Menahem Pressler dies at 99

09 May 2023
By Ellie Palmer
The legendary pianist and founder of the Beaux Arts Trio passed away at home in London on 6 May. He appeared on the cover of Pianist back in 2019

Menahem Pressler, one of the most celebrated pianists of the 20th century, passed away this weekend in London at the age of 99.

The news was officially announced by Indiana University, where Pressler was Professor of Music in Piano and Dean Charles H. Webb Chair in Music from 1955 onwards. 

Abra Bush, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean at Indiana University, commented: “Mr. Pressler was a brilliant pianist, extraordinary teacher and gentle soul who has left an indelible mark on generations of pianists around the globe.

"He believed that his ‘performance informed his practice, and his practice informed his performance,’ and he loved nothing more than practicing! His loss is an enormous loss for us all, but his presence will continue to be felt through his students, past and present, for decades to come.”

Menahem Pressler was born on 16 December 1923 into a Jewish family in the German city of Magdeburg. He was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1939 to what was then Palestine. Sadly, his grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all died in concentration camps.

His career as a pianist launched with a win at the 1946 Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco. However, it wasn't until 1955, at the age of 32, that he decided to change direction and establish the group that would be his musical home of the next 1/2 century: The Beaux Arts Trio. Along with the original members Daniel Guilet (violin) and Bernard Greenhouse (cello), the group made their debut at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1955.

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They went on to record the entire standard piano trio repertoire during their 53-year existence as a group. After their final concert in 2008, Pressler remarkably revived his solo career at the age of 85. He made a belated debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 2014, playing the G major Concerto K453 in what was a glorious performance.

Pressler is survived by his son, Amittai and daughter, Edna Pressler, whom he had with his former wife Sara Scherchen (m. 1949; died 2014), and his partner since 2016, Annabelle Weidenfeld.

Pressler appeared on the cover of issue 108 of Pianist

Main image: ©Alain Barker