The American pianist and music pedagogue, Beveridge Webster, commenced piano studies at the age of 5 with his father, the founder and director of the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Music (established 1893). Webster's brother Ferguson and his sister Elizabeth also received musical training from their father. In 1921 Beveridge Webster, Sr. sold the conservatory and the whole family moved to Paris. In 1921, at age 14, Beveridge Webster began five years of study in Europe, first at the American Academy at Fontainebleau, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger and Robert Casadesus, and won first prize in 1922. Beveridge Jr., Ferguson and Elizabeth, continued their musical education at the Paris Conservatory with the renowned pedagogue, Isidor Philipp. Webster went on to take the Premier Prix in piano, the first and only American to win that coveted Conservatory award. He began concertizing extensively in Paris and throughout Europe in the 1920's and 1930's. During the early 1930s, he also spent three years studying with Artur Schnabel in Berlin.
During the Paris years, Beveridge Webster's empathy for French impressionism was cultivated by his friendships with Maurice Ravel and Jacques Durand, Debussy's publisher and confidante. Webster was a close associate of Ravel and appeared frequently on the same concerts (they often turned pages for one another in chamber music recitals). He studied Ravelís works with the composer between 1926 and 1932, and in 1924, when still only 16, he gave the world première in Paris of Ravelís Tzigane with violinist Samuel Dushkin in Paris. Webster was a frequent performer at the musical soirees given by the Durands, as well as those given by the opera diva Nellie Melba. It was in Paris that Webster began to teach; among his students were Hephzibah and Yaltah Menuhin. Webster also was a close associate of Igor Stravinsky, appearing with him on several occasions when Igor Stravinsky conducted his own works.
On November 11, 1934, Beveridge Webster made his USA debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, playing Edward MacDowell's Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor Op. 23. His recital debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City was a mere three weeks later, on November 30, 1934. He subsequently appeared with most of the major American orchestras, collaborating with some of the finest conductors including Serge Koussevitzky, Artur Rodzinski, Pierre Monteux, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Ormandy, John Barbirolli and Otto Klemperer. He was greatly in demand as a solo recitalist and chamber music player (with quartets including the Kolisch, Curtis, Juilliard, Pro Arte, Fine Arts, Musical Art, Gordon, Lenox, Netherlands, Berkshire, Concord, Gramercy, Galimir, Capet, and Cremona) throughout North America.
Beveridge Webster's repertoire was diverse and wide-ranging, extending from J.S. Bach and L.v. Beethoven to 20th-century avant-garde. He is best known, however, as a champion of modern American composers and for his interpretations of French composers, especially Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. He gave premieres (as well as made first recordings) of the works of numerous American contemporaries such as Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Roy Harris, Robert Helps, William Schuman, Roger Sessions, and Louise Talma. In addition to American music, Beveridge Webster has also made first-time recordings of works of other 20th-century composers such as Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Igor Stravinsky. For the 50th anniversary of Debussy's death (1968) Webster performed Debussy's complete piano works in a three-recital series in a number of cities, including New York, Chicago. Webster's recordings of the complete Debussy piano works are still considered to be among the finest interpretations. A Time magazine article from 1937 said of Webster, "Dark, well-knit, young Beveridge Webster is a good swimmer, takes pride in his tennis, likes to play poker or bridge with his great good friend Igor Stravinsky. He boasts of the little slam he once made against Sidney Lenz."
Beveridge Webster's performing and teaching careers continued simultaneously. From 1940 to 1946, he taught at the New England Conservatory. In 1946, he joined the faculty of the Juilliard School where he remained for nearly forty-five years, until his retirement in October 1990. From 1961 to 1970 he was a performing artist and faculty member at the Aspen Music Festival and Music School. He was also Professor-in-residence at Herbert Lehman College in 1973, and has been a visiting professor at leading colleges, universities, and conservatories throughout the country. Some of his students include Michel Block, Sylvia Glickman, Steven Graff, Hao Huang, Paul Jacobs, Jahja Ling, Robert McDonald, Andrew Rangell, Sonia Rubinsky, Mordecai Shehori, and three performer/teachers now in the Washington area, Thomas Schumacher (University of Maryland), Thomas Mastroianni (Catholic University) and Raymond Jackson (Howard University).
Beveridge has served on juries for numerous piano competitions: the Kennedy-Rockefeller Foundations' International Piano Competition, 1978 (jury chairman); University of Maryland Piano Competition, 1980; first Tokyo International Piano Competition, 1980; Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition, Cleveland, 1981; the Warsaw, Mitropoulos, Van Cliburn, Naumburg, Leeds, Munich, and Bach international piano competitions, as well as the Paris Conservatory and the WQXR Young Artists Competitions. He has also been a member of various composition juries, such as the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM), the League of Composers, American Broadcast Alliance, and the Pulitzer Prize.
Beveridge Webster has received various awards and honorary degrees, among them an award for outstanding services to American music from the National Association of American Composers and Conductors, 1959; membership in the National Society of Literature and Arts, 1975; and honorary doctorates from the University of New Hampshire, 1962, and Baldwin Wallace College, 1969.
Beveridge Webster made a substantial series of recordings issued on LP by various labels including Dover Publications, Columbia and Heliodor, and at least one, billed as the first installment in a complete traversal of Schubert's piano sonatas, for MGM Records. But his most well known recordings are of the complete piano works of Debussy which he made for Desto in 1968. In 1964 Webster recorded an LP of works by Ravel which was issued by Dover. He gives authoritative accounts of Gaspard de la nuit, Le Tombeau de Couperin and Jeux díeau, but is hindered by a close recording and a Baldwin piano that at times is unyielding. In music requiring a high level of virtuosity such as Scarbo from Gaspard de la nuit and the Toccata from Debussyís Pour le Piano, Webster can occasionally become unstable in rhythm and technique. For Heliodor, Webster recorded a disc of Schubert, his Sonatas D. 958 and D. 568. Of particular interest are Weís recordings of the music of Elliot Carter as he studied these works closely with the composer. His recording of Carterís Piano Sonata, originally made for Desto, was issued on compact disc on the Phoenix label. Also for Desto Webster recorded Six Études for Piano by American composer Louise Talma, and for Composerís Recordings Inc. recorded her Three Duologues, and, in 1974, works by Donald Martino and Verne Reynolds with his clarinettist son Michael. A live performance from January 1937 exists, of Mozartís Piano Concerto in G major K. 453 and Igor Stravinskyís Capriccio, but does not appear as yet to have been issued commercially. In this performance the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Igor Stravinsky.
In 1940, Beveridge Webster married Frances Brown, a singer, pianist and cellist. Frances holds degrees in music from Oberlin and Radcliffe and has studied with Nadia Boulanger. She has given numerous song recitals, many with Webster as accompanist. For nine years, she was principal cellist with the Westchester (New York) Symphony. The Webster children, Michael and Wendy, first commenced piano studies with their mother. Michael is a clarinetist, conductor, composer, and arranger. He has been the principal clarinetist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, as well as soloist with various orchestras and performer with numerous chamber music groups and festivals. He played under the baton of Aaron Copland for a performance of Copland's Clarinet Concerto. Michael Webster now teaches at the Shepherd School at Rice University in Houston, Texas. After musical studies at Oberlin, Aspen, and the Longy School of Music (eurhythmics) and graduate work in early childhood education at Tufts University, Wendy founded the Joy of Music Program (in 1986) in Worcester, Massachusetts. She continues on as teacher/director of this unique community music school for children aged two to twelve.