Edward Aldwell, 68, Master of Bach Keyboard
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Edward Aldwell, who died Sunday at 68, was a pianist and authority on the music of Bach, as well as a teacher of music theory and piano at the Mannes College of Music in New York and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
With Carl Schachter, he was the co-author of “Harmony and Voice Leading” (3rd ed., 2002), the standard textbook on the subject.
In a series of recitals beginning in the early 1980s, Aldwell established a solid following as an interpreter of the classical Bach repertoire, including “The Goldberg Variations,” and “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” with which he made his New York debut. He released complete recordings of both works.
After hearing Aldwell play “Art of the Fugue” at Merkin Hall in 1992, Newsday’s Tim Page exulted, “Now here is something: a mild-mannered musical scholar – the antithesis of the glamour boys beloved by arts management – who has attracted a devoted following through nothing more than performances, both conscientious and inspired, of the masterpieces of the piano literature … His recitals inevitably draw among the most sophisticated audiences in New York … Aldwell, then, is a musician’s musician, in the best sense; his playing not only entertains, it teaches.”
Aldwell grew up in Portland, Ore., and as the son of an Army careerist, moved frequently. The family settled in Sonora, Tex., where Aldwell had his first piano lessons. He was discovered at a summer program at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and moved to that city to study music while he was still in high school. He came to New York to study at Juilliard, where his teacher was Adele Marcus. He studied theory with Mr. Schachter and won awards, which allowed him to focus on intensive analysis of Bach’s keyboard works. He stayed on after graduating in 1966 to teach keyboard studies for a few years. He began teaching at Mannes in 1969 and Curtis in 1971, and remained part of both faculties until his death. He specialized in teaching Schenkerian analysis, a holistic method of studying musical structure combining harmony, counterpoint, and form.
Aldwell also recorded Bach’s “French Suites,” “Overture in the French Manner,” and “Art of the Fugue,” as well as works by Hindemith and Faure. The quality of his recordings was universally acclaimed, but it was for his revelatory recitals that he will be best remembered. After hearing him play the last nine preludes and fugues from Book I of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” in 2002, Richard Dyer, the Boston Globe’s critic, wrote, “Here the standard of accuracy was almost inhuman, though the most striking aspect of his performance was the range, richness, and variety of its humanity.”
A man of focused energies, Aldwell was intending to record next Bach’s “English Suites” over the summer.
He died as a result of injuries sustained when his ATV, which he was driving on his property in Kerhonksen, N.Y., overturned.
Born January 30, 1938, in Portland, Ore.; died May 28 at Westchester Medical Center as a result of injuries suffered in a May 7 accident; survived by his wife, Jean Ann, daughter, Elisabeth, and two grandchildren.