Malcolm Bilson

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Malcolm Bilson in a masterclass at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2009.

Malcolm Bilson (born October 24, 1935) is an American pianist and musicologist specializing in 18th- and 19th-century music. He is one of the foremost players and teachers of the fortepiano. Bilson is the Frederick J. Whiton Professor of Music in Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.


Bilson was born in Los Angeles, California. His family was and is successful in the entertainment world: his father, George Bilson, was an English-born producer/writer/director, and his older brother Bruce Bilson had a long and productive career as a film and television director; other relations (descendents of Bruce) are Danny Bilson and Rachel Bilson.[1]

Malcolm Bilson graduated from Bard College in 1957.[2] He continued his studies with Grete Hinterhofer at the Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Berlin, later with Reine Gianoli at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. He studied for a doctoral degree at the University of Illinois with Stanley Fletcher and Webster Aitken, obtaining his DMA in 1968.[2] At that time he was appointed to a professorial position at Cornell. He became a full professor in 1976 and was appointed to the Frederick J. Whiton chair in 1990.[2] In 1974, Bilson co-founded the Amadé Trio with violinist Sonya Monosoff and cellist John Hsu.

Recordings, pedagogy, and scholarship[edit]

Bilson is known for his series of recordings (on the Archiv label) of the piano concertos of Mozart, in collaboration with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists. He has also recorded the complete Mozart and Schubert piano sonatas for Hungaroton. In collaboration with six of his former students Bilson has produced a complete recording, on Claves Records, of the piano sonatas of Beethoven. These recordings use a set of nine restored or replica pianos, each of a type contemporaneous with the sonata being performed. He also created a DVD, "Knowing the Score," which questions many of the basic concepts of musical performance taught in conservatories and music schools around the world, specifically, the lack of adherence to notated articulations and assumptions about the length of rhythmic values. He followed up this DVD with two more: "Performing the Score," with violinist Elizabeth Field, and "Knowing the Score, Vol. 2." Bilson has published several articles on the subject of interpreting late 18th- and early 19th-century compositions by Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven in Early Music and Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae.

Fortepiano builder Carey Beebe assesses Bilson's influence as follows:[3]

Malcolm Bilson, who began after 'the Father of the Fortepiano', Phil[ip] Belt, dropped around one of his first reproduction instruments to try, still provides great impetus to modern makers. His Fortepiano Summer Schools in the 1980s were an inspiration, and many of the musicians who attended those schools, along with his Doctoral graduates, have spread the word around the globe. Bilson's DG Archiv recordings of the complete Mozart Concerti were a milestone.

In 2011, Malcolm Bilson brought the first Fortepiano competition to the United States in 2011. Coordinated under the Westfield Center, with a grant form the Mellon Foundation, the competition and academy were held at Cornell University in August 2011. 31 young musicians from all over the world competed for prize money totalling $13,500.

Bilson's instruments[edit]

  • (acquired 1969) fortepiano by Philip Belt, based on a Louis Dulcken original in the Smithsonian Institution
  • (acquired 1977) copy by Philip Belt of Mozart’s concert instrument. The original was built by Anton Walter ca. 1782 and is now kept in the Mozarteum in Salzburg.
  • 1825 fortepiano by Alois Graf[4]


In 1994 Bilson was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[5]

The asteroid 7387 Malbil is named in his honor.[6]


Publications by Malcolm Bilson:

  • "Schubert's Piano Music and the Pianos of his Time," Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 22 (1980), 263-71.
  • "The Viennese Fortepiano of the Late 18th Century," Early Music (April 1980), 158-62. (abstract)
  • "Interpreting Mozart," Early Music (November 1984), 519-22.
  • "Execution and Expression in the Sonata in E-flat, K282," Early Music (May 1992), 237-43.
  • "The Future of Schubert Interpretation: What Is Really Needed?" Early Music 25 (1997), 715-722


  1. ^ For details and references, see Bruce Bilson.
  2. ^ a b c Winter, n.d.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Winter (n.d.)
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 20, 2011. 
  6. ^


  • Winter, Robert (no date) "Malcolm Bilson". Article in Grove Music Online. Accessed 11 March 2012.

External links[edit]