Born: May 30, 1928 - Graveland (near Hilversum), the Netherlands
Died: January 16, 2012 - Amsterdam, the Netherlands
The eminent Dutch organist, harpsichordist, conductor and pedagogue, Gustav (Maria) Leonhardt, studied organ and harpsichord with Eduard Müller at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis from 1947 to 1950.
Gustav Leonhardt made his debut in as a harpsichordist in Vienna in 1950. After studying musicology there, he served as professor of harpsichord at the Academy of Music from 1952 to 1955. He was professor of harpsichord at the Amsterdam Conservatory from 1954. He was also active as a church organist there.
Gustav Leonhardt made his first recordings of solo harpsichord music by J.S. Bach in the early 1950’s. These quickly established his reputation as an outstanding Bach interpreter. In 1954, with his Leonhardt Baroque Ensemble, he collaborated with the English counter-tenor Alfred Deller in recordings of J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 54 and BWV 170. This early essay in historically aware performance style (HIP) - the ensemble included his wife Marie and Eduard Melkus (violins), Alice Hoffelner (viola), Nikolaus Harnoncourt (cello), and Michel Piguet (oboe) - may be justly considered an important torch-bearer in the new paths soon to be taken in Baroque interpretations. Since then Leonhardt has performed and recorded all the major solo harpsichord music of J.S. Bach. He made numerous tours of Europe and North America, mainly appearing as harpsichordist. He also led his own Leonhardt-Consort (replacing the Baroque Ensemble) on tours from 1955. An interesting curiosity about Gustav Leonhardt is that he was the main actor in the movie "Diary of Anna Magdalena Bach" (1967), playing and performing and above all personifying J.S. Bach.
In 1971 Gustav Leonhardt and Harnoncourt jointly undertook a project, completed in 1990, to record all J.S. Bach’s sacred cantatas. Leonhardt’s performances, in which his Leonhardt-Consort provided the orchestral nucleus, are elegantly shaped and often more restrained in expression than those of Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
Gustav Leonhardt edited J.S. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge, pieces by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, and other works.