compositions that peaked at #83 on the Billboard LP chart.
Rifkin is best-known to classical musicians for his thesis that much of Johann Sebastian Bach's vocal music, including the St. Matthew Passion, was performed with only one singer per voice part, an idea generally rejected by his peers when he first proposed it in 1981. But in the twenty-first century the idea has become widely influential. The conductor Andrew Parrott has written a book arguing for the position (The Essential Bach Choir; Boydell Press, 2000; as an appendix the book includes the original paper that Rifkin began to present to the American Musicological Society in 1981, a presentation he was unable to complete because of a strong audience reaction). Such respected Bach scholars as Daniel Melamed and John Butt have argued in its favor. Furthermore, Rifkin and Parrott are no longer the only notable conductors to adopt the approach in performance. Among the early-music performers to adopt the practice are Paul McCreesh (St. Matthew Passion, Magnificat, Easter Oratorio, and cantatas), Konrad Junghänel (B Minor Mass, several cantatas, and the motets), and Jeffrey Thomas, as well as Sigiswald Kuijken and Eric Milnes, both of whom are recording complete sets of the Bach cantatas using one singer per choral part.
Rifkin himself has recorded Bach's Mass in B Minor, Magnificat, and cantatas nos. 8, 12, 51, 56, 78, 80, 82, 99, 106, 131, 140, 147, 158, 172, 182, 202, 209, 216, and others, for the Nonesuch, Mainach, L'Oiseau-lyre, and Dorian labels, all with his Bach Ensemble and various singers. He has recorded music of Handel, Mozart, and Haydn with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra and Capella Coloniensis, and motets of Adrian Willaert with the Boston Camerata Chamber Singers. He recently published a book-form monograph, Bach's Choral Ideal (Dortmund: Klangfarben Musikverlag, 2002). His scholarly edition of Bach's Mass in B Minor was published by Breitkopf and Härtel in 2006.
Rifkin studied with Vincent Persichetti in the Music Division at the Juilliard School and received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1964. He also studied with Gustave Reese at New York University (1964-1966), at the University of Göttingen (1966-1967), and later with Arthur Mendel, Lewis Lockwood, Milton Babbitt, and Ernst Oster at Princeton University where he received his M.F.A. in 1969. He also worked with Karlheinz Stockhausen at Darmstadt in 1961 and 1965.
Rifkin has taught at several universities, including Brandeis University (1970-1982), Harvard, Yale, and is currently teaching at Boston University. He is noted for his research in the field of Renaissance and Baroque music. One of his widely accepted findings (1975) is that Bach's St. Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday, 1727, not 1729 as was previously thought. In a paper published in the Bach-Jahrbuch in 2000, Rifkin argued that the chorus BWV 50 was not written by Bach.
In the 1960s, Rifkin created arrangements for Judy Collins on her albums In My Life and Wildflowers. He performed with the Even Dozen Jug Band (along with Dave Grisman, Maria Muldaur and John Sebastian, among others) and made a recording of his humorous re-imaginings of music by Lennon and McCartney in the style of the 18th century, notably Bach, known as the Baroque Beatles Book and recently reissued on CD. In a related vein, Rifkin sang the countertenor solo in the premiere performance of the spoof cantata Iphigenia in Brooklyn by P. D. Q. Bach (Peter Schickele).
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