Tortelier on an open thread


Paul Tortelier plays Bach: Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G major

Excerpt from “Prelude” from: Suite No. 1in G major, BWV 1007 (Bach)

Paul Tortelier was one of the ten best cellists of all time. His lifetimes achievements are too grand, too much to list here but it does bear noting that he  taught the brilliant and peerless Jacqueline du Pré.

Although he was a Catholic, Tortelier was inspired by the ideals of the founders of the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, and in the years 1955–1956 spent some time living with his wife and two children in the kibbutz Maabarot, near Netanya.

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When Tortelier was sixteen years old, he won first prize at the Conservatoire, while in Gerard Hekking’s cello class. He had already gained much experience as a professional cellist, having performed in the cafes and cinemas of Paris. His first orchestral job was as assistant principal of the Paris Radio Orchestra. He played the Lalo Concerto, when he debuted in 1931 with the Concerts Lamoureux. He also performed with the Calvet Quartet.

He studied harmony for three years with Jean Gallon in the Conservatoire (he received first prize in composition), and was a member of the Monte Carlo Symphony Orchestra from 1935 to 1937, where he played under the batons of Toscanini and Bruno Walter, as well as with Richard Strauss, who conducted his Don Quixote, with Tortelier playing the cello solo. (He became internationally associated with Don Quixote, and played it with many orchestras around the world.)

In 1939 he became solo cellist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitsky. He eventually performed concerts with all the famous conductors and orchestras of the mid-twentieth century. A French critic wrote, “If Casals is Jupiter, then Tortelier is Apollo.”

Torterlier was a friend of Pablo Casals, and was invited to be principal cellist at the first Prades Festival, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of Bach’s death. He admired Casals very much and imitated some of his technique. He said of Casals, “…he was probably the first cellist to use his left hand in the manner of a pianist–that is, by normally placing only one finger on the string at a time, rather than keeping all the fingers clamped down. This allowed the fingers to vibrate freely.” (From The Strad, April ’84) Ginsberg wrote, “Creative fantasy and a youthful abandon are inherent in his performing style.”

Tortelier was so moved by the Israeli effort to establish a homeland that he moved to Israel to assist in the effort. He was forty years old then, at the height of his cellist powers. He and his wife and their two children lived in Mabaroth, a Kibbutz, just a few hundred yards from the enemy border.

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