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LIONEL TERTIS - The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola
by John White
First published: 2006
40 b/w illustrations
424 pages
Size: 23 x 15 cm
Binding: Hardback
ISBN-10: 184383278X
ISBN-13: 9781843832782
Price: 47.95 USD / 25.00 GBP
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No more viola jokes, if you don’t mind……
For quite some years it has been a cause of much hilarity amongst orchestral players  to tell the latest “viola joke”. For some inexplicable reason the viola has always been the butt of derisive humour when musicians are in a ribald mood, the coffee break at a rehearsal or in the pub after the concert.  Why should this be?   Perhaps traditionally the viola was seen as the Cinderella of string instruments whose task was mere hack-work; simple, undemonstrative accompaniment, not a glamorous soloist like the violin or the cello.  The viola was looked upon  merely as a refuge for less-able or ageing violinists. But there have been some distinguished musicians of the past who were devoted to this eloquent instrument not least Mozart himself, and in more recent times  Paul Hindemith, Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, along with the great French conductor Pierre Monteux.
So it is particular satisfying to read the splendid biography of Lionel Tertis: “The First Great Virtuoso of the Viola” which has occupied its author,  John White for  a few years and which happily has now been published by the Boydell  Press.  Mr White freely acknowledges the many friends who have helped to assemble so much information, most especially  Michael Dennison  of “Comus Edition” , along with distinguished present-day viola players, and other discerning  musicians who have always recognised the  true nature of the viola.  
Lionel Tertis, born in the north-east in 1876, lived  until the age of ninety-nine and in that century established the viola in its rightful place as an equal of, and as essential as, the violin or cello.   Tertis was a perfectionist in all matters of viola lore:  the founder of  a meticulous modern technique of performance,  the designer of a modern instrument which he persuaded luthiers to create to his very exacting specification, and perhaps most of all the motivator  of countless student viola-players and the true inspiration to composers who have  created that great corpus of music for the instrument; concertos, solo pieces, sonatas, and chamber music of  many styles.  Tertis had a long and happy marriage to his first wife Ada, and some years after her  death married the younger cellist Lillian Warmington who was an equally stimulating help-meet and musical associate in his latter years.   He was of international rank, and curiously enough, born on the same day as that other great string player  the cellist Pau Casals, with whom he enjoyed a long and musically fruitful association.  Being such a perfectionist cannot always have been easy, and it has to be recorded that Tertis was not always easy to work with; his demands for exactitude and impeccable musicianship left many others in some awe.  Away from  the concert platform or the teaching session he was a mild-mannered and most unassuming man; one of the very great musicians of the last century. 
This is an excellent book and deserves the attention of all who have a lively interest in the annals of British music.
Arthur Butterworth




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