Pedigree US pianist dies at 72

Pedigree US pianist dies at 72


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2020

Peter Serkin, a prominent US pianist who had been struggling for a long time with pancreatic cancer, died today, aged 72. With him goes a link to a once-glorious past.

Son of the influential pianist Rudolf Serkin, grandson of the volinistAdolf Busch, Peter struggled with burdens of heritage and expectation.

After graduating from Curtis, he stopped playing and moved with his young family to rural Mexico. He returned to the circuit after many months as a committed interpreter of contemporary composers. He gave world premieres of works by Luciano Berio, Hans Werner Henze, Alexander Goehr, Leon Kirchner, Oliver Knussen, and Charles Wuorinen. The New York Times critic Donal Henahan called him in 1973 ‘the counterculture’s reluctant envoy to the straight concert world.’

UPDATES: Tributes pour in for Peter Serkin.


  • Sol Siegel says:

    A shocker, and terribly sad. He had long since earned the right to be called a great artist on his own.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Very sad news. -a fine artist that was more interested in music than in fame and fortune.

  • Couperin says:

    I turned pages for him many times, years ago. Always a really nice guy and, back in the day when his chops were at their max, he was brilliant. RIP

  • Adam Stern says:

    Very sad. Unlike the progeny of some other major artists, Peter Serkin’s career was based on real talent and insight, as opposed to that wrongly assumed due to heritage.

  • michael says:

    This is the worst news! One of the best ever.

  • Joel Lazar says:

    A sad loss. I have vivid memories from the 1960s and 70s of him playing the “Goldberg Variations” paired with Messiaen “Oiseaux” at Harvard, and the Schoenberg concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra.

  • Rick says:

    Very sad to hear. Had no idea he was 72 years old. Always thought of him as youthful.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    These were very notable composers & I hope their works will remain in the repertoire. That Oliver Knussen piece is quite good, it would be a big shame if he is forgotten as a composer. I actually prefer him over some other neglected British composers, such as Michael Tippett.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Aw, no, no…. only 72? Wikipedia mentions pancreatic cancer.
    Peter was a master at not only the traditional repertoire, but of the moderns as well. His records of Messiaen – Vingt Regards, Visions de l’Amen (with Yuji Takahashi), and Quatuor pour la fin du temps (with Tashi) – are classics of recorded sound.
    I tender my sincere condolences to his family.
    Rest well, Peter.

  • Rgiarola says:

    “Peter struggled with the burdens of heritage and expectation.”
    What a heritage! Its easy to understand the point.
    Do you think the use of different family name can make it easier

  • Patsy Zoline says:

    This is so very sad. Peter and his wonderful music will be missed by so many.

  • James says:

    Heard him at Tangelwood playing a brilliant Pierrot Lunaire. RIP.

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    On the day that Norman chose to praise Beethoven’s violin Concerto I will listen to Peter Serkin’s recording of Beethoven’s own piano transription. Excellent.

  • fflambeau says:

    You miss a lot in his career and make him sound unimportant. His father was the eminent pianist Rudolf Serkin.

    He won two Grammy Awards and performed globally. He moved to Mexico in the year he turned 20, NOT New Mexico (please get your facts straight), but returned less than a year later.

    From Wikipedia: “He made numerous recordings, on such labels as RCA Victor, featuring music from Bach (including four recordings of the Goldberg Variations – the first made when he was 18, the fourth when he was 47), Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, and Dvořák as well as numerous more recent composers such as Reger, Berg, Webern, Schoenberg, Messiaen, Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen, Peter Lieberson, Stefan Wolpe and Charles Wuorinen. …
    Serkin collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, András Schiff, Alexander Schneider, Pamela Frank, Harold Wright, the Guarneri Quartet, the Budapest Quartet, and other prominent musicians and ensembles, such as principal wind players of major American orchestras. In addition, he was one of the founding members of TASHI and has recorded for a variety of labels. He taught at the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music and was on faculty at the Bard College Conservatory of Music as well as the Yale School of Music, among other institutions. Among those who studied piano with him are Orit Wolf, Simone Dinnerstein, and Cecile Licad.”

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    He will be greatly missed. His heritage was historic, but his legacy beyond the classic repertoire includes all the new works he helped bring to the repertoire throughout his career. Thank you, Peter, for a brilliant mission accomplished.

  • A totally dedicated, kind and sincere artist from whom I learned a ton in two lessons on the Diabelli Variations (shortly before I recorded them). And in the latter part of his life he sounded more and more, to my ears, like his father, which is saying a lot. Shocking loss.

  • Was there ever a pianist who understood a score the way Peter Serkin did? It was a prismatic, multi-dimensional musical mind. I will remember: Bach concertos with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Takemitsu at Tanglewood, Brahms’s Handel Variations in a little nook of a room at Yale. Farewell, master.

  • Mathieu says:

    A wonderful musician. How sad.

  • NYCgirl says:


  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Awful news. RIP Peter Serkin.

  • dd says:

    And yet, if only more of us could realise, there is an alternative[sic] to modern medicine’s, ‘cut,burn,poison’ protocol . viz.,’Understanding Pancreatic Cancer Causes and Treatments
    Would anyone buy a car knowing there is only a five percent chance it will work. For stage four pancreatic cancer patients doing chemotherapy or any treatments delivered by orthodox oncologists is like buying an expensive car guaranteed not to work.

    There are many possibilities for treatment that would raise the chance of death from absolute certainty to something more hopeful. Taking magnesium, antioxidants selenium, vitamins C and E, taking bicarbonate and getting plenty of sun make sense because all of these help people avoid pancreatic cancer.
    Agents that reduce cancer incidence are better to employ than agents that increase cancer incidence, which chemotherapy does.’