Legendary pianist Menahem Pressler inspired generations and was the linchpin of the Beaux Arts Trio for half a century

Socially gifted, with twinkling eyes as sparkling as his playing, with the passing of pianist Menahem Pressler, the music world has lost one of its most lovable personalities. Pressler died in London on Saturday at the age of 99. And although he no longer gave concerts recently, he remained active until an extremely old age: in 2018 he made a small tour in the Netherlands along Utrecht, Tilburg and Nijmegen and then also performed in the TV program Podium Witteman. “Giving concerts makes me feel alive,” was his own statement. He made his debut at the age of ninety Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In many chamber music performances at prestigious festivals, his charisma and experience compensated for the not always so smooth-sounding runs. Pressler gave the many young talents with whom he worked all the space to shine.

And that while Pressler had already had an exceptionally productive career as a permanent member of the Beaux Arts Trio. This company proved to be the most important piano trio of the post-war period. The complete canon was put on record or CD, witness the jubilee box of sixty CDs which was released in 2015. And although the trio knew five violinists and three cellists between 1955 and 2008, the constant factor was always Pressler, as primus inter pares: “Piano trios are usually written from the piano part.” The closure in 2008 had nothing to do with age, Pressler later assured in an interview with NRC. “The violinist, Daniel Hope, had an ever-expanding solo career. He was already the fifth violinist in fifty years, I didn’t feel the need to train another new member.”

Also read an interview with Menahem Pressler from 2011: ‘My last concert? A terrible idea!’


Menahem Pressler was born on December 16, 1923 in Magdenburg, Germany. After Kristallnacht in 1935, his Jewish family took him to Palestine, but a large part of his family was murdered in concentration camps. According to the pianist, the loss left a mark on his playing. “You get wrinkles on your face but also on your heart – they reflect your experience, suffering and pleasure.”

His career was launched by winning the Debussy Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946.

In fact, the professional piano trio did not yet exist in 1955, in contrast to the rich string quartet tradition. Trios were often played by three solo greats who added a little extra in their scarce free time. But Pressler was eager to record Mozart’s piano trios and asked the more experienced violinist Daniel Guilet and ‘the heavenly’ cellist Bernard Greenhouse to play along. The planned nine American performances became such a huge success that the piano trio stayed together permanently.

Pressler’s permanent piano trio turned out to be revolutionary and emancipatory: after all, the ensemble could mature and with the refinement, public interest in the genre also grew. Through performances in small towns, the Beaux Arts Trio increasingly ended up on the world stages. Record recordings with trios by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven and Dvorák did the rest. And those who listen to them today will also hear legendary registrations, full of elegant interplay, although some interpretations seem polite when listening again.

Master classes

Nowadays almost every self-respecting piano trio has one a master class of the Beaux Arts Trio, or more precisely, of Menahem Pressler himself, appear on the CV. In addition, Pressler had taught at Indiana University since the 1950s and held four honorary degrees. “I love teaching,” he said in 2011, “for me it is a way of leaving something to the world, conveying my love for music. And when I play or teach I feel forty.”