Igor Kipnis


Born: September 27, 1930 Died: January 24, 2001
Igor Kipnis, the son of the great Russian bass singer Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978), was for some years America's leading harpsichord and fortepiano player. Unsurprisingly, he was exposed to music from his earliest days. His father was singing with the Berlin Opera when Igor was born. For the next eight years the family mostly moved about Europe, wherever Alexander's career took them. The Kipnis family moved to the United States in 1938 when Alexander joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera.

Igor's mother's side of the family is also musical. His grandfather Heniot Levy was the head of the piano department at the American Conservatory in Chicago, and gave Igor some of his early keyboard lessons. Much of the music in the house came from his father's 78 rpm record player and an extensive collection of lieder and opera aria disks. Igor himself got the record collecting bug and decided to buy Edwin Fischer's famous recording of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach, a set of five albums, costing 90 dollars. Although this was an astronomical sum for a boy in the 1940s, Igor worked to earn the money, then found that the last volume contained two more 78s as a filler. These presented the English Suite No. 2 played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska. The sound of the instrument fascinated him.

However, Igor had little thought of becoming a musician, although he had developed fine keyboard skills. He majored in social relations at Harvard and wanted to work in radio or TV production or the record industry. He finally had a chance to play a harpsichord when taking a course on Handel with composer Randall Thompson. "Nothing happened, however, until 1957," he wrote, "when my parents imported a small instrument for me to fool around with after work."

At the time he oversaw cover design and wrote program notes for Westminster Records, having briefly worked at WMCA, New York's Top 40 radio station, as record librarian, and was writing reviews for the American Record Guide. Meanwhile, he had studied harpsichord with Thurston Dart. He debuted as a freelance harpsichord player, in addition to his other jobs, in 1959, mostly playing harpsichord continuo, including some recordings of Baroque trumpet music with Richard Kapp.

From this a notable international recording and touring career grew. He recorded over 81 albums, including around 60 solo discs. He taught and played at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood (1964-1967), Fairfield University in Connecticut (1971-1977), and the Festival Music Society in Indianapolis. He added the fortepiano (precursor of the piano) to his instruments, making his first appearance playing it in Indianapolis. He was involved in radio as a frequent guest on the syndicated record review program "First Hearing" and for three years hosted his own WQXR radio program, "The Age of Baroque" and a syndicated series, "The Classical Organ." He published several editions of Baroque keyboard music, and enjoys writing record reviews for leading American publications.

His harpsichord repertoire included an enormous quantity of Baroque- and Classical-era music, but also a copious amount of the music for harpsichord that has been written since the revival of the instrument in the 1920s. This included works by Falla, Rochberg, Rorem, McCabe, Curtis-Smith, Locklair, Kolb, Salzman, and Richard Rodney Bennett.

In 1995, he formed the Kipnis-Kushner Piano Duo with Karen Kushner, which toured internationally.