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Lionel Tertis

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Lionel Tertis
Background information
Born(1876-12-29)29 December 1876
West Hartlepool, United Kingdom
Died22 February 1975(1975-02-22) (aged 98)
Wimbledon, London
Years active1900-1975

Lionel Tertis, CBE (29 December 1876 – 22 February 1975) was an English violist. He was one of the first viola players to achieve international fame, and a noted teacher.



Tertis was born in West Hartlepool, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants.[1] He first studied violin in Leipzig, Germany and at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London. There he was encouraged by the principal, Alexander Mackenzie, to take up the viola instead.[2] Under the additional influence of Oskar Nedbal, he did so and rapidly became one of the best known violists of his time, touring Europe and the US as a soloist.

As Professor of Viola at the RAM (from 1900), he encouraged his colleagues and students to compose for the instrument, thereby greatly expanding its repertoire.[3] In 1906, Tertis was temporarily in the famous Bohemian Quartet to replace the violist/composer Oskar Nedbal and later he took the viola position in the Walenn Quartet.

Composers such as Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Dale, York Bowen, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss, Arnold Trowell and William Walton wrote pieces for him. The Walton piece was his Viola Concerto; however, Tertis did not give the world premiere as he found it difficult to comprehend at the time; that honour went to Paul Hindemith. His pupil Bernard Shore took on the second performance at the Proms in August 1930.[4] Tertis first performed the work a month later at the International Society for Contemporary Music festival in Liège. Over the next three years he gave five more performances of the concerto.[5]

He owned a 1717 Montagnana from 1920 to 1937[6] which he found during one of his concert tours to Paris in 1920, and took a chance in acquiring. According to his memoirs, it was "shown to me in an unplayable condition, without bridge, strings or fingerboard.... No case was available – it was such a large instrument 17 1/8 inches – so my wife came to the rescue by wrapping it in her waterproof coat, and that is how it was taken across the English Channel." Tertis preferred a large viola to get an especially rich tone from his instrument. Knowing that some would find a 17-1/8-inch instrument too large he created his own Tertis model, which provides many of the tonal advantages of the larger instrument in a manageable 16-3/4-inch size. Tertis sold the 1717 Montegnana to his pupil Bernard Shore in 1937, who in turn passed it on to his pupil Roger Chase.

Along with William Murdoch (piano), Albert Sammons, and Lauri Kennedy, Tertis formed the Chamber Music Players.[7] He also encouraged and coached Sidney Griller as he worked to found the Griller Quartet in 1928, and influenced the Griller's enthusiasm for the first Viennese School.[8]

In 1937, while at the height of his powers, he announced his retirement from the concert platform to concentrate on teaching. He appeared as soloist only one more time, at a special concert in 1949 to an invited audience at the RAM to help raise money for his fund to encourage the composition of music for the viola.[9]

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1950 New Year's Honours.[9]

Tertis composed several original works and also arranged many pieces not originally for the viola, such as Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto. He was the author of a number of publications about string playing, the viola in particular, and his own life. They include Cinderella No More and My Viola and I.

Lionel Tertis died on 22 February 1975 in Wimbledon, London. He was 99 years old.


English Heritage blue plaque erected 18 May 2015

The Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition was established in 1980 to honour his memory.

In February 2007 Roger Chase, along with his accompanist, pianist Michiko Otaki, initiated "The Tertis Project," a series of concerts devoted to works composed for Tertis.[10] A CD, The Tertis Tradition, was issued in 2009.[11]

In 2015, English Heritage unveiled a blue plaque at his Wimbledon, London home.[12]

Many fine English violists were students of Tertis, including Harry Berly, Rebecca Clarke, Eric Coates, Winifred Copperwheat, Paul Cropper, Harry Danks, C. Sidney Errington, Watson Forbes, Max Gilbert, Hope Hambourg, Raymond Jeremy, James Lockyer, Frederick Riddle, Ian Ritchie, Philip Sainton, Beryl Scawen Blunt, Bernard Shore, Gilbert Shufflebotham, Jacqueline Townshend, Maurice Ward and Lena Wood.[13]



Original compositions

  • Elizabethan Melody for viola and cello
  • 15th Century Folk Song: 1452-Anonymous for viola, cello and piano
  • Hier au soir for viola and piano
  • Rêverie for viola and piano
  • Sunset (Coucher du soleil) for viola (or violin or cello) and piano
  • Three Sketches for viola and piano
  1. Serenade; revised as A Tune
  2. The Blackbirds (1952)
  3. The River
  • A Tune for viola and piano (published 1954); 2nd version of Serenade
  • Variations on a Passacaglia of Handel for 2 violas (1935); original work based on the Passacaglia by Johan Halvorsen
  • Variations on a Four Bar Theme of Handel for viola and cello

Transcriptions, arrangements and adaptations


For viola and piano unless otherwise noted

Original composer Title Remarks
Anton Arensky (1861–1906) Berceuse  
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) Air on the C-String original from Orchestral Suite No. 3
Aria "Come Sweet Death" from Cantata 191
Adagio from Toccata in C major published 1935; original for organ
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) Menuet published 1912; original for orchestra; from 12 Menuette, WoO 7
Theme and Variations (on Mozart's "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen"), Op. 66 (1796) original for cello and piano
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) Minnelied, Op. 71 No. 5 (1877) original for voice and piano
Wir wandelten for violin or viola and piano, Op. 96 No. 2 (1884) original for voice and piano
Willy Burmester (1869–1933) Französisches Lied aus dem 18. Jahrhundert (French Air from the 18th Century) (1909) original for violin and piano
Eric Coates (1886–1957) Ballad in G major, Op. 13 (1906)  
First Meeting: Souvenir  
Frederick Delius (1862–1934) Caprice and Elegy for viola and orchestra (1930) original for cello and orchestra
Double Concerto for violin, viola and orchestra (1915–1916) original for violin, cello and orchestra
Serenade from the drama Hassan (1920–1923)  
Sonata No. 2 (1922–1923) original for violin and piano; 1929 transcription
Sonata No. 3 (1930) original for violin and piano; 1932 transcription
Ernő Dohnányi (1877–1960) Sonata in C minor, Op. 21 (1912) original for violin and piano
Edward Elgar (1857–1934) Concerto in E minor for viola and orchestra, Op. 85 (1918–1919) original for cello and orchestra
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) Après un rêve, Op. 7 No. 1 original for voice and piano
Élégie for viola and orchestra, Op. 24 original for cello and orchestra
Baldassare Galuppi Aria Amorosa  
Giovan Battista Grazioli (1746–1828) Sonata in F major original for cello and continuo
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) Ich liebe Dich (I Love But Thee!), Op. 5 No. 3 (1864–1865) original from Hjertets Melodier, 4 songs for voice and piano
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) Arietta published 1910; transcription (violin and piano) by Hamilton Harty of "Si che lieta goderò" from Rodrigo; viola part by Tertis
Sarabande transcription of "Sorge nel petto" from Rinaldo
Sonata in F major (Adagio and Allegro) original for violin with basso continuo
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) Capriccio published 1912; transcription (violin and piano) by Willy Burmester from String Quartet No. 49, Op. 64 No. 2; viola part by Tertis
Menuet published 1912; original for orchestra; transcription (violin and piano) by Willy Burmester from Symphony No. 96; viola part by Tertis
William Yeates Hurlstone (1876–1906) 4 Characteristic Pieces (1899) original for clarinet and piano
John Ireland (1879–1962) The Holy Boy published 1918
Sonata in G minor (1923) original for cello and piano; 1941 transcription
Sonata No. 2 in A minor (1915–1917) original for violin and piano; 1918 transcription
Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962) La Chasse, Caprice in the Style of Cartier original for violin and piano
Franz Liszt (1811–1886) Liebestraum No. 3 in A major, S. 541 (ca. 1850) published 1954; original for piano
Étienne Méhul (1763–1817) Gavotte published 1912
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) Duetto original for piano: Song without Words, Op. 38 No. 6 (1836)
Fleecy Cloud original for piano: Song without Words, Op. 53 No. 2 (1838)
Gondola Song original for piano: Song without Words, Op. 19 No. 6 (1830)
On Wings of Song, Op. 34 No. 2 (1835) original for voice and piano: Auf Flügeln des Gesanges
Spring Song original for piano: Song without Words, Op. 62 No. 6 (1842)
Sweet Remembrance original for piano: Song without Words, Op. 19 No. 1 (1831)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Menuet
Sonata [No. 22] in A major, K. 305: Allegro molto; Tema con variazione original for violin and piano
Gabriel Pierné (1863–1937) Sérénade, Op. 7 original for piano
Nicola Porpora (1686–1768) Aria in E major extracted from the collection I Classici Violinisti Italiani, freely developed and harmonized by Mario Corti
Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894) Melody in F, Op. 3 No. 1 (1852) original for piano
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) Melody for viola or violin or cello and piano (1959)  
Franz Schubert (1797–1828) Allegretto, Duet for violin or viola or 2 violins or 2 violas and piano (1936) original from the String Quartet No. 15 in G major, Op. 161, D. 887 (1826)
Ave Maria, Op. 52 No. 6 (D. 839) (1825) original for voice and piano
Du bist die Ruh, Op. 59 No. 3 (D. 776) original for voice and piano
Nacht und Träume, Op. 43 No. 2 (D. 827) original for voice and piano
Robert Schumann (1810–1856) Abendlied (Evening Song) in D major, Op. 85 No. 12 (1849) original for piano 4-hands
Romance, Op. 28 No. 2 original for piano
Schlummerlied (Slumber Song) in E major, Op. 124 No. 16 original for piano
Cyril Scott (1879–1970) Cherry Ripe  
Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915) Étude, Op. 42 No. 4 original for piano
Joseph Sulzer (1850–1926) Sarabande: Air on the G-string, Op. 8 original for cello (or violin) and piano
Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937) Pieśń Roksany (Chant de Roxane) from the opera Król Roger
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) Chanson triste, Op. 40 No. 2 original for piano
June (Barcarolle), Op. 37b No. 6 (1875–1876) original for piano
None But the Lonely Heart (also entitled A Pleading), Op. 6 No. 6 (1869) original for voice and piano
Francis Thomé (1850–1909) Sous la feuillée, Op. 29 original for piano
traditional Londonderry Air "Farewell to Cucullain" for viola or violin and piano  
Old Irish Air for viola or violin and piano  
William Wolstenholme (1865–1931) Allegretto in E major, Op. 17 No. 2 published 1900; original for organ
Canzona in B major, Op. 12 No. 1 original for organ
Die Antwort (The Answer), Op. 13 No. 2 original for organ
Die Frage (The Question), Op. 13 No. 1 original for organ
Romanza, Op. 17 No. 1 published 1900; original for organ



Lionel Tertis made recordings in ensembles:

  • Vocalion D-02019 Robert Fuchs: Duet; Handel (arr. Halvorsen): Passacaglia with Albert Sammons
  • Columbia LX225-7 Brahms: Sonata in F minor, Op.120/1, with Harriet Cohen, piano
  • Columbia L 2342-3 Delius (arr. Tertis): (Violin) sonata 2 (1915) 3s / Hassan - Serenade, with G. Reeves, piano

and as a soloist:

  • HMV Treasury HLM 7055, Sonatas by Brahms, Handel, Delius, music by Bach, Mendelssohn etc. Recorded between 1920 & 1933. issued:74


  • My Viola and I. London: Kahn & Averill. 1991. ISBN 1-871-08220-X.
  • Cinderella No More. London: Peter Nevill LTD. 1953.


  1. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ This account is disputed by John White, who writes "It was another fellow student, Percy Hilder Miles, who made the casual request that would change the course of Tertis' life" (Lionel Tertis: The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola, page 5.)
  3. ^ Foreman, Christopher (2011). Benjamin Dale—A reassessment, Part 2: The viola years, 1916–1914. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  4. ^ BBC Proms performance archive, 21 August, 1930
  5. ^ Lloyd, Stephen. William Walton: Muse of Fire (2001), pp. 94-95
  6. ^ "ID: 3487, Type: viola". Cozio. Archived from the original on 6 May 2006. Retrieved 22 August 2006.
  7. ^ "William David Murdoch (1888–1942)". Murdoch, William David (1888–1942). adbonline. Retrieved 24 January 2007.
  8. ^ Obituary, Sidney Griller. The Independent, 23 November, 1993
  9. ^ a b Eric Blom ed., Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed. (1954), Vol. VIII, p. 400
  10. ^ Roger Chase: The Tertis Project Archived 15 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Dutton CDLX7231
  12. ^ Middleton, Becky (18 May 2015). "'Greatest viola player of the 20th century' honoured with English Heritage plaque on former home". Yourlocalguardian. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  13. ^ Riley, Maurice W. (1980). The History of the Viola. Michigan, U.S.A: Braun-Brumfield. p. 269. ISBN 0960315004.

Other reading

  • John White, Lionel Tertis: The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006)
  • Tully Potter, "Chase Fulfilled", The Strad, August 1988.