Paul Tortelier

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PAUL TORTELIER – The legendary Paris Recital 1953

1-3. LOCATELLI: Cello Sonata in D Major (arr. Piatti) [16:17]
4. MARTIN: Ballade for cello and piano [15:23]
5-8. BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No.2 in F Major, Op.99 [26:51]
9. BACH: Largo (Carl Philipp Emanuel) [07:17]
10. PROKOFIEV: March, Op. 12 (arr. Piatigorsky) [01:43]
11. NIN: Granadina [02:00]
12. SARASATE: Zapateado, Op.23, No.2 (arr. Tortelier) [04:01]

Recorded · 26 February 1953 · Paris · Salle Gaveau · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Live Recording

Paul Tortelier · cello
Christiane Verzieux · piano

Additional Information

Article number: MC 3004
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050460
Total time: 73:35

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Bibliothèque nationale de France
With special thanks to Ulrich Karla
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Paul Tortelier was born in Montmartre, Paris on March 21, 1914, on the first day of spring, the same day as Bach. His father Joseph Jean Marie Fournier was a cabinetmaker and humanist and engaged him in political debate at a young age. His mother Marguerite Boura decided that if she had a son, he would become a cellist. Tortelier started to learn the cello when he was six years old and his mother made sure that he practiced for at least two hours every day. Later his mother became deaf and couldn’t hear his son’s first performances. His first teacher was Beatrice Bluhm, who gave him a first-rate start, and at nine she sent him to Louis Feuillard (1872-1941). Feuillard was like a father to him, he lent to Tortelier his fully furnished apartment and one of his cellos in Louveciennes, a suburb of Paris.


He then studied with Gérard Hekking (1879-1942), who also taught Reine Flachot and Maurice Gendron. When he was 11, his mother decided that he would no longer go to school so that he could study cello and solfège all day long. He had a private tutor for French, Maths and English. When Tortelier was sixteen years old, he won first prize at the Conservatoire, while in Hekking’s cello class. At 13, he had to help earn some money for the family by playing the cello to accompany silent films.

Between 1929 and 1934, he played in the cello sections of the Orchestra de Radio Paris, Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux and Orchestre des Concerts Colonne under Paul Paray, Philippe Gaubert, Eugène Bigot and Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht. He played the Lalo Concerto, when he debuted in 1931 with the Concerts Lamoureux. He gave his first recital in Paris with Juliette Forer at the piano in 1932. He became principle cellist of the Monte Carlo Orchestra from 1935 to 1937, where he played under the batons of Toscanini, Mitropoulos and Walter, as well as with Richard Strauss, who conducted his Don Quixote, with Tortelier playing the cello solo.

In 1937, he joined the cello section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitsky: “When I came to the Boston Symphony, I came for the dollars.” From Boston he began an American solo career, including a 1938 Town Hall recital with the pianist Leonard Shure. He was called back to his country for war service in the autumn of 1939. Back in Paris, he struggled to keep playing through the war. After the war, he held the principal cello position with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under Charles Munch.

In 1946, he gave several solo performances with the orchestra:
• 20 October 1946, the Brahms Double Concerto with the violinist Pierre Nérini under André Cluytens
• 17 December 1946, the Beethoven Triple Concerto with violinist Jacques Dabat and pianist Charles Lilamand under Arthur Goldschmidt
• 21 December 1946, the Hindemith Cello Concerto under Jean Martinon


He resigned in 1947 and his international career began when he performed the Haydn Cello Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sergiu Celibidache on 19 January 1947. A few weeks later, on 9 March 1947, he performed the Jean Hubeau Cello Concerto with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under Thomas Beecham. He later said: “It is thanks to Richard Strauss, Eduard van Beinum and Thomas Beecham. Without those three, I would still be playing in an orchestra.” In 1950, Tortelier was selected by Pablo Casals to play as the principal cellist in the Prades Festival Orchestra. Tortelier believed that of all the cellists, it was Casals who influenced him the most.

In 1946 he was appointed Professor of Cello at the Paris Conservatoire (1956–69) and later Professor of Cello at the Folkwang Academy for Music (1969–1975) in Essen. His master classes for the British Broadcasting Corporation attracted wide attention in 1964. He taught Jacqueline du Pré when she briefly attended his classes at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1955, he took his family to live on a kibbutz in Israel, even though he wasn’t Jewish. He considered working for peace as important as his career in music. Therefore he didn’t play in the United States during the Korean and Vietnam wars. On May 6, 1979 he gave a free performance at the site of a proposed nuclear power station at Torness, Scotland in order to demonstrate his personal protest. In 1985, he was obliged to cancel his projected American tour. He had developed a severe rheumatic condition in both hands, and the doctors had ordered 40 days of complete rest.

Tortelier performed with virtually all of the world’s major conductors except Furtwängler. He was married twice. His first marriage, to Madeleine Gaston, ended in divorce in 1944. His second marriage was to one of his pupils, Maud Monique Martin, in 1946. They had three children, all professional musicians.

In an interview, he was asked about what makes an artist? He said “It is love. Each great composer was a lover. Chopin was a lover of woman. Schubert was a lover of nature, Bach was a lover of God, Beethoven was a lover of mankind, Brahms of philosophy, and Wagner was a lover of himself. Mozart was in love with life. So in this way I am Mozartian. For me, Bach is God. Perhaps because I have a lack of religious conviction. The only approach I have to God is through Bach. A crucifixion doesn’t make me approach God, but when I hear the Mass in B-minor or I play the Sarabande from Cello Suite No.3, I pray.”

He died of a heart attack on December 18, 1990 at the age of 76 in Villarceaux, near Paris.

Source: Tortelier interviewed by Jacques Chancel, 12 February 1991 in Paris, Radio program Radioscopie.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

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