Gustav Leonhardt biography
Gustav Leonhardt (30 May 1928, 's-Graveland – 16 January 2012, Amsterdam) was a renowned Dutch keyboard player, conductor, musicologist, teacher and editor. Leonhardt was a leading figure in the movement to perform music on period instruments. He professionally played many instruments, including the harpsichord, pipe organ, claviorganum (a combination of harpsichord and organ), clavichord and fortepiano. He also conducted orchestras and choruses.
He was born in 's-Graveland, North Holland and studied organ and harpsichord from 1947 to 1950 with Eduard Müller at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. In 1950, he made his debut as a harpsichordist in Vienna, where he studied musicology. He was professor of harpsichord at the Academy of Music from 1952 to 1955 and at the Amsterdam Conservatory from 1954. He was also a church organist.
Leonhardt performed and conducted a variety of solo, chamber, orchestral, operatic, and choral music from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. Among the dozens of composers whose music he recorded as a harpsichordist, organist, clavichordist, fortepianist, chamber musician or conductor were Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Heinrich Biber, John Blow, Georg Böhm, William Byrd, André Campra, François Couperin, Louis Couperin, John Dowland, Jacques Duphly, Antoine Forqueray, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Johann Jakob Froberger, Orlando Gibbons, André Grétry, George Frideric Handel, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Georg Muffat, Johann Pachelbel, Henry Purcell, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Christian Ritter, Johann Rosenmüller, Domenico Scarlatti, Agostino Steffani, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Georg Philipp Telemann, Manuel Valls, Antonio Vivaldi, and Matthias Weckmann.
Central to Leonhardt's career was Johann Sebastian Bach. Leonhardt first recorded music of the composer in the early 1950s, with recordings in 1953 of the Goldberg Variations and The Art of Fugue. The latter embodies the thesis he had published the previous year arguing that the work was intended for the keyboard, a conclusion now widely accepted. The recordings helped establish his reputation as a distinguished harpsichordist and Bach interpreter. In 1954 he led the Leonhardt Baroque Ensemble with the English countertenor Alfred Deller in a pioneering recording of two Bach cantatas. The Ensemble included his wife Marie Leonhardt (born 1928), Eduard Melkus (violins), Alice Harnoncourt-Hoffelner (violin, viola), Nikolaus Harnoncourt (cello) and Michel Piguet (oboe).
In 1971, Leonhardt and Harnoncourt undertook the project of recording the first complete cycle of Bach's cantatas on period instruments; the two conductors divided up the cantatas and recorded their assigned cantatas with their own ensembles. The project ended up taking nineteen years, from 1971 to 1990. In addition, Leonhardt recorded Bach's St Matthew Passion, Mass in B minor, Magnificat, and the complete secular cantatas, as well as the harpsichord concertos, Brandenburg concertos, and most of his chamber and keyboard music; he recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations (three times), Partitas (twice), The Art of Fugue (twice), The Well-Tempered Clavier, French Suites, English Suites (twice), Inventions and Sinfonias, and many other individual works for the harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. Incidentally, Leonhardt appears in a wig as Johann Sebastian Bach in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, a 1968 film by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.
Leonhardt had a significant influence on the technique and style of many harpsichordists of the second half of the 20th century, through his recordings, editions, and teaching. His students and collaborators included harpsichordists and keyboard players such as Bob van Asperen, Lucy Carolan, Lisa Crawford, Christopher Hogwood, Alan Curtis, Richard Egarr, John Fesperman, John Gibbons, Pierre Hantaï, Ketil Haugsand, Philippe Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, Charlotte Mattax, Davitt Moroney, Martin Pearlman (Music Director of Boston Baroque), Edward Parmentier, Christophe Rousset, Andreas Staier, Skip Sempé, Colin Tilney, Glen Wilson, and Jeannette Sorrell (founder of Apollo's Fire)
Leonhardt served as a member of the jury for the triennal International Harpsichord Concours in Bruges. He was the only jury member who had participated in all sixteen juries from 1965 to 2010.
Among the awards given to him were the Medal of Honour for the Arts and Sciences from the Netherlands, presented to him by Queen Beatrix in 2009, and the 1980 Erasmus Prize, which he shared with Nicolaus Harnoncourt; it honored their recording of the complete Bach cantatas. Leonhardt was doctor honoris causa of the universities of Dallas, Amsterdam, Harvard, Metz and Padua. In 2007 he was made Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and in 2008 Commander of the Order of the Crown in Belgium.
Leonhardt gave his last public performance on 12 December 2011 at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. Thereafter he announced his retirement due to illness and cancelled all of his 2012 engagements. He died in Amsterdam on Monday, 16 January 2012, aged 83.