Sadness: A clarinet legend has died

Sadness: A clarinet legend has died


norman lebrecht

February 04, 2017

We have been informed by close friends of the death of Gervase de Peyer, the foremost British clarinet player of his time. Gervase was 90.

A founder of the Melos Ensemble, with whom he recorded extensively, Gervase was principal clarinet of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1956 to 1973. He was also a founder of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and an influential teacher.



His student Thomas Piercy writes:

‘His sound – bold, colorful – was in my head since I was a teenager. I moved to NYC to study with him and continued to learn from him until the last time we spoke. He was always there to give advice and encouragement, both about music and life.

‘His personality and musicality were a great match: bigger than life, full of energy, endlessly curious. His playing was unique and almost instantly recognizable: full of charm and elegance, with a powerful technique always at the service to the music. Many composers wrote their music for him, as they knew he would bring a great life to those little black dots on the page. Playing for him, and with him, was a walk on the high-wire: endlessly exciting and thrilling; always learning and living something new.

‘It was a true honor and joy to become friends with Gervase and his dear wife Katia. So many good laughs; so many good talks about music and life. My deepest sympathies to Katia and the family.

‘Very early on in my lessons with Gervase, he told me to write something down. He said it was important.
I still have that note.

“Do Something,
Say Something,
Don’t be Predictable.”‘



  • Patrick says:

    Such a beautiful musician. I grew up with his sound….

  • Jory Vinikour says:

    One of the great, iconic musicians of his generation.

  • Frank Stubbs says:

    I was fortunate to study with him for a short while many years ago. He had a huge impact on my playing. Such an expressive player.

  • Joel Lazar says:

    I knew him first when I was in London and then again when he and Katia were living here in Washington DC. Always a vital, alert, stimulating musician. Condolences to the family and wonderful memories for all of us who had the pleasure of his artistry.

  • Daniel Morgenstern says:

    A FABULOUS artist! Truly missed and only excelled by Franklin Roosevelt Cohen who has a long way to continue to contribute to the instrument and repetoire! Where are the record companies when we need them?

  • Annabelle Weidenfeld says:

    Gervase was one of those musical Gods for us as children growing up and never failed to enchant . His combination of musicianship, divine sound and flare made him unique. He became a dear family friend, inspiring my brother Tom to become a clarinetist, choosing an instrument and finding a wonderful teacher. Arthur Rubinstein adored listening to his recordings in old age and was anxious to meet him so I organised a tea together in New York in 1980. We last saw Gervase when he came to tea with George and myself at home with his wonderful wife Katia in December 2013. My brother was there too.

  • Ann McCutchan says:

    He was the first artist-clarinetist I heard in person, ca. 1967, with the London Symphony in Daytona Beach, FL, where the orchestra spent winters, then. I was about 16, in love with music and my clarinet, but in the hinterlands of central Florida, bereft of inspiring models — until Gervase de Peyer and the LSO performed the Copland Concerto a mile from the beach. Rest in Peace.

  • Nancy Sulfridge says:

    When he lived in Alexandria, VA, I heard him several times in recital. Through the efforts of a mutual friend who “made a call,” I had an opportunity for a few lessons with him before he and Katia went back “across the pond”–an extraordinary experience for a middling amateur player! He was generous with his time and his help, and I have never seen a more confident, assured performer. When nerves begin to hit me before a performance, I tell myself, “Pretend you’re Gervase,” and then all is well. Condolences to Katia and the family.

  • Caroline Brown says:

    What an artist, he will be sorely missed. His beauty of sound and marvellous musicianship will never be forgotten. A sad day for the world of music.

  • MacroV says:

    As an aspiring teenage clarinet player in Seattle in the late 1970s, somehow the first recordings I came across for a number of pieces were of Gervase de Peyer (Rossini Intro and Variations, Weber Concertino/1st concerto; Brahms sonatas with Barenboim; Copland Concerto; Mozart Quintet). For some reason, the first interpretation I hear usually becomes the standard by which I compare others (usually for the worse), so for a time he was my standard bearer. I subsequently came to like many other clarinetists, but he was my first idol.

  • Alan K says:

    De Peyer was one of those great artists that inspired many a budding clarinet player of a certain age. His recording of the Brahms clarinet quintett certainly introduced me to beautiful playing and a magnificent chamber work. Those of us living in the Washington DC area were lucky to have him and that other great musician Barry Tuckwell grace are area for several years.

  • Simon Balch says:

    One of the most influential clarinettists we have known. He touched the hearts of so many clarinet players. For me, the most memorable thing was to have been at his Wigmore Hall recital where he played his debut performance of the Joseph Horowitz Sonatina with his long standing accompanist, Gwynneth Pryor.
    Thanks Gervaise!!

  • SC says:

    Will there be some kind of memorial event in London? Hope so.

  • John Brightwell says:

    Gervase was the most incredible inspiration for my playing and teaching throughout my life. In the lessons which I had with him I learned to ‘go for it’, because, in his own words, “otherwise your performance will be ordinary”. In my own attempts to teach pupils to play with imagination and flair, I have always advised them to get hold of one or more of Gervase’s recordings, of which there are so many; I can’t think of a duff one among them – they are almost all definitive. Whatever Gervase played sounded almost improvisatory, and his control of sound wherever he was in the range of the instrument was, at times, unbelievable. His family may rest assured that Gervase will be remembered with fondness for a very long time indeed.

  • Hans Witteman says:

    His interpretation of Spohr I, I’ll never forget. He was the greatest for me!

    • Annemarie Kroet says:

      🙁 en 🙂 voor alle muziek die hij maakte in zijn leven. Vanaf de computer van Willem, een vriend. Groetjes van Kroetz! vanuit het gevang.

  • David Mills says:

    Gervase’s wonderful playing was in harmony with the person he was – gregarious, extrovert and whole-hearted, thoughtful and hard-working. He brought joy to those around him whether he had clarinet in hand or not. His fund of orchestral stories was vast and often hilarious. I heard him play many times (and will never forget his unmatchable Bartok Contrasts with Georg Pauk) and was lucky enough to have some lessons with him. His Weber no 2 and Spohr no 1 with Colin Davis were, I think, the first recordings of those great works and no-one has played them better,
    All our sympathy to Katya, who brought him so much happiness, and his family.
    If you love clarinet music, come to the Stratford on Avon Music Festival (26th Sept-3rd October 2017) where you can hear the Schubert Octet, Beethoven Septet, Mozart 13 wind, Dvorak Serenade with the Chroma Ensemble, and Julian Bliss in the same Weber, as well as Annelien van Wauwe in the Messiaen Quartet. We will be commemorating Gervase.

  • NYMike says:

    Still in my ear is his Mozart Clarinet Concerto w/LSO conducted by Peter Maag from years ago. Wonderful!

  • Emily says:

    Will never forget hearing him with the kids (Barenboim, De Pres etc) in ’68 at Queen Elizabeth hall – an evening of Brahms and Schubert. His Brahms cannot be matched or beat. Such heart in his understanding of how to shape a phrase and play in an ensemble. Truely a miraculous musicianship.

  • Andrew Lovell says:

    When I started playing the clarinet at the age of 7 my clarinet teacher said you must listen to the recordings of Gervais de Peyer. A couple of years later my parents took me to hear Gervais perform the Mozart Quintet in Harrogate North Yorkshire UK. I couldn’t believe the magnificent clarinet sound he produced. He was my inspiration. I became a professional woodwind player and now in my 60’s am still working. I still try to emulate that round full English sound that Gervais had, which sadly nowadays is not so popular. He was to me one of the finest UK clarinetists.

  • Lorrayn de Peyer says:

    Nearly a year now since you passed. Miss you Dad.
    Profound thanks for the excellence, inspiration and spirituality of your music. Your eldest Lorrayn de Peyer