In Memoriam: Classical Musicians who Died in 2012 - Slideshow

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 12:00 AM

The year 2012 saw the passing of singers, composers, violinists, authors and critics, among others who contributed to classical music. Click on the arrows below to scroll through the slideshow.

Alexis Weissenberg, a Bulgarian pianist who spent time in a concentration camp as a child and later performed with Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, died Jan. 8, 2012 at age 82. He had been suffering a long illness.

Paavo Berglund, one of Finland's most prominent conductors, died Jan. 25 at age 82. A regular visitor to the New York Philharmonic, Berglund was internationally known for numerous recordings of music by Jean Sibelius. He was principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1972-1979 and principal guest conductor with the Scottish National Orchestra in 1981-1985.

Carl Van Vechten

Camilla Williams, believed to be the first African-American woman to appear with a major US opera company, died Jan. 29 at age 92. Her debut with New York City Opera on May 15, 1946, was thought to make her the first African-American woman to appear with a major US opera company and came nearly nine years before Marian Anderson became the first African-American singer to appear at the more prestigious Metropolitan Opera.

Bruno of Hollywood

Charles Anthony, a character singer who set the record for most appearances at the Metropolitan Opera -- 2,928 -- during a career that spanned from 1954 to 2010, died February 15. He was 82.

(Pierre Guillaud/AFP/Getty Images)

Maurice André, the son of French miner who sparked an international renaissance for the solo trumpet, died February 25 at age 78. André was praised for his bright tone and seemingly effortless virtuosity, but he also played a role in the Baroque music revival through his playing on the piccolo trumpet. André appeared on more than 300 recordings over a 50-plus-year career.

Howard Kissel, a longtime cultural critic and classical music enthusiast, died February 24 at age 69. Kissel reviewed art and classical music for the Daily News for 20 years, and wrote a Sunday blog for the Huffington Post under the pseudonym the ‘Cultural Tourist.’ He authored two books, and famously played Woody Allen’s manager in the movie Stardust Memories.

Roman Totenberg in Zakopane, Poland, Oct 2000 (Wikipedia Commons)

Roman Totenberg, a violin instructor from Poland whose nine-decade career featured concert performances before kings and presidents and helped produce dozens of accomplished musicians, died May 8 at age 101. Among Totenberg's many career accomplishments, he was director of chamber music for WQXR during World War II, and played in two live programs each week as first violinist of the WQXR quartet.

Herbert Breslin, the hard-driving music publicist and manager who helped to mastermind Luciano Pavarotti's career, died May 16 at age 87. Under Breslin's 36-year guidance, Pavarotti became a fixture of opera houses and later, stadiums and arenas, particularly as a member of The Three Tenors. Breslin was a controversial figure in the classical music field, known for his colorful language and shrewd business acumen.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, hailed as one of the great interpreters of lieder of the last century, died May 18 near Starnberg, in the Bavarian Alps. In Germany, Fischer-Dieskau was considered a Jahrhundertsänger, a "singer of the century," thanks in no small part to his recorded interpretations of the art song canon, which were unsurpassed in terms of both quality and quantity.

Brigitte Engerer, a French pianist who trained in Moscow and became known for her probing interpretations of French and Russian repertoire, died June 23 in Paris. She was 59. Associates remembered her as a gregarious, warm personality who balanced performing with teaching at the Paris Conservatoire.

Jon Lord, the organist for the trailblazing rock band Deep Purple who later composed works for symphony orchestra and chorus, died July 16 at 71. Lord was one of the pioneers of classical-rock fusion, and Deep Purple's 1970 album Concerto for Group and Orchestra, was one of the first collaborations between a rock band and an orchestra.

CTK / Alamy

American violinist Ruggiero Ricci died August 6 of heart failure. He was 94. Ricci, born in San Francisco in 1918 to Italian parents, was sometimes known as the “Paganini of the 20th century” for his mastery of Paganini’s violin works.

Phil Konstantin

Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the scores for dozens of movies including "The Sting" and won a Tony for "A Chorus Line," died in Los Angeles on August 7. Hamlisch was principal pops conductor for symphony orchestras in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Seattle and San Diego. Read Naomi Lewin's report on the composer's funeral.

Donal Henahan, the music critic known for his spirited and thoughtful commentaries in nearly 25 years of writing for the New York Times, died on August 19 in Manhattan. He was 91. Henahan won a Pulitzer Prize for his criticism in 1986.

Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

Evelyn Lear, the American soprano whose repertoire ranged from Mozart and Berg to Bernstein and Sondheim, died July 1 in Sandy Spring, Maryland. She was 86. "She was a first-rate musician, a magnetic presence on the stage, analytical and thoughtful in rehearsal and fearless in performance," wrote Operavore's Fred Plotkin.

Deutsches Bundesarchiv/Wikipedia Commons

German composer Hans Werner Henze, whose prolific and wide-ranging work included a wealth of operas and 10 symphonies, died October 27. He was 86. Henze was prolific throughout his life, wrote Operavore's David Patrick Stearns. "Illness nearly killed him when he was between acts in the composition of his 2007 opera Phaedra – an experience that changed the flavor of the piece but certainly didn’t curtail it."

Composer Elliott Carter in 2004 (David Holloway/Getty Images)

Elliott Carter, the American composer whose formidably complex music helped to define 20th-century modernism, died in Manhattan on November 5 at 103. He died of natural causes, five weeks shy of his 104th birthday.

Dave Brubeck, the pioneering jazz pianist and bandleader who also wrote large-scale symphonic and choral works, died December 5 at 91. Brubeck's classical legacy included collaborations with the New York Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra.


Charles Rosen – the polymath pianist, lecturer and author of numerous books on classical music and the humanities – died in Manhattan December 9 of complications of cancer. He was 85. Above: President Barack Obama escorts pianist Charles Rosen after presenting him with a 2011 National Arts and Humanities Medal during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in February.

Russian opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya, who conquered audiences all over the world with her rich soprano, died on December 11. Vishenvskaya, widow of famed cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, was 86. She sang at major houses including the Met, La Scala and the Bolshoi Theatre.

Oscar-nominated composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett died on Christmas Eve. He was 76 years old. Bennett received Oscar nominations for his work scoring "Murder on the Orient Express," "Nicholas and Alexandra" and "Far from the Madding Crowd."


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Comments [8]

JB From Queens

The great Gustav Leonhardt died last year. How can a piece mentioning great Classical artists who died in 2012 miss him?

Feb. 22 2013 08:50 PM
Richard Friedman from Other Minds, Oakland CA

You also left out the Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt, who passed away in November at 89. Most of his music is for multiple pianos and consists of repeated passages that build into complex patterns. His most famous work, Canto Ostinato, has been performed countless times in various arrangements. You can find some of them on YouTube

You also left out American composer William Duckworth.

Jan. 04 2013 02:27 PM
Keith Fitch

How could you leave out Lisa Della Casa - one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century and a sublime interpreter of Mozart and Strauss?

Jan. 03 2013 12:30 PM
JTBence from NYC

One great artist who died this past year, but is not featured here is Lisa Della Casa. She was one of the greatest Mozart and Strauss singers of the 20th Century and one of the great beauties of the opera world. Her Arabella was definitive.

Dec. 29 2012 11:23 AM
Dan Seymour from Tennessee

Also, the great German organist passed - Heinz Wunderlich - on March 10, 2012.

Dec. 28 2012 05:58 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

ALEXIS WEISSENBERG performed in a piano concerto concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, many many years ago. He was sensational. I remember that the whole audience applauded enthusiastically. Am I wrong in believing that he had lived past 100 years, not only to age 82 ? My cousin MICHAEL BLANKFORT wrote both the books and screenplays for the 1953 film THE JUGGLER Hollywood film made in Israel starring KIRK DOUGLAS and the 1950 Hollywood film BROKEN ARROW starring JAMES STEWART and JEFF CHANDLER [Cochise]. The music for THE JUGGLER was composed by opera composer GEORGE ANTHEIL, in whose opera VOLPONE I sang the tenor leading role [Mosca] in its professional world premiere in NEW YORK in 1953. ANTHEIL, famous for his opera TRANSATLANTIC and BALLET MECHANIQUE looked exactly like Peter Lorre. I am a romantischer heldentenor. I have sung four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I opened my three hour concert with the Invocazione di Orfeo from Jacopo Peri's opera EURIDICE composed in 1600, the first opera, composed in the same year as Shakespeare wrote HAMLET. It, and from the same concert, can be heard my singing Florestan's "Gott, welch Dunkel hier ! from Beethoven's FIDELIO and "Sound an Alarm" from Handel's JUDAS MACXCABAEUS in the live performance on my three websites,, ,, and It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. My voice teachers were the legendary MET OPERA singers Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Frieda Hempel, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, Karin Branzell and Margarete Matzenauer. As an opera composer myself ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"] I fully comprehend the assumed urgency of recognition of the still living. I am the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute in Boonton, NJ where I train actors in all the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers in all the Wagner opera roles. My singing of TRISTAN, GOTTERDAMMERUNG SIEGFRIED, SIEGFRIED, SIEGMUND, RIENZI, LOHENGRIN, WALTHER VON STOLZING PARSIFAL, ELEAZAR, FEDERICO, ORFEO and OTELLO can also be heard at RECORDED SELECTIONS on my three websites.

Dec. 26 2012 09:21 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ


Dec. 26 2012 09:09 AM
Thomas from Monaco

A wonderfull Musician and a great Pianist !
I remember a wonderfull Concert at TEATRO alla SCALA of Milan ,
togheter with Montserrat Caballé : ein stück von Paradis !!!
Rest in the Glory of God !!
Thomas & Frenk & Gégy

Dec. 26 2012 06:32 AM

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