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17.7.15

Alan Curtis (1934-2015)

Handel operas:

available at Amazon
Giove in Argo
(2013)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Berenice
(2010)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Alcina
(2009)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Ezio
(2009)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Tolomeo
(2008)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Floridante
(2007)
[Review]
Handel operas:

available at Amazon
Radamisto
(2006)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Rodelinda
(2005)
[Review]


Vivaldi operas:

available at Amazon
Catone in Utica
(2013)
[Review]

available at Amazon
Motezuma
(2006)
[Review]


Other:

available at Amazon
Gluck, Ezio
(2011)
[Review]

Alan Curtis died in Florence on Wednesday, at the age of 80. The pioneering musicologist and conductor was born in Mason, a small town in central Michigan not far from where I grew up. He completed a doctoral degree at the University of Illinois, with a dissertation on the keyboard works of Jan Sweelinck (later revised for publication), and was first a harpsichordist, teaching that instrument at the University of California, Berkeley, and other places. His early work was on historical repertoire for keyboard instruments, especially the harpsichord, and he was among the first to make significant recordings of that music using research on historical performance practices.

Curtis began conducting period-instrument performances of Baroque operas in the 1980s, eventually forming his celebrated group Il Complesso Barocco, based in Italy. We have followed his work with that ensemble closely here at Ionarts, especially his recordings of Handel, as you can see in the columns on both sides of this post, with some other works by Vivaldi and Gluck. Although Curtis also made major recordings of the works of Monteverdi, an area of significant interest here at Ionarts, they predate the foundation of this site, so we have not had occasion to write about them. Reviews to all of the complete opera recordings are linked here.

Many of those recordings required new editions of the music, often involving extensive reconstruction to give the work complete form. In Vivaldi's Motezuma, Curtis began with another scholar's discovery of a lost source for much of the opera, once thought lost, onto which reconstructions and outright composition, by Curtis and his lead violinist, Alessandro Ciccolini, were grafted. For his recording of Handel's Berenice, Regina d’Egitto, Curtis reinstated some of the music that Handel cut before the opera's premiere and corrected some of the omissions in the Chrysander complete works edition. When he recorded Handel's Ezio, Curtis preferred to make his own new edition, working from the sources, instead of using Michael Pacholke's edition of the opera, published in Die Hallische Händel-Ausgabe the previous year. Curtis and Ciccolini also helped their singers create lavish ornamentation and cadenzas, setting an example in this area for all others to follow.

Among leaders of historically informed performance ensembles, few have had as much scholarly clout as Alan Curtis, and among full professors of Renaissance and Baroque music, few have done as much concrete performance work. In that sense, Curtis represented an ideal of the practical side of historical musicology. He was an authority on the sources and the historical background of the music, and he could bring it to life with his hands and musical skill. Even more astounding, the recordings he led are not valuable because of their scholarly interest, although there was plenty of that, too, but because they are such beautiful listening.

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