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Fond Farewells: Classical Musicians We Lost In 2012

By Tom Huizenga | NPR
Monday, December 31, 2012

We were especially heartbroken this year in bidding adieu to far too many classical musicians. There were the deaths of such colossal figures as Elliott Carter and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. But there were many other important artists who passed away — like modernist violinist and pedagogue Zvi Zeitlin, organist Carlo Curley, long-standing Metropolitan Opera tenor Charles Anthony, contralto Lili Chookasian and Judith Nelson, a soprano who helped pioneer the revival of Baroque and other early music.

Below are some of the many classical musicians who died this year. They made the world a better-sounding place.

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ALEXIS WEISSENBERG: July 26, 1929 - Jan. 8, 2012

Pianist Alexis Weissenberg was a true virtuoso whose musical intensity was tempered with intellectual clarity. Born in Bulgaria, he escaped certain death after a music-loving German officer allowed him and his mother to flee a concentration camp.

GUSTAV LEONHARDT: May 30, 1928 - Jan. 16, 2012

Gustav Leonhardt was one of the most influential figures in the early music movement. This conductor and keyboard player recorded the landmark first cycle of all of J.S. Bach's cantatas played on original instruments, along with his colleague Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Leonhardt's students form a who's who of today's early music community, including Philippe Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, Christopher Hogwood, Alan Curtis, Richard Egarr and Andreas Staier.

PAAVO BERGLUND: April 14, 1929 - Jan. 25, 2012

The Finnish conductor was particularly celebrated for his work with the music of his fellow countryman Jean Sibelius, both on the podium and as a scholar. The evolution of his approach to Sibelius' symphonies can be charted through three recording cycles he led.

CAMILLA WILLIAMS: Oct. 18, 1919 - Jan. 29, 2012

The luminous soprano Camilla Williams, born in Virginia as the daughter of a chauffeur and a domestic, was the first black woman to receive a contract from a major American opera company. She was engaged to sing Cio-Cio-San at New York City Opera — nearly nine years before Marian Anderson's far more widely known appearance at the Metropolitan Opera.

MAURICE ANDRÉ: May 21, 1933 - Feb. 25, 2012

He started out as a coal miner at age 14, but Maurice André's true talent soon emerged. With his brilliant high notes and big sound, André took the trumpet from an ensemble instrument and put it into the spotlight, making hundreds of recordings along the way.

ROMAN TOTENBERG: Jan. 1, 1911 - May 8, 2012

A student of Carl Flesch, Georges Enesco and Pierre Monteux, the renowned and widely beloved pedagogue and concert violinist Roman Totenberg played for President Roosevelt after making his American debut in 1935. If his last name seems particularly familiar to NPR listeners, it's because he was the father of our legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg.

DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU: May 28, 1925 - May 18, 2012

One of the greatest and most influential classical singers of the 20th century, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is umatched in the lieder repertory: His recordings of Schubert's nearly 600 songs remain standard-bearers. He was so admired that among his accompanists were many of the world's foremost piano soloists, including Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, Daniel Barenboim and Alfred Brendel.

BRIGITTE ENGERER: Oct. 27, 1952 - June 23, 2012

Born in Tunis to a French family, this pianist made the bold and unusual decision at age 17 to journey to Moscow to study there for a year; she wound up staying for nearly a decade. As she memorably described her artistic duality to the Washington Times in 1992: "I need the transparency of the French piano — and, more important, the rationality of French philosophy. But I needed some of the Russian craziness in my playing. I still do."

EVELYN LEAR: Jan. 8, 1926 - July 1, 2012

The American soprano won acclaim as a recitalist and as a premier interpreter of contemporary opera in roles such as Alban Berg's Lulu. After she retired from public performance, she and her husband, the late baritone Thomas Stewart, devoted much time and effort nurturing younger artists.

RUGGIERO RICCI: July 24, 1918 - Aug. 6, 2012

Italian-American former child prodigy Ruggiero Ricci became one of the most notable interpreters of the solo violin repertoire, including music by Bach, Paganini, Kreisler, Wieniawski and Bartok. Ricci was the first artist to record all 24 of Paganini's fiendishly difficult Caprices. In all, he made more than 500 recordings.

WILLIAM DUCKWORTH: Jan. 13, 1943 - Sept. 13, 2012

One of the pioneers of postminimalism, William Duckworth wrote bright and beautiful works that had a very American freshness, from Southern Harmony — a joyous, quirky choral work inspired by early American shape-note singing — to his Time Curve Preludes for piano. As an author, his works included the indispensable Talking Music: Conversations with John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Five Generations of American Experimental Composers.

HANS WERNER HENZE: July 1, 1926 - Oct. 27, 2012

One of the most prominent post-World War II German composers, Hans Werner Henze often confronted both the dark havoc of Nazi Germany and German self-identity in his art. He was particularly celebrated as a composer of richly lyrical operas, symphonies and song cycles.

ELLIOTT CARTER: Dec. 11, 1908 - Nov. 5, 2012

A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, composer Elliott Carter wrote music that was at once witty and acidic. As a creator, Carter was nearly unbelievably prolific: He wrote some 40 works in his 90s and pubished more than a dozen after his centennial. Daniel Barenboim and Gustavo Dudamel gave the world premiere of Carter's Dialogues II just weeks before what would have been his 104th birthday.

PHILIP LEDGER: Dec. 12, 1937 - Nov. 18, 2012

A close colleague of composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears, Philip Ledger was a British composer and arranger of church music. He also served as music director at King's College, Cambridge; his recording with the King's College choir of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols became a holiday classic.

JONATHAN HARVEY: May 3, 1939 - Dec. 4, 2012

The British composer Jonathan Harvey skillfully interwove high modernism he inherited from Milton Babbitt and Pierre Boulez with an ecstatic longing, sometimes with texts drawn from Hindu and Buddhist sources.

CHARLES ROSEN: May 5, 1927 - Dec. 9, 2012

Charles Rosen was a polymath whose long career embraced both music and language in a way few other artists or scholars could hope to achieve. As a pianist, he was admired for his interpretations of music spanning Bach to his friend Elliott Carter; as a writer and thinker, his influential work included two staple texts, 1971's The Classical Style and 1995's The Romantic Generation.

LISA DELLA CASA: Feb. 2, 1919 - Dec. 10, 2012

The Swiss, silvery-sweet voiced soprano Lisa Della Casa was particularly acclaimed for her achievements singing music by Mozart and Richard Strauss. Over the course of her career, she sang at the Vienna State Opera more than 400 times.

GALINA VISHNEVSKAYA: Oct. 25, 1926 - Dec. 11, 2012

With her legendary vocal command and onstage power, celebrated and outspoken soprano (and wife of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich) Galina Vishnevskaya was a queen within the Russian artistic community. Among her close friends were Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten; the latter two wrote music especially for her.

RAVI SHANKAR: April 7, 1920 - Dec. 11, 2012

Renowned sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar made the music of northern India accessible and instantly recognizable to listeners the world over. Shankar also built bridges to musical collaborators around the globe, from violinist Yehudi Menuhin to George Harrison, who also became close friends.

RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT: March 29, 1936 - Dec. 24, 2012

Equally at home in a film studio, a concert hall or a jazz club, British composer, pianist and singer Richard Rodney Bennett was once a student of Pierre Boulez and wrote dozens of classical works, including three symphonies. But he was popularly best known for his some 50 film scores, including 1974's Murder on the Orient Express, for which he received the last of his three Oscar nominations.

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