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In Memoriam: Alan Curtis, Professor Emeritus (1934–2015)

From Cindy Cox, Jul 15, 2015, at 4:10 pm:
I’m very sad to let you know that Alan Curtis died earlier today. For those of you that didn’t know him, he was a Professor in the Music Department from 1960-1994. Jennifer Cushing Curtis called us this morning with the news. She said that her daughter Daria was flying this morning to see him, and also that their older daughter Julia is in Venice.
His last address is: via delle Campora 90, Firenze 50124, Italy

From Ben Brinner, July 15, 2015, 4:16pm:
I’m very sorry to hear this. Although Alan has been gone from the department for a long time now, I appreciated him as a colleague during my first years at Berkeley and always enjoyed running into him when he would make a brief stop in the department to check mail on visits from Italy. I found a brief notice – not a full obituary – here:

From Christy Dana, July 15, 2015, 5:35pm:
I’m shocked and saddened by this sudden loss. Alan was a lovely man, so engaged and lively, seemingly as active as ever. I too enjoyed catching up with him in the copy room on his visits to Berkeley to see his grandchildren.
Life is precious, and we never know when our time will come.

From Jeff Davis, July 16, 2015, 2:40am:
Sad news. When I first came to Berkeley, Alan was an active figure in the department, a present and lively one. He was, without question, one of the internationally respected musical giants that gave our department the standing and influence that were its hallmarks. The depth of his knowledge of Baroque music was equalled by the warmth, delight, and generosity of his person. He was encouraging to everyone–students, staff, faculty, all with the easy grace of a great person. Alan himself was a complicated man, more interesting than the operatic characters he brought to life in his many recordings and through his conducting in such revered venues as La Fenice. He had a fascination with the life and work of Carlo Gesualdo, and this culminated in “Death for Five Voices,” a film by Werner Herzog in which Alan and Il Complesso Barocco figure prominently. For those interested, it can be found (complete!) on YouTube at

On a more personal note, my first encounter with Alan was at a concert he gave with the famous recorder player Frans Bruggen at Lone Mountain College in San Francisco. I remember the concert to this day, Alan and Bruggen swaying together, sharing their easy world-class artistry so comfortably. On several occasions, years later, Alan took Hildegarde Klee, the then manager of the department, and me out to lunch at Chez Panisse for no reason other than he loved to share great food and conversation. He had an architecturally stunning home in the Berkeley hills, and to this day I can still see it from the tower. It was a little bit of Florence close to campus. Alan would also handily win the gold star award for the messiest faculty office in the history of our department. How he even got into the office, let alone found anything at all in that wall-to-wall, floor-t0-ceiling mass of paper, was a wonderment. For some reason, I have been thinking of him a lot these last few weeks and will miss him greatly. To use his own words, he made an audible difference.

From Davitt Moroney, July 16, 2015, 8:20am:
Alan’s death is a sad shock. For those who don’t know the details (which I received from Jennifer Curtis, his first wife—and daughter of Charles Cushing, Professor in our own department), he died on his way into the hospital where he had an appointment to see his doctor. He had fallen and cracked the back of his head and they’re still trying to sort out whether he had a heart attack, a stroke or perhaps died because of loss of blood.

I first knew him in 1975 when I arrived as a graduate student. He immediately took me under his wing and I vividly remember a session when he demonstrated to me at the Skowroneck harpsichord in 116 what was so extraordinary about the Courante from Couperin’s second Ordre, with its unprecedented series of descending seventh chords. I also remember his glee at pointing out a magnificent unprepared—and unresolved—ninth chord in a C-major Louis Couperin prelude (“long before Debussy!”).

He had a reputation for arriving back in Berkeley in the second week of each quarter and leaving in the penultimate week. But in those days, long before emails and electronic attachments, he did whatever was necessary by mail, keeping in close touch with the students who worked with him. Every day, in the department office, the “Out” mail box was filled with correspondence, much of it addressed to festivals and records companies around the world. He worked very hard at his several separate careers.

I kept in close touch with him after I left in 1980, meeting him whenever he was in Paris for a concert. After his retirement from Berkeley, over the last 20 years, Christian and I have often spent two weeks in Venice in Alan and Piero’s apartment there. Apart from the direct view onto the Doge’s Palace in Piazza San Marco, there was an antique Italian organ, an antique Walther fortepiano, and an excellent modern harpsichord. We also visited them several times in their spectacular home just outside Florence. “It’s just 40 yards south of Florence” Alan would say (referring to the official sign “FIRENZE” by the road side), and we would have dinner at a local restaurant in a building where Galileo had lived. Their latest venture was the restoration of a beautiful historic building in Naples, some of whose walls are covered with frescoes by an important Neapolitan 18th-century painter. It’s very sad that Alan never had the chance fully to enjoy life in that newly finished home in Piero’s home town.

The Venetian apartment (bought largely with his fees from conducting at La Fenice) and the Florentine home (part of a 14th-century castello) were filled with beautiful paintings, antique furniture and antique instruments.

When I taught summer courses in Venice for ten years, at the Cini Foundation (1989-1999), Alan would always come up to Venice specially for my recital and take me out to dinner afterwards. He was warmly friendly and generous with career advice. His last email to me, just a couple of weeks ago, was helping with an issue with a recording company.

His book on Sweelinck remains an essential study of the composer.
His edition of Monteverdi’s Poppea is likewise fundamental.
But his best and most original research was actively published in concerts and recordings, not in articles and books. The research could be heard by those who knew what they were listening to. The set for Virgin of Monteverdi duets is breathtakingly beautiful.

Christian and I went a few years ago to the Spoleto Festival in Italy to hear his reconstruction of a Vivaldi opera, Ercole su’l Termodonte. Alan was delighted about the fact that one of the things that got this reconstruction so talked about was that the main singer who sang Hercules was entirely naked on stage (apart from a lion’s skin down his back) until the end of Act III, when his soldiers clothed him in royal robes. The singer had grown up in a Californian nudist colony and wasn’t the slightest bit bothered about singing coloratura da capo arias with no clothes on—he’d been singing in public naked since he was 15 and apparently he was the one who had proposed the idea!

But the scholarship behind the production was solid and important. The libretto survives but no score was known. It took Alan over 30 years to assemble most of the arias (I think he found 28 out of the 31) from eighteenth-century anthologies and arrangements, pieces he could identify from the libretto. He painstakingly put them in order, reconstructed the orchestration, and borrowed an appropriate overture from another work. The only thing missing was the recitatives, which had to be composed afresh.

Alan was wonderful company, with endless gossipy (but never malicious) stories about other musicians. He was also a good cook—and Piero an even better cook—so evenings with them were always a highly civilized moment with someone who simply loved music, lived it and breathed it to the very end.

According to Jennifer Curtis, Alan and Piero were planning a trip in Asia ending up in Australia where Alan was to spend two months preparing an opera there.

He would have been 81 this fall.
Best wishes, Davitt

From Mark Wilson, July 16, 2015, 10:07am:
Although I didn’t know Alan my condolences and heartfelt prayers go out to each of you who were his colleagues, students and friends. It’s been a week of loss for many of us. I just officiated the funeral for the mother of a childhood classmate, and while writing her eulogy, I received a call from my cousin that my aunt was approaching her final days. She passed away on Wednesday and I’m headed to Michigan for her funeral next week.
Keeping you in my thoughts!

From Marika Kuzma, July 16, 2015, 10:08am:
I first heard about Alan through Thomas Binkley, when I was assisting him at IU. They were close friends, and Tom told me I should seek him out. By the time I arrived here, Alan was already living in Europe. Nevertheless, I met him in my first year and immediately felt a warm welcome. I’ll remember the twinkle in his eye, his hurried energy in the copy room, his warm baritone voice, meals with him at the Royal Café in Albany and in Venice, and of course his work. He allowed me to observe rehearsals of Monteverdi with his Italian singers for one of the Berkeley Festivals in the 90s. Fantastic.

From Jennifer Cushing Curtis, July 16, 2015, 11:25am:
There will be a service for Alan on Friday, July 24 at 11:00am at the San Miniato al Monte church in the Piazza Michelangelo in Florence. I hope they have an organ that Alan would have approved of! Additional information about memorial services and concerts will be forthcoming.

From Prof. Dr. Bernhard Trebuch, Producer Early Music
Tomorrow I will have a program on RADIO ÖSTERREICH 1 «IN MEMORIAM ALAN CURTIS»
We had first contact over 35 years ago in Innsbruck. I will remember Alan as an artist full of passion for music.

From Joanna G Harris <> July 22, 2015, 11:34am
John Patrick Thomas of hamburg wrote me today of Alan’s death in Florence. we (john and i) worked with Alan on his productions at UC: Poppea, “Le Pazzia Senile” and the “Nymphs of the Danube.”  I choreographed and staged: John Patrick sang. It was a lively time and we have good memories of the ‘ensemble’. best to jennifer cushing curtis and her family. Joanna G Harris, PhD; 2714 woolsey st berkeley, ca 94705; 510. 653-8111,

From Peter Wolf,, 7/27/2015, 6:42pm
I was much saddened to hear of the death of Alan Curtis. I first encountered him in the city of Leiden during the 1965-’66 academic year when I was in the Netherlands studying with Gustav Leonhardt on a Fulbright Fellowship. We were both in Delft for a concert by the Quadro Amsterdam, and I remember walking through the streets of that picturesque town to find a place to have a pre-concert dinner (if memory serves, Jane Bowers, a graduate student from Berkeley, was also with us that evening). Alan reminisced about his own days as a student of Mr. Leonhardt several years earlier. Alan had just completed a Master’s thesis on Louis Couperin when he arrived to study with Leonhardt, who told Alan that it was impossible to know what to do with those unmeasured preludes. As Alan recounted it, Leonhardt then proceeded just a few years later to release a recording that showed that he did indeed know just what to do with that music—perhaps Alan played a role in his coming to this understanding. Alan encouraged me to apply to Berkeley for graduate work in musicology, and said he would support my application. As luck would have it, however, I wound up at Yale, where, among other things, I was able to continue my harpsichord studies with Ralph Kirkpatrick.

The next time I encountered Alan was at an American Musicological Society conference in Chapel Hill, NC in December, 1971 (I was Musician-in-Residence at NC State, in Raleigh, that year.) The following year he graciously made a recommendation to Paul Henry Lang that I be asked to write a review for The Musical Quarterly of a stunning performance Alan conducted in Cambridge, MA, of Rameau’s one-act opera Pygmalion, the first live performance of a Rameau dramatic work, complete with dances choreographed by Shirley Wynne, a pioneer in the reconstruction of baroque dance. This review was in fact my first published piece as a musicologist. I have since then followed Alan’s career from afar, with much admiration for his superb recordings of Handel operas. Alan was indeed one of the giants in the movement to perform baroque music in a historically informed style.

From Elisabeth Le Guin, Professor, Music & Musicology Department, UCLA,
PhD UC Berkeley 1997, submitted August 16, 2015,
Alan was the reason I got into Early Music at all, and the reason I stayed there; he was good enough to hire me a lot during the early 1980s, when I was fresh off my Conservatory studies and looking for a direction as a musician. Fine scholar that he was, he was quite suspicious of my decision to study musicology at Berkeley, and minced no words in telling me so.

Much of his influence on me was indeed in the realms where words only partly penetrate. My memories of his continuo playing, in particular, are engraved in my neurology as the most ample, generous, refined and profound musicianship I have had the good fortune to know firsthand; something permanently to be aspired to. I find that now I miss him from that same level, somewhat below the verbal horizon, a sort of aching absence in the neural pathways: You mean I’ll never get to hear that/feel that again??? Damn!

I can’t say Rest in Peace because his soul was in action. I can say that I’ll always miss him.

From Tom Cluster, 9/25/2015
I just learned of Alan Curtis’ passing.  My first contact with Alan was when I took the non-major 127D Bach and Handel course in 1965. Alan’s excitement about the music was contagious and it’s the main reason I decided to major in music.  After I became a music student I worked in Hertz Hall and I was lucky to be at rehearsals and performances of his productions, including Poppea and the Cavalli opera. I remember Jennifer helping him during the rehearsals, sometimes with their very young daughter at her side. I also remember his solo harpsichord performances, especially Couperin. Alan was always kind and approachable. In 2009, almost forty years after we last saw one another, I emailed him to ask a question about his Handel opera recordings and he graciously answered me, even volunteering that he remembered me.  It’s hard to imagine him no longer with us – he always seemed so young and joyful. I owe him so much. (

From Margot Kalse, submitted 2/15/2016
Margot Kalse, Key2Singing, The Netherlands

I met Alan Curtis through a project I directed for the foundation Key2Singing in the Netherlands with vocal works by Domenico Scarlatti. Alan had been working for a number of years on an edition of Scarlatti’s opera Tolomeo e Alessandro. We asked him to make an abbreviated version for us. This was possibly the last work he did on Scarlatti’s  music, for he died suddenly at his home in Florence on the 15th of July 2015. We have dedicated our CD recording of this really great music to Alan, a great pioneer and leader in the field of baroque music performance and a wonderful musician. The CD has been recorded and released by Aliud Records, ACD BL 084-2

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