Alfred Cortot 1877-1962

"One of the greatest figures in 20th Century music"


"a fabulous man with total culture"


"a peerless example of one of the great recreative artists of the 20th century"


"Travelling virtuoso, conductor, teacher, administrator, author, editor, accompanist – even sometime composer – Cortot was one of the last century’s great all rounders, although he seems to be remembered nowadays only as a pianist"


"Un novateur dans l’art de jouer de piano. Il y a le piano avant lui et le piano après lui"


"le don inimitable de Cortot c’est le caractere de sa sonorité"


"un toucher dont , jusqu’à la fin de sa longue carrière le monde entier s’est enchanté sans réserve"


"the nec plus ultra of Chopin playing"


 "For many musicians, Alfred Cortot remains unequalled as a Chopin player. Forget the anecdotes about his memory lapses, his wrong notes – this  was a player of luminous intelligence and incomparably sophisticated technique, whose playing may well be the closest we’ll ever get to knowing how Chopin himself played"


"In its balance and poise, its improvisatory spontaneity, its sensuous beauty and its depth of feeling, Cortot’s playing remains a seemingly inexhaustible source of deepening insight into the composer’s art and very soul"


"His 1933 account of the 24 Préludes is generally acknowledged to be among the greatest records ever made, with the Waltzes (1934), Etudes (1942), F minor Fantasy (1934), and the C sharp minor Nocturne,op27,No.1,running it a close second."


"He had a natural sonority that was celestial. Always his sound was pure enchantment whether the music was soft or loud"


"He was a true poet with total culture and his playing always came from the heart"




"He did not have just one kind of technique. He constantly adapted his technical approach to the music"


"Cortot's playing is an object lesson in musical movement, the essence of dance and the nature of pianistic song - and of tonal refinement"


"Cortot practised a lot. D’ Albert and Ansorge didn’t practise. But Cortot knew exactly how to do everything. He wrote all those exercises……"


 "At a concert of Alfred Cortot they would wait with impatience for the moment when his memory would fail"      


On a disastrous lapse of memory by Alfred Cortot during a piano concerto:

"We started with the Beethoven, and I kept up with Cortot through the Grieg, Schumann, Bach and Tchaikovsky, then he hit on one I didn’t know, so I stopped dead."



Comments by:

Claudio Arrau

Sir Thomas Beecham

Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger

Stephen Hough

Yvonne Lefébure

Vlado Perlemuter

Artur Rubinstein

Jeremy Siepmann  Editor of PIANO magazine

Magda Tagliaferro

Harold Taylor  PIANO magazine 2001


Stephen Hough

"I've loved Alfred Cortot's playing from an early age and I never tire of hearing his recordings, particularly Chopin and Schumann from the 1920s and 30s. He is unique in his combination of utter interpretative freedom (sometimes with a touch of eccentricity) and penetrating insight into a composer's wishes. There are artists who delight listeners with their wild and daring individuality; there are others who uncover the written score with reverence; there are few who can do both. Cortot had a vision which went beyond the academic or the theatrical to some wider horizon of creativity from whence the composers themselves might well have drawn inspiration. In the shifting, kaleidoscopic moods of Schumann's cycles, or the lyrical outpouring of Chopin's Preludes, Etudes and Ballades, Cortot seems to breathe with the composer. It is not a mere dusting off or polishing up of a pre-written work, but an interpreter giving the kiss of life to a dead form – vivifying and intimate.

Cortot is sometimes referred to as the pianist who played lots of wrong notes. This is unfair, not just because he had a dazzling finger technique, but because he never allowed a striving for accuracy to distract him from the bigger picture. You can sometimes hear his mistakes, even in the first notes of pieces, but I find these fallible moments endearing: the pianist consumed by spiritual inspiration, oblivious of the physical risks involved."



Angela Hewitt

"Twenty years ago, somebody gave me Alfred Cortot's 1930s recording of Chopin's Preludes and Impromptus. I had never heard anything like it. There is such an eloquence in the phrasing, an unaffected freedom in the rhythm – and he did it with such economy of movement. It's impossible to imitate; one can just marvel at it. His beautiful sound was probably helped by the pianos of the time, which were less harsh and more distinctive; but he had, in addition, an elegance and charm that is increasingly rare in modern life."


Murray Perahia talking about Alfred  Cortot on BBC's Music Matters:

click here

Murray Perahia interview on I Play The Piano:

click here 


Inbar Rothschild pianist 

- research: ‘In Search of Poetic Understanding’ :


"The Poet of the Piano",a 1983 documentary portrait of pianist, conductor and teacher Alfred Cortot (1877-1962). With the voices and opinions of Jean Berard, Gaby Casadesus, Arthur Hoérée, Angus Morrison, Vlado Perlemutter, Magda Tagliaferro, Nina Walker, and Alfred Cortot himself. Written and presented by Roger Nichols.            


Although he was universally regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the last century, Cortot’s later recordings have had a bit of a bad press. Though he had a virtuoso technique it was fallible and the careless slips he was renowned for became more pronounced as he became older. It’s true that some embarrassing recordings exist and and a Beethoven sonata cycle went so badly it has never seen the light of day but in the right repertoire these aspects of his playing are not an issue and in recordings such as those presented here we can enjoy Cortot’s wonderful musicality without the need to make any allowance for a faltering technique The major work here is the complete first book of Debussy Préludes. This set, recorded in the last days of 78s, had only a limited life as LP technology arrived within a year and brought with it improved recording quality. The set was reissued as an LP in 1953, from a technical point of view already out of date, but of course nowadays this is of no consequence when we have the glory of Cortot’s playing to consider.

The Franck Prélude, Aria et Final from 1947 has not been previously issued though passed by Cortot himself. Only one set of test pressings is known to exist, and it is missing the second of six sides, so to make a complete performance we have dubbed in the second side of Cortot’s earlier 1932 recording of the work. Perhaps the gems of this collection are the series of ‘Encores’ which Cortot recorded in 1948. These works present the essence of Cortot’s style, his instantly recognizable singing line, his wonderful voicing of chords and the nobility of it all. It appears that when some of these titles were reissued on LP different takes, recorded on tape, were used so these versions are included as an appendix



Doctoral thesis:

Rakitzis, Vasileios (2015). Alfred Cortot's response to the music for solo piano of Franz Schubert: a study in performance practice. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)

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