Edmund Kurtz



Born: December 29, 1908; St. Petersburg, Russia   Died: August 19, 2004; London, England  
Cellist Edmund Kurtz is not related to another St. Petersburg musician of the same generation, conductor Efrem Kurtz. Edmund started piano lessons at the age of eight and did not do well with them. In 1917, he attended a concert that included a performance of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations and decided to become a cellist. His memories suggest he may have been drawn to the instrument because the soloist's chair was on a large box covered in red Read more cloth.

Kurtz's family left Russia immediately after the revolution of 1817, settling in Germany. Kurtz took his first cello lessons and progressed to the extent that he was accepted at the age of 13 as a student of the great Julius Klengel. Kurtz recalls that Klengel's teaching allowed freedom in the way the students progressed and did not impose any particular technique. By the time Kurtz was 16, Klengel wrote in a letter of recommendation, "During many years of my activities as a teacher, only rarely have I found a pupil who was developed so rapidly." He predicted that Kurtz would become "one of our most celebrated soloists."

Klengel advised Kurtz to go ahead and make his debut recital at the age of 16. The critics gave him high praise and soon he had a strong European concert career. On Pablo Casals' advice, Kurtz studied with Alexanian and also had a brief period of study with Leó Weiner in Budapest. During this time, he continued his active performing life. This included touring with the great ballerina Anna Pavlova, whom he accompanied in the famous "Dying Swan" dance set to The Swan by Saint-Saëns (one of the leading solo pieces in the cello literature). In those days, Kurtz centered his activities on positions with leading orchestras. He was principal cellist of the Bremen Opera Orchestra and later with the Prague German Orchestra, the latter under conductor George Szell. He began an active recording career with the Polydor company beginning in 1927. In 1936, looking to leave Central Europe (which was increasingly threatened by the aggressive foreign policy of Nazi Germany), Kurtz began making world tours in a trio whose other members were the Spivakovsky brothers. In 1936, he landed a position as principal cellist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

He began to re-establish his touring career in America and in 1944 was successful enough that he resigned his orchestral position. He was especially praised for his strong and warm tone, though critics were also quick to mention is agility and accuracy on the instrument. He supported contemporary music and commissioned Ernst Krenek's Suite for unaccompanied cello and gave the first U.S. performance of Khachaturian's cello concerto and Milhaud's Cello Concerto No. 2, the latter of which was dedicated to him. He is also the dedicatee of Ginastera's Pampeana No. 2. His instrument was the "Hausmann" cello of 1724, by Stradivarius and he was a collector of premium cello bows.

Throughout his career, he played the Bach cello suites to great praise. But over the decades, the continuing irritation over contradictions, seemingly anachronistic bowings and fingerings and other details, repeated in all extant published editions of the suites impelled him to make his own edition. He prepared what is now regarded as the standard, most accurate, and most intelligently fingered and bowed edition of these towering masterpieces of the instrument's literature. To make them, he traveled to Berlin in 1978 and intensely studied the most authoritative source for these pieces, the autographs made in the hand of Anna Magdalena Bach, the composer's musician wife. (Bach's original is lost.) Meticulously checking his work and trying out bowings and fingerings with attention to contemporary descriptions of style and cello technique, he completed this highly praised edition and published it in 1983. At the time, he said that if anyone discovered an autograph in J.S. Bach's own hand, he was prepared to start all over again. Read less

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