Menahem Pressler

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Menahem Pressler
מנחם פרסלר
Pressler in 2009
Born(1923-12-16)16 December 1923
Magdeburg, Province of Saxony, Prussia, German Reich
Died6 May 2023(2023-05-06) (aged 99)
London, England
  • Classical pianist
  • academic teacher
Sara Scherchen
(m. 1949; died 2014)
Awards Edit this at Wikidata

Menahem Pressler (Hebrew: מנחם פרסלר; 16 December 1923 – 6 May 2023) was a German-born Israeli-American pianist and academic teacher. He was known for his work with the Beaux Arts Trio that he co-founded in 1955, playing until its dissolution in 2008, in hundreds of recordings and thousands of concerts. He taught at the Indiana University Bloomington. His playing was described as focused on elegance, delicacy and clarity.[1]

Early life[edit]

He was born Max Jakob Pressler in Magdeburg on 16 December 1923.[1][2][3] His Jewish parents owned a shop for men's clothing that was destroyed in the Kristallnacht of 9–10 November 1938.[1][4] His family fled Nazi Germany in 1939,[1][5][6] initially to Italy, and then to Palestine.[1] Pressler suffered from eating disorders and was in danger of starvation, but later said that playing the piano cured him.[1] His grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all died in concentration camps.[5]

Pressler, who took the name Menahem, participated in the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946. Winning first prize launched his career, and he moved to the US. His Carnegie Hall debut subsequently followed in 1947, playing Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.[5]

Palestine Broadcasting Service studio in Jerusalem, July 1947, after the performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto, with Pressler right of the microphone


Pressler pursued a career as a soloist.[1] He toured playing with leading orchestras in North America and Europe, in Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Brussels, Helsinki, London, Oslo, and Paris.[7] From 1955, Pressler taught on the piano faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he held the rank of Distinguished Professor of Music as the Charles Webb Chair.[7] His debut as a chamber musician was at the 1955 Berkshire Festival, where he appeared as the pianist with violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse.[8][7] They met to record a cycle of Mozart's piano trios. It proved so successful that they stayed together as the Beaux Arts Trio.[1] He was the only original member to perform with the group through its entire existence, including several changes of membership, up to disbanding in 2008.[9]

The trio performed in hundreds of recordings and thousands of concerts. They began recording a cycle of the piano trios by Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré. Their repertoire also included contemporary music by Charles Ives and Ned Rorem, among others, and they played ensemble music for six and even eight players.[8]

Pressler returned to Germany in 2008 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht.[4] In 2010, he played at the Rheingau Musik Festival with Antônio Meneses, the last cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio, and appeared before in the interview series Rendezvous.[6] In December 2013, aged 90, he made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at their New Year's Eve concert.[10] The performance was televised live throughout the world.[8]

At the beginning of the 1950s, Pressler recorded a substantial quantity of solo piano music,[11] and of music for piano and orchestra by various composers for the American label MGM. The Beaux Arts Trio made an extensive series of recordings for Philips.[9] In addition, Pressler recorded solo piano music commercially on the La Dolce Volta label and Deutsche Grammophon. In 2018, a recording of French music was dedicated to his constant companion Annabelle Whitestone, Baroness Weidenfeld.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Pressler was married to Sara Scherchen from 1949 until her death in 2014, and they had two children.[13] In 2016, he began a relationship with Annabelle Whitestone Baroness Weidenfeld,[2] whom he had known since 1966.

Pressler divided his time between Bloomington, Indiana, and London. He died in London on 6 May 2023, at age 99.[1][2]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Among his honors and awards, Pressler received honorary doctorates from the University of Nebraska, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Royal Academy of Music in London,[8] the North Carolina School of the Arts, and the Ben Gurion University.[14]

In 2005, Pressler received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the nation's highest honour, and was named a Commandeur in the Order of Arts and Letters award. He was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, in recognition of a lifetime of performance and leadership in music, in 2007.[14]

He was nominated for five Grammy Awards.[15] He received a Chamber Music America's Distinguished Service Award, the Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[14]

Pressler received lifetime achievement awards from Gramophone magazine, the International Classical Music Awards, ECHO Classic in Germany and Les Victoires de la Musique Classique in France.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Brachmann, Jan (7 May 2023). "Zeigen, wie die Wirklichkeit sein könnte". FAZ (in German). Retrieved 9 May 2023.
  2. ^ a b c McFadden, Robert D. (6 May 2023). "Menahem Pressler, Pianist Who Co-Founded the Beaux Arts Trio, Dies at 99". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  3. ^ "Jewish Insider's Daily Kickoff: December 15, 2017". Haaretz. 15 December 2017. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  4. ^ a b Connolly, Kate (7 November 2008). "Kristallnacht anniversary: Hope comes to Berlin's Tempelhof". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Connolly, Kate (14 November 2008). "No jacket required". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  6. ^ a b Milch, Volker (27 August 2010). "'Was der Welt eigentlich den Wert gibt'". Wiesbadener Tagblatt (in German). Archived from the original on 28 January 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2010.
  7. ^ a b c "Current and former students to pay tribute to Menahem Pressler at 80th birthday celebration concert". Indiana University. Retrieved 9 May 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d "Menahem Pressler, pianist who fled Nazi Germany and founded the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 7 May 2023. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  9. ^ a b Oestreich, James R. (5 April 2008). "A Trio Winds Down, a Circle Closes, and Musicians Plan to Go On". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 April 2008.
  10. ^ Carolin Pirich, Carolin (16 January 2014). "Suchen, was einen verzaubert". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  11. ^ Jean-Pierre Thiollet, 88 notes pour piano solo, "Solo nec plus ultra", Neva Editions, 2015, p.51. ISBN 978-2-35055-192-0.
  12. ^ Maddocks, Fiona (20 October 2013). "Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven: Tales from Vienna – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Menahem Pressler dies at 99". Pianist. 9 May 2023. Retrieved 9 May 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d "Indiana University mourns distinguished professor, piano legend Menahem Pressler". Indiana University. 6 May 2023. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  15. ^ "Menahem Pressler". 23 November 2020. Retrieved 22 December 2020.

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