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Robert Levin (Piano)

Born: October 13, 1947 - Brooklyn, NY, USA

Pianist Robert Levin is one of America's leading keyboard players in the early instruments movement, but maintains a large repertory in all major periods and genres of piano music. He is equally at home at the harpsichord, the fortepiano, and the standard pianoforte, and as a recitalist, concerto performer, and accompanist. In addition, he is recognized as an authoritative scholar on the Classical and Baroque periods.

Robert Levin studied piano with Louis Martin in New York City, and composition there with Stefan Wolpe. He was invited to study with the legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, and in Paris while still a teenager. He had additional composition studies with Leon Kirchner, and master classes in piano with Clifford Curzon and Robert Casadesus when he was still a junior in high school. His piano teachers in Paris were Jean Casadesus and Alice Gaultier-Léon.

Robert Levin studied at Harvard University. Upon graduation (magna cum laude), Rudolf Serkin invited him to join the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as head of the theory department. He was then requested by Nadia Boulanger to become the next Resident Director of the American Conservatory (1979 - 1983). In 1986 he was professor of piano at the Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik in Freiburg, Breisgau, Germany. He resigned this position in 1993 when he was appointed a professor at Harvard University. He now occupies the chair of Dwight P. Robinson, Jr. Professor of the Humanities at that institution.

Robert Levin embarked on a highly successful concert and recording career. He became known as a highly intelligent interpreter, able to perform virtually any style of classical music. In his curriculum vitae he states "I learn music extremely rapidly, and...there are few works in the standard repertoire that I could not play with three weeks' warning."

Robert Levin has appeared as keyboard player in a wide variety of works. A list of a few of the composers whose music he has recorded shows his wide repertory: J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Brehm, Falla, Hamilton, John Harbison, Paul Hindemith, Charles Ives, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Felix Mendelssohn, Messiaen, Mozart, Francis Poulenc, Max Reger, Robert Schumann, Shifrin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Georg Philipp Telemann, Weber, and Wolpe.

Robert Levin is best known as a Mozart pianist and scholar. He has written cadenzas to many of the master's recordings (including the piano, violin, and horn concertos), published embellishments of Mozart solo parts, and written several reconstructions or completions of Mozart works. His completion of Mozart's Requiem won wide critical acclaim after its premiere by Helmuth Rilling at the European Music Festival in Stuttgart in August 1991. His reconstruction of the K. 297b Sinfonia concertante for four winds and orchestra is now frequently performed. He has published numerous scholarly studies in musical issues, usually concerning performing practice and authenticity, including a world-renowned publication of completions of fragmentary Mozart works. He has recorded on several labels, notably on Sony Classics' Vivarte series.

Robert Levin is both a pianist and musicologist, serving in the latter role as a teacher of composition, Mozart scholar, and writer of numerous articles on music. As a performer, he is most closely associated with the compositions of Mozart, which he plays on fortepiano in recordings, but usually on piano in concert. He has also completed several important compositions by Mozart, as well, most notably the Requiem. L.v. Beethoven has occupied a significant chunk of his repertory, too, Levin having recorded all the piano concertos. He has also been an advocate for modern composers, including John Harbison and Denisov.

Despite his immense keyboard gifts as a child, Robert Levin initially decided to primarily focus on composition, studying in New York with composer Stefan Wolpe from the 1957-61. He then took piano instruction from Louis Martin over the next three years, also in New York City. Concurrent with this activity, Levin studied composition under Nadia Boulanger and piano with Alice Gaultier-Léon at the Fontainebleau Conservatoire Américain in France (1960-64). It is remarkable that all this advanced training took place while Levin was still in high school. Levin went on to Harvard and following graduation, was appointed head of music theory at the Curtis Institute in 1968, upon the recommendation of Rudolf Serkin. Two years later, he took on a professorship at S.U.N.Y., Purchase, which he concurrently held until he departed his Curtis post in 1973. He would remain at Purchase until 1986, but again take a second position during his tenure there, this at the Fontainebleau Conservatoire, from 1979-1983, on the invitation of former teacher Nadia Boulanger.

While Robert Levin had been making impressive strides in his pedagogical profession, his keyboard career had advanced only modestly during the nearly two decades following his graduation from Harvard. He had given public concerts with reasonable frequency from childhood, but his first major appearance would not come until his Alice Tully Hall recital in 1987, after which he enjoyed a nearly meteoric rise. Yet Levin was hardly turning away from his teaching career at this point: he had accepted a post at the Freiburg Staatliche Hochschule für Musik the year before, holding the post until 1993. By that time, he had launched his recording career. The first issue in his highly praised Mozart fortepiano concerto series, with Christopher Hogwood and The Academy of Ancient Music, was issued in 1994 on L'oiseau-Lyre. He had appeared in chamber music recordings as early as 1986 (with Kim Kashkashian on viola) and in the Mozart Concerto for Three Pianos with his friends Malcolm Bilson and Melvyn Tan. Levin's eighth release in his own Mozart concerto series came in early 2001. He has been widely praised for the performances, particularly for his imaginative, improvised cadenzas, a once-popular performance practice that some have credited him with restoring to tradition. Levin has also made a mark with his set of the five L.v. Beethoven piano concertos (also played on fortepiano), which he recorded between 1996 and 2000. His version of Mozart's Requiem was premiered in 1991 in Stuttgart at the European Music Festival, conducted by Helmuth Rilling. Perhaps Levin's most famous Mozart essay was his 1998 Who Wrote the Mozart Four-Wind Concertante? In 1993, Levin left his post in Freiburg and accepted a professorship at Harvard, where he served as a Dwight P. Robinson Jr. Professor of the Humanities.

Source: All Music Guide Website (Authors: Joseph Stevenson [1] & Robert Cummings [2])
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2006)

Robert Levin: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Revof Instrumental Recordings:
Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 from Robert Levin

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




John Harbison


Member of Cantata Singers & Ensemble:
BWV 7, BWV 44, BWV 101

Links to other Sites

Robert Levin - Biography (AMG)
Robert Levin - Biography (AMG)
Robert Levin - Biography (Sony Classical)

Oregon Bach Festival: Robert Levin
cvof Robert Levin (Harvard University)

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