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Lionel Tertis

Lionel Tertis: The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Lionel Tertis
    Book Description:

    Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) stands in the company of YsaŸe, Kreisler, Casals, Thibaud and Rubinstein as one of the greatest instrumentalists - and arguably the greatest viola player - of all time. Such composers as Arnold Bax, Holst, and Vaughan Williams all wrote significant works for him; he was a member of a number of prominent string quartets; and he was later to design and promote his own 'Tertis model' viola. He is virtually synonymous with the increasing importance of the viola as a solo and recital instrument alongside the violin and the cello. This biography, the first full-length survey of his life, tells how he rose from humble beginnings to become 'the father of the modern viola'. It explores in detail his long and distinguished career, persuading composers to write works for the viola, arranging existing works for the instrument, editing and performing the music, teaching and coaching in Great Britain, and his performances in the United States. JOHN WHITE is a prominent viola teacher and performer; in 2000 he was awarded the International Viola Society's highest award for distinguished scholarship and contributions to the viola.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-484-3
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xi)
    Tully Potter

    As a boy growing up in South Africa, I had relatively few chances to hear string playing of quality; and it was through recordings by William Primrose and Rudolf Barshai (especially the latter’s interpretation of Mozart’sSinfonia concertantewith Menuhin) that I came to love the sound of the viola. Not long after I returned to Britain in 1966, an LP of Lionel Tertis was issued. I had never come across his name and might not have bothered to buy the record, had I not – as so often happens – heard him mentioned in a totally different connection. Whoever this Tertis...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xii-xiii)
    John White
  6. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. 1 The Tertis Family
    (pp. 1-6)

    The date of 29 December 1876 presents musical history with a remarkable coincidence. For on that day Pau Casals was born in the small Catalonian town of Vendrell, while Lionel Tertis came into the world in the industrial town of West Hartlepool in the north of England. Each of these two remarkable men was the son of a musician, and was destined to bring his chosen instrument to new heights of virtuosity and popularity. Many books have been written about the legendary cellist Casals, but the equally charismatic Tertis has been comparatively neglected, perhaps because he played the more self-effacing...

  8. 2 Early Career
    (pp. 7-25)

    As a new century dawned, Lionel Tertis was probably one of the finest violists in the world, although he still had some way to go before he made the public aware of his quality. At home his only rival was Alfred Hobday, who was almost seven years older and a member of an outstanding musical family – his wife Ethel, née Sharpe, was a splendid pianist who had been part of Brahms’s circle in Vienna, while his younger brother Claude was a superb exponent of the double bass. It is difficult to judge Alfred Hobday’s playing, because his only recordings were...

  9. 3 The First World War
    (pp. 26-42)

    Tertis was thirty-seven at the start of the Great War, and too old for any meaningful military service. When he was eventually called up, he turned out to be unfit. Like others in the same situation – the great bass Robert Radford, for example – he threw himself into helping the war effort by entertaining those on the home front. He was to look back on the war as a ghastly watershed in history: ‘Whatever our apprehensions, we little realised that it would spell the end of the sanguine, prosperous, hopefully forward-looking Europe most of us regarded as becoming solidly established.’


  10. 4 The Chamber Music Players
    (pp. 43-53)

    During the latter part of the First World War Tertis’s recitals brought him into close contact with the Australian pianist William Murdoch, who was to be the linchpin of one of the great British chamber music groups. From the point of view of posterity, it was the most important ensemble that Tertis played in, because – although the group as a whole did not leave recordings – he made records with some of its members. As he wrote:

    My next venture in ensemble playing was of a more or less permanent nature, and took the shape of another piano quartet: Albert Sammons...

  11. 5 American Tours
    (pp. 54-72)

    Musical life in Britain was strangely reduced immediately after the Great War, the most remarkable aspect being the almost total absence of foreign artists. However, musicians from the newly created state of Czechoslovakia, such as Ema Destinnová, Jan Heřman and the Bohemian Quartet, were quick to reappear, as were French stars such as Emma Calvé and Alfred Cortot, Russians such as Benno Moiseiwitsch and Joseph Coleman, and the occasional Italian such as Tetrazzini or Busoni. (Even though Italy had been on the same side as Britain in the war, the majority of her musicians were slow to return.) Hungarians were...

  12. 6 Return to the Royal Academy of Music
    (pp. 73-93)

    Lionel and ada Tertis returned to England on 16 February 1924 on the Cunard liner RMSBerengaria. No sooner were they back in circulation than the pianist Katherine Goodson invited them to a party in honour of Ernő Dohnányi. The Hungarian composer, then forty-six, was at the height of his fame, and his country’s foremost musical ambassador as creator and performer; Bartók and Kodály – both much better appreciated today – were hardly known to the wider world. In conversation that evening Tertis mentioned that he played Dohnányi’s C sharp minor Violin Sonata exactly as written for the violin. The Hungarian was...

  13. 7 The Elgar and Walton Concertos
    (pp. 94-110)

    The late 1920s were momentous for the viola, with two concertos written by Paul Hindemith, and others by Tibor Serly, Darius Milhaud and William Walton. It was typical of Tertis’s rather equivocal position in the musical world – on the one hand always searching for repertoire, on the other hand ignoring important new works or simply being oblivious of their existence – that in the midst of this glut of important music he busied himself with adapting a concerto written for another instrument. He could hardly have known about the Serly work, as the composer was at that time simply a member...

  14. 8 BBC Orchestra and New British Works for Viola
    (pp. 111-135)

    In the summer of 1929 Lionel Tertis and Albert Sammons were involved in a major undertaking. The BBC had decided to form its own symphony orchestra. The string principals were appointed individually, but auditions for rank and file players were held in London and the regions between May and the autumn. Sammons and Tertis heard more than 1,000 auditions to select the sixty-strong string section of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. To lick the players into shape, the orchestra’s founding conductor, Adrian Boult, adopted Tertis’s suggestion of separate sectional rehearsals.

    Women had played for years in Sir Henry Wood’s orchestra at...

  15. 9 A Shock Retirement
    (pp. 136-159)

    Among Violet Gordon Woodhouse’s circle, who met regularly over the years in London, Lypiatt and Armscote were the Sitwells, Ethel Smyth, Arnold Dolmetsch, Augustín Rubio, Enrique Fernández Arbós, Arthur Waley and Tertis. On 5 March 1935 Tertis gave a recital at the Wigmore Hall with Violet playing the harpsichord; their programme took in pieces by Handel, Martini, Mozart, Galuppi, Tartini, Scarlatti, Telemann, Porpora, Vaughan Williams, Kalnis, Poulenc and Marais.The Timesreported that ‘everything was exceedingly well played, though one felt that the viola’s tone was sometimes too dry, especially on the top string. The viola tone seemed to take...

  16. 10 The Richardson–Tertis Viola
    (pp. 160-175)

    Whatever Lionel Tertis did during his long and active life, he always gave everything to his task, and became impatient with others who, in his perception, did not have the same commitment and dedication. This trait sometimes led to misunderstandings and tensions that caused a strain on a friendship or a working relationship. A typical example was Tertis’s association with the luthier Arthur Richardson of Crediton, Devon, a relationship in which passions on both sides often ran high. Now that the dust has settled on the disputes and disagreements, it can be seen that Tertis initiated a major contribution to...

  17. 11 The Second World War
    (pp. 176-208)

    When war was declared on 3 September 1939 all theatres, cinemas and concert halls were closed by order of the Home Office. Even the BBC stopped doing anything at all creative, and filled the airwaves with news, theatre organ music and records, while the BBC Symphony Orchestra was immediately evacuated to Bristol. It can be seen with hindsight that this panic action was all mistaken, but at that stage, during the ‘phoney war’, no one was quite sure what horrors the Germans might perpetrate. The first musician to do anything positive was Myra Hess, who cancelled a lucrative American tour...

  18. 12 Promoting the Tertis Model Viola
    (pp. 209-237)

    In January 1950 Tertis declared himself ‘greatly honoured’ when King George VI appointed him Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) ‘for services to music, particularly in relation to the viola’. Sadly Ada, who had been ailing for some six years, was in a nursing home at the time, and could not accompany him to Buckingham Palace to receive the honour from the King. Tertis therefore asked Charles Lovett Gill to go with him. Later in the year the committee of the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund conferred an award on him that also proved dear to his heart; Tertis...

  19. 13 Return to America and Eightieth Birthday Celebrations
    (pp. 238-253)

    In october 1956The Stradannounced that ‘Lionel Tertis, the veteran British violist, is emerging from his retirement to fly to the United States. The object of his visit is to introduce and demonstrate the Tertis Model viola.’ He was invited to stay with friends in New York – Dr and Mrs Fairchild. Mary Fairchild had studied viola with Tertis in London and, though small in stature, was an advocate of the ‘T. M.’ viola. Tertis’s visit included lecture-recitals, talks, cocktail parties, sightseeing and much more, from 10 a.m. until well after midnight most days. He opened his American visit by...

  20. 14 Second Marriage and Last Appearance
    (pp. 254-273)

    At the 1958 King’s Lynn Festival Tertis was the soloist in Vaughan Williams’sFlos campi, which he had premièred in 1925. With the conductor Herbert Menges he visited RVW at his London home, 10 Hanover Terrace, and had a further rehearsal at Mahatma Gandhi Hall (Morley College) with orchestra and chorus (the Linden Singers), which Vaughan Williams attended. TheSunday Timesof 29 June 1958 had a front-page photograph of Tertis and Vaughan Williams at rehearsal, and on page 5 there was an article entitled ‘Mr Tertis’s Philosophy’:

    Lionel Tertis, Britain’s outstanding viola player, who at eighty-one is busy rehearsing...

  21. 15 TV Profile and Ninetieth Birthday
    (pp. 274-283)

    Lionel Tertis’s restless mind was forever evolving solutions to musical problems – usually concerning sound and tone quality, which was one of his lifelong obsessions. In the early 1960s he returned to a scheme he had devised forty years earlier, for what he deemed to be the ideal orchestral seating plan. His goal was to improve the blend and balance between the different sections within the ensemble.

    One of his acoustic discoveries had arisen from the supposedly primitive pre electric method of making recordings. When he had to play into the recording horn in the Aeolian-Vocalion studios, Tertis found there was...

  22. 16 Final Years
    (pp. 284-302)

    In 1967 Lillian and Lionel Tertis went to South Africa to take a holiday and to promote the Tertis Model. In a letter dated 17 October from Radnor Hotel, Green Point, Cape Town, to Bernard Shore and his wife, they described their outward journey:

    This boat is very fine and modern in every way and we have a delightful cabin, but the people on board make us think what it must be like at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp! and there are over 700 of them, not including ourselves. The food is less than mediocre although they produce a magnificently long...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 303-310)
  24. APPENDIX 1 Tertis’s Violas
    (pp. 311-311)
  25. APPENDIX 2 The Tertis Model Viola
    (pp. 312-313)
  26. APPENDIX 3 Tertis’s Writings and Talks
    (pp. 314-325)
  27. APPENDIX 4 Tertis’s BBC Appearances
    (pp. 326-347)
  28. APPENDIX 5 Tertis’s Honours
    (pp. 348-348)
  29. APPENDIX 6 Music with Tertis Connections
    (pp. 349-359)
  30. APPENDIX 7 The Lionel Tertis Bequest
    (pp. 360-361)
  31. APPENDIX 8 The Tertis Legacy
    (pp. 362-367)
  32. Discography
    (pp. 368-384)
  33. Bibliography
    (pp. 385-388)
  34. Index
    (pp. 389-408)
  35. Back Mattter
    (pp. 409-409)