Lionel Tertis (29 December 1876 – 22 February 1975) was an English violist and one of the first viola players to find international fame.
Tertis was born in West Hartlepool, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, and initially studied the violin in Leipzig and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. There he was encouraged by the Principal, Alexander Mackenzie, to take up the viola instead. Under the additional influence of Oskar Nedbal, he did so and rapidly became one of the best known violists of his time, touring Europe and the USA as a soloist. Composers such as Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Gustav Holst, York Bowen and William Walton wrote pieces specially for him. The Walton piece was his Viola Concerto. However, Tertis did not give the world premiere of this Concerto as he found it difficult to comprehend at the time; that honour went to Paul Hindemith
In 1906, Tertis was temporarily in the famous Bohemian Quartet to replace the violist/composer Oskar Nedbal.
He also owned a 1727 Montagnana from 1924 to 1937 From the Paris dealer, Maucutel & Deschamps in 1924, and took a chance in acquiring. According to his memoirs, it was "shown to me in an unplayable condition, without bridge, strings or fingerboard.... No case was available -- it was such a large instrument 17 1/8 inches -- so my wife came to the rescue by wrapping it in her waterproof coat, and that is how it was taken across the English Channel." Tertis preferred a large viola in order to get an especially rich tone from his instrument. Knowing that some would find a 17+ inch instruments too difficult to play he with the assistance of Arthur Richardson created the Tertis model Viola, which provides many of the tonal advantages of the larger instrument in a manageable 16-3/4 inch size.
Along with William Murdoch (piano), Albert Sammons, and Lauri Kennedy, Tertis formed the Chamber Music Players.
Tertis composed several original works and also arranged many pieces not originally for the viola for his instrument, such as Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto. He was the author of a number of publications about string playing, the viola in particular, and his own life. They include Cinderella No More and My Viola and I.
Lionel Tertis died in Wimbledon, London. The Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition was established in 1980 to honor his memory.
In February 2007, the British violist Roger Chase (along with his accompanist, pianist Michiko Otaki) initiated "The Tertis Project," a series of concerts devoted to works composed for Tertis. Chase performs on the Montagnana viola that belonged to Tertis.
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