Friday, August 13, 2010

Adele Marcus; early recordings made available

Big news broke yesterday with the word that several early recordings by the legendary teacher and pianist Adele Marcus (1906-95) were available to hear in mp3 format on her former student Jeffrey Biegel's website.

In the obituary written for her by Bernard Holland, Marcus was called "teacher to two generations of outstanding pianists." Most of us know her through the echo of a significant list of former students: Byron Janis, Jeffrey Biegel, Santiago Rodriguez, Jeffrey Swann, Neil Sedaka, and many, many others.

We also know her through a book of interviews published by Paganiniana in 1979 called "Great Pianists Speak with Adele Marcus." Now for the first time we can get to know her playing directly.

She was born in Kansas City, Missouri to Jacob B., and Rebecca Marcus who immigrated from Russia in 1886. She was born into a large family; she was the thirteenth child. The 1920 census finds the family living at 906 East 25th Street in Los Angeles, near Griffiths street, on a location that is now a parking lot.

Her older sister Rosamund (b. 1900) was also a pianist and the two frequently performed together. An article from Clavier magazine in 1976 indicates that the two were able to pay for their own lessons and even bought a small grand piano with the proceeds of their private concerts.

Marcus dropped out of high school after her freshman year and moved to New York to study with Josef Lhévinne at what was then called the Julliard Graduate School. She also studied musical composition with Rubin Goldmark.

In 1928, in only the fourth year that the competition had existed, she won the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation Award, and was able to give her New York debut in Town Hall in February 1929.

The unnamed review from February 26th in the New York Times called it "the most promising debut of the season." She played the Liszt sonata in B minor, "and short works of Brahms, Chopin, Scriabine and Albeniz" along with the French Suite in G major, which she played "with notable warmth and color."

The review described her playing: "Her tone is warm, her style fluent and stamped with the authority which reveals a sound technical foundation."

Then the unexpected: "She began an encore, but after a few bars suddenly stopped playing and left the stage. She explained later that she had risen from a sickbed to fulfill her engagement and had felt herself on the verge of collapse after completing her arduous program."

She studied with Schnabel in Europe and then began touring. She became Lhévinne's assistant for seven years and joined the faculty of Julliard in 1954 where she taught until her retirement in 1990.

"Fluency and charm were present to an unusual degree in the superior playing heard from Adele Marcus at her piano recital in Town Hall last night," read another NYT review from 1937. "Miss Marcus could make her work sparkle and glitter..."

Now we can hear it sparkle and glitter for ourselves.


  1. dear jeffrey (johnson):
    thank you SO VERY MUCH for posting this article that you wrote about my great aunt (grandaunt), adele marcus. besides being incredibly attached in spirituality and passion (having read much of her archives in the juilliard school library), i have known (and my family would care less about knowing) so little about her early years, and particularly the other siblings in her family, beatrice, my grandmother being one (and obviously her piano partner, rosamund). the years and names of her parents are pieces of information i've been looking for for months and months! now i can go about my merry (well, not so merry, but extremely intense and passionate) way, finding, i'm sure more and more information with these imperative tidbits.
    if you do, in fact, know more than that about her family, in any way, shape, or form (nothing is boring to me whatsoever), i would be most grateful. you may write me at, or go to facebook to look me up as well. thank you so much, again, jeffrey, and i'd be interested in knowing whether you studied with her, and what your own experience was!
    marianne osiel (grand/great niece of adele marcus)

  2. Hi Marianne--It is such a special feeling to read your post as a surviving relative of Adele Marcus. Have you ever heard her play along with your grandmother Rosamund?
    -Jeffrey Biegel

  3. Thank you for posting Ms. Marcus recordings. There are some tapes of her playing at the Aspen Festival, which are (or used to be) available at the public library in Aspen. Perhaps you might post those as well.

  4. Dear Jeffrey,

    I was a Marcus student at Juilliard in the 70's
    and after visiting NYC this summer I am compelled to talk to the students of Adele Marcus.
    After 30 years I returned to New York and Juilliard. I found NYC totally wonderful.
    I have missed it so. I also found that the memory of Adele Marcus is gone.
    I was attending the Keyboard Festival at Mannes and ran into some of her students who were teaching there. No one talks about Adele. Even when they are teaching. It is funny. I approached Michael Lewin
    and he listened to me for awhile. It was wonderful seeing him and others again.

    I don't know about you, but it was Adele Marcus that inspired me to play the piano. She was the one that brought me to New York.
    It was her students that I listened to every night as I was growing up. It was Anievas and Janis that lit up my imagination as a child.
    I don't really know what I am looking for.
    Maybe I want to start the Adele Marcus Foundation.
    Maybe a Summer Festival where teachers like yourself can talk about Miss Marcus, give concerts, teach about grabbing the chords etc. etc. somehow perpetuating her love of the piano and instilling that love in her students.
    I would love to talk to you. I would love to get her students together and we could talk.
    It has already been so many years since she was
    with us. Before long there will be no memories of Adele Marcus.
    She deserves better then that.
    Please contact me.
    Adrienne Stankey
    Thank you!


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