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Introduction to Lionel Tertis (1876 – 1975)

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What was the focus of his career?

Tertis was a soloist and chamber musician, and then he devoted his life to teaching. He was considered the first great viola virtuoso and was committed to raising the standard of playing for violists.

What were the highlights of his career?

Tertis began his career as a violinist, but he was convinced to switch to viola when studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He toured the United States and Europe as a soloist and founded the Chamber Music Players. Tertis also created his own viola, an instrument with the acoustical advantages of a larger instrument in a smaller size.

What were his influences/where did he go to school?

Oskar Nedbal mentored Tertis when he chose to take up the viola at the Royal Academy of Music, but Tertis was largely self-taught on the instrument.

Works written for him:

Vaughan Williams’s Flos Campi, Benjamin Dale’s Suite, Gustav Holst’s Lyric Movement, Arnold Bax’s Sonata and Legend, York Bowen’s sonatas, and William Walton’s Concerto, among others.

Did he have any notable students? 

Rebecca Clarke

What viola did he play on?

1717 Montagnana (17 1/8”) before he made his own model

What hobbies did he have outside of music?

Well, outside of performing and teaching, Tertis wrote and arranged several pieces of music for viola, such as the Elgar Cello Concerto.

Fun facts:

Tertis was born on the same day as his friend and renowned cellist Pablo Casals. In 1950, he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).


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