Just in: Death of a great baroque leader

Just in: Death of a great baroque leader


norman lebrecht

July 15, 2015

We have just received this message from the Italian ensemble Il Complesso Barocco, founded by the American harpsichordist and conductor, Alan Curtis. 

Today, in his beloved Florence, Alan Curtis died suddenly, cut off in the midst of his ongoing work as both conductor and musicologist. Alan was one of the legendary musicologists responsible for the revival of interest in Early Music.

His orchestra, Il Complesso Barocco, which he led since its creation in 1977, was one of the first and best known groups to play the rediscovered music of Monteverdi, Cavalli, Handel, and many others. His scholarship and conducting helped lead to the revival of international interest in and enthusiasm for this music, and his many performances and recordings only added to the revival of public enthusiasm.

He will be deeply mourned by generations of musicians who have profited from this work and will be profoundly missed by the many musicians and music-lovers who came to respect, admire, and love him over the decades of his work.

Alan was 81. our sympathies to his family and many friends.

alan curtis


  • Joyce DiDonato says:

    It bears repeating: I’ve never known anyone to unabashedly and infectiously LOVE music as much as Alan did. He was a Titan in bringing an avalanche of “unknown” music to modern times, and our musical world is all the better for it. Rest in peace, Alan.

    • Richard Cumming-Bruce says:

      The Ariodante that Joyce did with Alan Curtis at The Barbican stands forever in my memory as one of the most riveting and thrilling evenings of Baroque opera that I’ve ever attended, and ever will attend.

  • Jory Vinikour says:

    Although 81 is a respectable age, it is so hard to imagine that an iconic figure like this can disappear. Rest in peace…

  • Jonathan Cable says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this. I first met Alan in the 1970s. He was a pioneer and gave everything he did his all. RIP …

  • DrDave says:

    I would like to add that Alan was also a harpsichordist and teacher. Alan influenced generations of performers and musicologists through his seminars, editions, workshops and festivals, and as a harpsichordist performed for decades, and made many important recordings not only as a soloist but also as a continuo player.

  • Mahan Esfahani says:

    Gave me my first big break. I will never forget Alan. Feeling a lot of love for this great man right now!

  • Kathleen McIntosh says:

    What a shock! Such a vibrant and gifted personality, and such a wonderful human being! He will be missed!

  • Ron Epstein says:

    As a teacher, Alan was kind, inspired, generous and open. What a loss.

  • Rosalind Halton says:

    Beginning with his Le Pupitre edition that introduced Louis Couperin to us in the 20th century- Many thanks to a great musical pioneer.

  • Elaine Thornburgh says:

    Alan was my first and most memorable harpsichord teacher. He imbued his music with such a feeling for gesture and phrasing and was able to impart it to all who worked with him. Those 2 1/2 years of study profoundly affected my choice to pursue harpsichord as a career and my 20 years of teaching harpsichord at Stanford. Eternal gratitude for all the beauty you gave the world!

  • marguerite foxon says:

    What a shock. He exemplifies the very best in baroque music, for me

  • Ks. Cristopher Robson says:

    A sad loss indeed, but what a wonderful long career he had. I never sang for him except at an audition for Baba the Turk (Rake’s Progress) in the mid 80’s – he gave me the job (for La Fenice) but then a few months later something happened and he was pushed out of the production, and the new conductor dropped me and engaged a woman before my contract had been finalised.
    Apparently Stravinsky had mentioned to him, when Alan was a young student working with/for Stravinsky, that it might have been interesting to have a man in the role, but falsettists were few and far between in the early 50s.
    Luckily I finally got to sing it at the Staatsoper in Munich in 2002. My audition for Alan took place at St. James’s Piccadilly in London between a rehearsal and concert for Ivor Bolton (who also played for me). When Ivor was asked years later to conduct the Rake in Munich he remembered that meeting with Alan Curtis 🙂 Lucky me!!
    I bumped into Alan a few times over the years. A multi-faceted musician, infectious, dripping with knowledge and love of music old and new. His recorded legacy is extensive and rewarding to listen to. He was one of the great pioneers of Baroque music and Historical Performance Practice. And a really, really nice man.


    Since our first encounter in 1978, Alan has remained a beacon of beauty, wisdom and inspiration throughout these long years. With profound respect, and thanks, to this great man.

  • Karen R. Clark says:

    So sad to hear this news. Alan Curtis was a great musician who contributed so much to so many. I was honored to get to sing the role of Messagiera in Monteverdi’s Ulysses with Alan conducting in Berkeley many moons ago. My condolences to his family and students.

  • Arthur Haas says:

    Without any question, Alan was the greatest musical influence in my life. I studied harpsichord with him for over 5 years both in Berkeley and Amsterdam, and in lessons, he managed seamlessly to combine his superb musicality with his musicological knowledge. All my accomplishments both as harpsichordist and as teacher stem from my contact with him. Although we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, I always felt he was looking over my shoulder, asking the right questions, and attempting to find answers. His death is a great loss to me and to the whole early music world. May he rest in peace.

  • Margaret Murata says:

    Utter shock. I remember his first public performance of the Goldberg Variations. Everyone remembers his very early LP of Cavalli’s Erismena. I declined to hear Meyerbeer here in Rome with him last Fall–my mistake. He was embarking on a new Neapolitan life … not to be, alas.

  • Guus Mostart says:

    I fondly remember Alan playing the harpsichord in 17th century costume in Filippo Sanjust’s marvellous production of “L’Incoronazione di Poppea”, conducted by Gustav Leonardt in the glory days of Intendant Hans de Roo at Netherlands Opera in the early seventies. A great cast with Michel Sénéchal, Carole Bogard, Paul Esswood, James Bowman, Francesca Howe, Philip Langridge and Robert Tear. The production was a huge international success and the first time a Monteverdi opera had been performed in the Netherlands. Alan returned for Cavalli’s “L’Erismena” with the unforgettable John Ferrante as the nurse. We met again a decade later in Wexford where he conducted my production of “Ariodante” with the late Bernadette Greevy in the lead – although I vaguely remember that the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin were vying for his attention too. Alan was a giant in the baroque music world; may he rest in peace.

  • Jeffrey Dean says:

    Dreadful news! I got to know Alan in Rome in 1981 when he was preparing a production of Landi’s “Il Sant’ Alessio” for the Bernini commemoration, and a few years later was asked to take over the Collegium Musicum from him when I taught for a year at Berkeley. He was one of the greatest scholar-musicians in a great generation, and a lovely, generous human being.

  • Holly Golightly says:

    I’m very sorry to learn of the death of Maestro Curtis – a great musicologist, conductor and enthusiastic musician. We can ill afford to lose these people!!

  • ALAN RUBIN says:

    I am greatly saddened to hear that Alan Curtis has died. He will perhaps be remembered more for his for his brilliant activity in the field of opera than for his harpsichord playing, but for those who wish to recall his very special contribution as a keyboard player, it is worth re-visiting his English and French Suites, issued as part of the Complete Bach anniversary edition, released by Teldec in July 1999. The harpsichord repertoire was covered by recordings made by many distinguished performers, but Alan’s contribution stands out as the outstanding performance of the series. I last saw him at the time of his Gluck Ezio recordings and performances in Poissy and I greatly regret that I will no longer be able to enjoy discussing music and many other subjects with such a profound connoisseur.

  • norman lebrecht says:

    From Pierre Audi:
    The world has just lost one of the very greatest Baroque conductors and musicologists of all time. Curtis was a unrivalled giant with a massive oeuvre (thankfully all recorded) and a musician exemplary for the clarity, and integrity of his readings. BIG BIG loss!!!!!!! Pierre

  • Glenn Hardy says:

    Back in 1975 or ’76, he allowed me practice time on the Univ. of California’s beautiful Italian harpsichord made by Martin Skowroneck of Bremen, even though I wasn’t a student of his.

  • John Patrick Thomas says:

    Alan was my teacher at Berkeley and a friend ever since. He “discovered” me one day in 1961 when the alto in his Berkeley Collegium Musicum madrigal group was sick. The group had a concert to prepare; I offered to read the alto part so the group could rehearse. He got me going. We last met in Venice a few years ago when he invited my friend Richard Rieves and me to his wonderful apartment on the Guidecca and then to supper in a “secret” (no tourists) Italian restaurant Nuria Schönberg had introduced him to. I remember Alan with affection and gratitude. His contribution to Early Music performance practice and scholarship remains enormous. My favorite recording is the one with the Michaelangelo Rossi madrigals, a revelation on every level. His death is a shock and a loss. Ars longa, vita brevis.

  • Bruce Kennedy says:

    Alan, you left without any warning whatsoever. Yesterday we received at lunch your warm greetings via mutual friends that ate at home with you on Wednesday, just hours before you disappeared. We at the Piccola Accademia di Montisi will deeply miss you.
    And I will miss our times together at the Vecchia Bettola. Piero, our thoughts are with you at this time.

  • Elizabeth Blumenstock says:

    Alan was my first baroque mentor when I attended UC Berkeley. I’m forever grateful for the many opportunities he gave me to work with Il Complesso Barocco in recent years, but mostly I am grateful to him for the wonderful example he set in rehearsals. He was endlessly interested, loved to explore the tiniest details of a piece, believing that attention to even these very smallest things was essential to creating the most understood, felt, engaging, and compelling performance. He had a great sense of humor too, and I will miss very much his foghorn voice and twinkling eye.

  • Brian Robins says:

    Alan was one of the most rewarding of all my interviewees in the series I did for the still lamented Goldberg. I hope to add this timeless interview to the earlymusicworld.com website shortly

  • Margot Kalse says:

    I met Alan Curtis through a project I directed for the foundation Key2Singing with vocal works by Domenico Scarlatti. Alan had been working for a number of years on an edition of Scarlatti’s opera Tolomeo e Alessandro. We asked him to make an abbreviated version for us. This was possibly the last work he did on Scarlatti’s music, for he died suddenly at his home in Florence on the 15th of July 2015. We have dedicated our CD recording of this really great music to Alan, a great pioneer and leader in the field of baroque music performance and a wonderful musician.
    The CD has been recorded and released by Aliud Records, ACD BL 084-2
    Margot Kalse, Key2Singing