The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Alfred Cortot

Alfred Cortot (September 26, 1877June 15, 1962) was a French (or Swiss) pianist and conductor.

Born in Nyon in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Cortot studied at the Paris Conservatoire, winning the piano prize there in 1896. Between 1898 and 1901 he was an assistant conductor at Bayreuth Festspiel from 1898 to 1901, and in 1902 he conducted the Paris premiere of Götterdämmerung by Wagner. He later taught the piano at the Paris Conservatoire before founding the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris in 1919. His courses in musical interpretation were famous. He toured as a pianist all over the world, also appearing as guest conductor of many orchestras. He died in Lausanne.

Controversially, he supported the Vichy regime (he played in Nazi-sponsored concerts, for example) in France during the Second World War, which led to him being declared persona non grata after the end of the war. His motivations for doing this have been disputed, but he was banned from performing publicly for a year, and his public image in France suffered greatly.

As a pianist, Cortot was particularly noted for his interpretations of Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, and he made editions of both those composers' music. Many connoiseurs consider him to be the greatest interpreter of their works. Although he was possibly most famous for his wrong notes, the musicality of his performances is virtually unrivalled (it has been said that while he got many of his notes wrong, he also got them more right than any other pianist). Few would contest that his piano trio with Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals was the greatest of all time.

Cortot was among the very greatest musicians of the century and represented the end of an era. He is considered the last exponent of a personal, subjective style that deprecated precise technique in favor of intuition, interpretation and authentic spirit. This approach was replaced by the modern "scientific" way of playing, which places logic and precision at the forefront and equates authenticity with metronomic and literal "interpretations". Cortot's recordings are highly valuable documents.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 11:43:21
Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:53