At 95, America’s viola king has died

There were four de Pasquales in the Philadelphia Orchestra. William and Robert de Pasquale were in the violins, Francis was in the cello section.

The big beast was Joseph de Pasquale. Principal viola of the Boston Symphony from 1944, he was seduced home 20 years later by Eugene Ormandy to join his brothers in the Philadelphia and teach future generations at Curtis.

Peter Dobrin as written a lovely account of his life on, here.

joseph de pasquale
photo: Curtis


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  • Upon hearing of his passing, I feel compelled to write a brief tribute and to mention my “30 second lesson” with Joseph de Pasquale. Joe, as almost everyone called him, was an unforgettable, bigger than life figure with a tone to match.

    Around 1967, I was having a clarinet lesson with Anthony Gigliotti at Curtis and we were discussing the Mozart Trio for clarinet, viola and piano (K. 498, aka Kegelstatt). I had been rehearsing it with a violist who played the opening theme of the first movement in a way that was very measured and uninteresting, and I asked how other violists usually played it. Mr. Gigliotti opened the studio window and shouted across to the opposite studio: “Joe.” No response. Then much louder: “HEY JOE.” The opposite window opened and de Pasquale said: “Hey Tony, I’m busy teaching a lesson.” Gigliotti then asked him how violists usually play the Mozart theme and Joe replied: “I don’t know how others play it, but I play it like this.” He proceeded to demonstrate his magnificent burnished sound, playing the theme somewhere between a strict tempo and an improvised ornament. It was memorable. Joe then slammed the window shut and Tony Gigliotti said: “That’s how it goes!”

    After I became an administrator at Curtis in 1980, Joe and I had many chats of varying intensity, especially concerning his students and his thoughts on string playing in general and viola playing in particular, with occasional asides about conductors, especially Riccardo Muti whom he greatly admired. I know that anyone who ever had contact with Joseph de Pasquale, especially his students, will never forget his exuberant personality and his solid musicianship.

  • Never knew the man when I was a Curtis kid, but I’ll never forget his explosively lyrical viola solos in Mahler Nine, circa 1991. Here’s Dobrin’s gem:

    ‘To this day, Philadelphia Orchestra parts are marked with Mr. de Pasquale’s fingerings, “which were designed to create a dynamism in the [orchestra’s] middle voice,” wrote Wyrczynski. “He was not afraid to suggest risk-taking. For instance, there are passages in the slow movement of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra where the violas play the melody entirely on the C string in order to create musical tension in the sound. It had never been done before in Philadelphia.”‘
    This is the secret history of orchestral performance.

  • Rather late in their careers I attended a Sunday afternoon concert by the De Pasquale Quartet held in a chapel at Villanova U. The program included one of the Beethoven Razumovsky quartets as well as the Schubert Trout with Sawallisch, before being named Music Directory, playing the piano. Suffice it to say it was a memorable afternoon!

  • He was simply larger than life and a sweet man! He was principal viola when I produced for EMI with Ormandy and Muti in Philadelphia – Lemminkaenen Legends, Also Sprach Zarathustra (recorded in one session much to the annoyance of the concert master), Mahler 1, Respighi Pines, Fountains, Feste……… I think, on balance, theirs was an even finer string sound than Berlin in those days. Joe de P made half of it on his own! Certainly did it for me. One thing: Ormandy used to ask me to eat his chicken sandwiches in the lunch break because, as he explained, his wife had made them, he wasn’t hungry, but he couldn’t throw them away. They were good!

  • A CD available from ArkivMusic contains Ormandy’s Don Quixote with Philadelphia first chairs, cellist Samuel Mayes, concertmaster Norman Carol and violist Joseph de Pasquale coupled with Also Sprach Zarathustra. I’ve owned LPs of these recordings in the past and am happy to reacquire them in CD format. Solo playing in Don Quixote is truly excellent.

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