Alan Curtis (1934-2015)

Harpsichordist and founder of Il complesso barocco dies aged 80


Alan Curtis, the harpsichordist who helped revive Baroque music in Italy, has died at his home in Florence. He made a great impact on his generation as a harpsichordist, musicologist and conductor of Baroque opera.


Curtis was born in Mason, Michigan and received his PhD from the University of Illinois. He then travelled to Amsterdam to study harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt – a pioneer of the early music movement – with whom he made several reputable recordings by JS Bach.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Curtis produced a number of innovative discs of solo harpsichord music, which were widely acclaimed, including his performance of JS Bach’s French Suites Nos 5 & 6, BVW 816-817. His discs rekindled an interest in the harpsichord output of Bach and Rameau.

While pursuing his career as a highly skilled performer, Curtis also began lecturing at The University of California (Berkeley) and across Europe. Added to his academic achievement was his success as a conductor, making a major debut in the 1980 production of Handel’s Ariodante at Milan’s La Scala. He was especially lauded for his performances with his orchestra, Il complesso barocco, which he founded in 1992.


Many musicians appreciated his commitment to emphasising the importance of Baroque music. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who worked with him on several occasions, described him as a ‘Titan in bringing an avalanche of “unknown” music to modern times.'