Farewell to a creative repetiteur

Farewell to a creative repetiteur


norman lebrecht

December 27, 2011

The death is reported of Martin Isepp, who coached two generations of singers at Glyndebourne over forty years and was greatly responsible for the festival’s enduring success.


He was the son of a Viennese singer, Helene Isepp, who came to Britain as a Hitler refugee in 1938 and taught many fine singers, most notably Dame Janet Baker. He also taught at Juilliard and the National Opera Studio.


Martin, who was 81, will be sorely missed.


  • Eugene Gaub says:

    I had the great privilege of studying vocal accompanying with Martin Isepp at Juilliard for a year. For me, his most inspiring moment came when he insisted on holding a two-hour class the morning of his Carnegie Hall concert with Janet Baker, a concert that included the first New York performance of Domenick Argento’s “From the Diary of Virginia Woolf.” When asked why he didn’t cancel the class, he replied “What would I do instead, stay home and bite my nails?”

  • Katarina Karnéus says:

    I worked alot with Martin both as a student and as a professional singer.
    I still treasure everything that he taught me,
    especially in Mahler. I Am so sad to hear of his death, and I send my condolences
    To Rose and the rest of his family and friends!
    Katarina Karnéus – Mezzo Soprano

  • Susan Mackenzie-Park says:

    Such sad, sad news. I was fortunate enough to work with Martin on the first ever event at La Mortella for the Walton Foundation. 3 weeks spent with Martin & Colin Graham, alas also no longer with us. What a treat! They just don’t make them like that nowadays. RIP

  • Susanne Mentzer says:

    What a loss. Martin was a coach and conductor at Juilliard while I was a student there. He worked on “Calisto” His vocal rep class was fantastic. I am wracking my brain trying to remember what he worked on with me professionally. He opened my eyes to so much and was ever the gentleman. He will be missed by many of my generation.

  • Robert Poulton says:

    Such sad news. Martin was an extraordinary musician and an inspirational teacher. Always genial and encouraging, he knew all the Mozart operas by heart, and would often coach without needing the score in front of him at the piano. Having had the good fortune of working with him at the National Opera Studio and Glyndebourne, I am grateful for his insight and knowledge. My thoughts are with Rose and his family.

  • Norma Fisher says:

    What a loss, indeed! Wonderful man, wonderful musician and what a pianist! I recall an unforgettable evening playing (for fun!) through the Brahms Symphonies as piano duets and being totally out – played by his extraordinary stamina and “full throttle” energy!! Glorious memories, too, of British Council tours in Germany, when he, Ilse Wolf and I would give joint recitals and spend many hours enjoying each others company! Some of those train and car journeys across Germany were hilarious! Sincerest condolences to his family!

  • Marie-Elise Boyer says:

    What a shock to hear such sad news… I was a repetiteur trainee at National Opera Studio two years ago, Martin has been one of the most inspiring musicians I met there, also one of the most respectable ones. Song classes with him were always such a joy to listen to or to take part in, and I shall also remember the sessions on Mozart recitatives (which he would of course all know by heart! )… I feel extremely lucky that I had the chance to meet him and to learn from the wonderful musician he was.
    My thoughts go to his family and friends.

  • Fiona Kimm says:

    What a lovely man Martin was. I first met him at Glyndebourne, where he coached me on Third lady, and then at the National Opera Studio in its inaugural year. I learnt so much from him, during his wonderful song classes as well as his opera coaching sessions. He also made the most delicious and wicked dry martinis! Lynda Russell and I sang a duet recital which Martin accompanied. At one of our rehearsals, at his home, he conjured up some of these exquisite concoctions. Needless to say, the rehearsal went with a real swing!

    He will be very sorely missed.

  • anne mason says:

    Dear Martin I feel so lucky and privileged to have been helped so much by him at the National Opera studio and Glyndebourne. He was such a lovely man and Rose his lovely wife. My thoughts are with her and their family. I also speak for my Husband Geoffrey Moses who worked with him many times at Glyndebourne.

  • I had the privilege of meeting Martin whilst a pianist in the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Program.

    His love of music and languages was intoxicating for all surrounding him. The beauty of the “human weight” that accompanied every musical advise he gave was astounding.

    I later spent 10 summer days at his beautiful country house to prepare Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch together. The morning was dedicated to music, lunch was often made out of Sheperd’s pie but always accompanied by some very chilled white wine, and the afternoon was dedicated to more Wolf and debate over music.

    I shall not forget these beautiful times and the stunningly beautiful human being Martin was!

  • Dearest Martin

    We were so blessed as singers to have your incredible instruction and accompaniment in our formative years at the Canadian Opera Company and at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada. We became disciplined artists in your embrace. We will never forget the fun-loving hours we spent around your studio piano. We will never forget you!

    Irena and Ted (Theodore Baerg)

  • Miriam Charney says:

    ach, what a shock to hear this. I first had the inspirational privilege of working with Martin at the Banff Festival, assisting him with the artsong classes. I still have all the old cassette tapes from those sessions, with special fond memories of the Mozart and Wolf interpretations. I still quote his marvelous instructions to all the pianists on great accompanying: you must be WITH the singer, AND follow the singer AND lead the singer, all at the same time….and they must never know ANY of it! My love and condolences to Rose and Martin’s family.

  • Craig Rutenberg says:

    Martin was perhaps the last link to a cultivated world peopled by Elisabeth Schumann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss and, through his mother’s family, Mahler and Freud ( the former via the banking world of the Hammerschlags, the latter via Helene’s cousin Josef Breuer ). His father, a member of the Viennese School of Ringen mit dem Engel, gave Martin his wide knowledge of the visual arts.

    Always a gentleman, even when sorely pressed by a badly behaved singer, always a bon vivant and gourmand as well as gourmet (“One can’t go wrong with a ripe Reblochon and a good Bordeaux” and ” for a proper Bloody Mary, always start with well chilled V-8 Juice!”), Martin was the best of friends, an irreplaceable mentor and an accompanist- NOT a collaborative pianist, thank you- the likes of which no longer exist.
    Martin’s postlude to a recording of Frauenliebe und Leben with Dame Janet Baker remains the most exquisite performance I have ever heard.

    Ten seasons on the music staff at Glyndebourne under Martin’s direction gave me a standard to which I have since aspired, if not always reached.
    The fact that he accepted my invitation to prepare a revival of Don Giovanni at the Met a few years back, made us happier than I think he ever knew.

    All sympathy, empathy and love to Rose, their sons and their families.

    Craig Rutenberg

  • I was very fortunate to have worked closely with Martin Isepp for the past two years. I had first met him in 2000 when I was singing Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte at Glyndebourne. Martin was coach and repetiteur on that production. I learned a huge amount from him that summer and always found him to be very modest and quiet but at the same time passionate and demanding about the music. And no one I had ever met knew Mozart’s music the way Martin did.

    When we next met up it was 2009 and nearly 10 years had passed. I sought Martin out to coach me when I was looking to get back into a business that I had more or less left five years before. I knew he and his lovely wife Rose had a cottage not far from Lewes and I knew that Martin was the consummate musician I needed to stir the blood and get the voice moving again. After we had worked together for a couple of months Martin addressed me very gravely one day. He said, “Now, Paul, I have to ask you something. I have a rather awe-inspiring birthday coming up and I was wondering whether you would consider giving me the birthday gift of performing Schumann’s Dichterliebe with me at my birthday party?” I had a lump in my throat as I told him I would be pleased and honoured. And that was the start.

    After Martin’s party we did a couple of full recitals together. Neither of us had performed publicly for five years and we were both nervous. Those recitals were and are to me very special moments in my musical career and I will treasure them always. Many, many thanks, Martin. I will miss you, my friend.

  • Laura Campbell, Mezzo Soprano says:

    Dearest Isepp family, my heart flies out to you at this time. Martin’s ability to listen, to wait, to hear (with heart and soul as well as an unerring sense for musical style and compositional structure), then, when he felt he could, to guide singers and pianists made his presence during my Juilliard years precious and invaluable. Seeing songs in paintings, paintings in songs, deepened my appreciation of vocal literature tremendously. Now, we must carry the legacy he left us with his humility and conviction, compassion, an open heart and listening ear at the quick of it all!