British cellist William Pleeth died on April 6, 1999, at the age of 83. He was one of the great cellists and pedagogues of the 20th Century.
Pleeth was born in 1916, in London, to an Polish emigre family. Several generations of his family had been professional musicians, so it was no surprise when he showed great promise as a cellist at the young age of seven. At the age of ten he became a pupil of Herbert Walenn at the London Cello School. He studied for two years with Klengel at Leipzig, on a scholarship, and was the youngest student ever admitted to that program. By the time he was 15 years old, he had learned all the Bach Suites, all the lPiatti Caprices and 32 concertos, 24 of which he had memorized!
Pleeth met Feurermann at Leipzig, and performed with him in a quartet for four cellos, written by Klengel. The other cello parts were played by Fritz Schertel and Klengel. It was also in his fifteenth year that the prodigy began performing publicly as a soloist, having mastered the Dvorak and Haydn D Major concertos. In 1940, his career was well launched when he performed the Schumann Concerto with Sir Adrian Bjoult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra on the radio.
Chamber music was his passion, and Pleeth organized the Allegri String Quartet in 1952 with Eli Goren and James Barton, violins, and Patrick Ireland on the viola. He later wrote: "In many was, a solo career is, for me, unsatisfying. I don't care for the solitary travelling, and like even less the isolation of being confronted with a large orchestra and an 'eminent' conductor."
Pleeth began teaching at the Menuhin School in 1977, and he is probably best known as the teacher of Jacqueline du Pre. Robert Cohen and his son, baroque cellist Anthony Pleeth, are among his other well-known students. He also wrote a wonderful book called, "Cello," which is part of the Yehudi Menuhin Music Guide series.
Contributed by Tim Finholt and Marshall St. John.
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