André Navarra


Born: October 13, 1911 Died: July 31, 1988
Cellist André-Nicolas Navarra's family was musical. They took the sensible step of preparing him for music before they gave him an instrument, teaching him the scales and solfège by the age of seven. Once he showed a musical ear and willingness to work, they quickly started him on cello. He entered the Toulouse Conservatoire at the age of nine and graduated at 13 with first prize in cello. He was referred to the Paris Conservatoire where he studied cello with Jules Leopold-Loeb and chamber music with Tournemire, winning first prize there at the age of 15. Very unusually among first-rate soloists, he stopped taking lessons at that point; he worked out his own course of study and practiced at it. He studied violin method books, particularly the Flesch and Sevcik methods, because the student literature for cello was not as abundant.

During this time of self-teaching, he remained in Paris. The city was salutary for a developing young musician. He had contact with and observed the playing of Emanuel Feuermann and also pianist Alfred Cortot and violinist Jacques Thibaud. He also became friends with composers Jacques Ibert, Florent Schmitt, and Arthur Honegger. Later, he was advised as to artistic matters by the great cellist Pablo Casals.

He started to play professionally when he was 18, becoming a member of the Krettly String Quartet, which he played with for seven years. He also helped form an ensemble called the B.B.N. Trio with pianist G. Benvenuti and violinist René Benedetti. His solo debut was in 1931, playing the Lalo Concerto with the Colonne Orchestra in Paris in 1931. He joined the Paris Opéra Orchestra in 1933.

During these young years, he was exceptionally athletic. His favorite sport was swimming, but he also enjoyed boxing. For years afterward, he had a strong and stocky physique. Not surprisingly, he regarded his shape as ideal for a cellist, allowing one to dominate the large instrument.

He slowly continued to establish his career during the 1930s, which received a major boost in 1937 when he won first prize at the Vienna International Competition. However, his career was cut short by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when he joined the infantry. He did not return to the cello until the war ended in 1945.

After a period of practice to regain his physical skills, he re-established his career. In 1949, he was appointed professor of cello at the Paris Conservatoire. Meanwhile, he toured extensively in the U.S., Asia, and the Soviet Union, as well as Europe, and made a great recording of the Elgar Cello concerto with John Barbirolli conducting. Several composers wrote works for him, including Tomassi and Jolivet, whose cello concertos he premiered. He was particularly known for his splendid bowing technique, which he attributed to his studies of Sevcik and Flesch. His legato playing could be ravishing.

For many years, he taught summer courses at the Accademia Cigiana in Siena, Italy, and autumn master classes at St. Jean-de-Luz. As a teacher, he could be tough, but generally he had a friendly, upbeat temperament and a sympathetic understanding of his pupils' problems. About the only sin that commonly aroused his anger was when a student's attention wandered from total focus on the instruction. Alexander Baillie, a British cellist who studied with Navarra, said his teacher was one of the few who had developed and taught a comprehensive and successful school of cello playing. As such, he became one of the most influential of European cellists.