The difference that Anner Bylsma made

The difference that Anner Bylsma made


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2019

Tributes are flooding in for the Dutch cellist who died yesterday, a man who rewrote the rules of cello playing.

Here are some penetrating thoughts.

From David Watkin:

We all owe him a huge debt. In those early days of ‘Early Music’, which sometimes tended towards a po-faced Calvinism, he had a sense of humour and a sense of discovery. While others were methodical, he rejoiced in what can be learned when mucking about, “like an old man in his potting shed” – what he called ‘bricolage.’

He commanded the respect of cellists of every stripe, because he could REALLY play the cello, but also their envy because he PLAYED WITH the cello. In an age where the tyranny of ‘CD quality’ technical perfectionism was beginning to stifle live music making in classical music, he was a devil-may-care risk taker. That playfulness and risk taking could also be called cavalier -and things sometimes did go wrong.
The stories are legendary. Before a packed Bach recital, he read out to the audience the review of a recent (apparently disasterous) performance of the Kraft Concerto, offering to refund tickets. My favourite (perhaps apocryphal) was when he took part in an all-star line up for a complete Piatti Caprices concert at the Manchester Cello Festival. As he went on stage he asked “Which one am I playing..?” Richard Egarr and I accompanied him in a recital of Vivaldi Sonatas on Marie Leonhardt’s course at Casa Mateus. I learned an enormous amount from him that week – it was life changing – but somehow there was never the right moment to rehearse Vivaldi. An ice cream parlour next to the church put paid to our final chance to rehearse. As we went on stage I asked “What about repeats?” “You’ll know” he said, and we did.
His 1979 Bach SUITES for RCA were not just ‘important’, they were epoch making – vivid, brightly coloured images which made previous interpretations sound black and white.

From Jean-Guihen Queyras:

Thank you for a life of inspiration, cher Anner Bylsma❣️❣️ You transformed my perception and understanding of music! 

From Heidi Tsai:

Here is my own anecdote with Anner Bijlsma: years ago when Nabí Cabestany and I were rehearsing the first Beethoven sonata for cello and piano in Mateus, Portugal, we hadn’t realized that he had been listening by the door for a while, when we finally stopped, he turned to me and pointed at Nabí: “now HE is a cellist, and what a cellist he is.” I am sure that the whole world would agree with me when I say Anner OWNS these words and they apply directly to him. If anyone ever played an instrument “authentically” in the sense that their personality is inherently embedded in their music, Bylsma is the first who comes to my mind. The angels are singing louder and brighter today. RIP, dear Anner, you have touched the lives of so many.

From Abraham Aragundi:
Dear, Anner…. you are the reason why I decided to undertake a career as a cellist. You started it all, in middle school, when I bought your recordings of Vivaldis cello sonatas. You were and will always be my inspiration. ….genuinely heart broken right now.


  • Stephen Mcintyre says:

    A great man, a great musician, a great friend.

    • Rosanne Hunt says:

      Dear Stephen,

      I vividly remember Anner’s mesmerising, exhilarating concerts of Beethoven and Popper with you at the VCA in the 1970s. You must have lots of memories of those times collaborating with Anner… And we have to thank John Hopkins for bringing him to Melbourne and changing our musical lives…

      Warm wishes, Rosy Hunt

  • Robert King says:

    Anner Bylsma’s incalculable influence on countless musicians over many decades was a huge influence on the trajectory of music in so many spheres, and one that will live on for generations. We all have so much for which to thank him.

    Requiescat in pace.

  • Mark Maimone says:

    The music world has lost a giant in the passing of Anner Bylsma. I was an aspiring cellist in Boston in 1974 when I was given a recording of Anner. When I played it, I was stunned, and knew exactly what my next few years needed to be. What did I hear? Presumably what others all hear. He was cellist who rose above the instrument’s limitation while at the same time became the instrument’s most eloquent master. It was as if all of us were given a palate of 3 or four colors with which to paint, while he mixed a thousand colors, and knew how to apply them. I studied with him for three years, and it changed me forever as a musician and as a person. We will miss you dearly.

    Mark Maimone, former student, friend, and lifelong admirer.

  • Anner Bylsma was an inspiration to every cellist playing today. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his bold interpretations informed by a deep understanding of musical compositions and the eras in which they were written. The positive impact of his artistry will survive for generations to come. RIP

  • Peter Rubardt says:

    Long ago I was stage managing a small hall on a college campus when Bijlsma came for a recital. We were all enthralled with his recording of the Bach suites, and indeed that was to be the program. I was working on the Webern Concerto at the time and I had a score with me back stage. He picked it up and immediately forgot everything about what he was there to do, and instead took a deep dive into the Second Viennese School.Ten minutes past start time, as he finally walked onstage, he asked the presenter “Which one am I starting with?” A huge musician and human being.