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Monday, December 11, 2023

Menahem Pressler, Pianist Who Co-Founded the Beaux Arts Trio, Dies at 99

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“In recent years, we’ve seen a rapid expansion not only of the audience for chamber music, but of that audience’s sophistication and its awareness that the genre also includes sonatas, piano trios, small vocal ensembles, quintets, sextets and indeed all manner of combinations,” John Rockwell of The Times wrote in 1979. “And for that expansion of awareness, we can partly thank the Beaux Arts Trio.”

In 2008, when the Beaux Arts Trio disbanded after 53 years, Mr. Pressler was still its anchor, the last surviving original member. He was 84, but he continued performing as a soloist and with ensembles. He also continued teaching at Indiana University, where he held the Charles H. Webb chair in Music.

Menahem Pressler was born in Magdeburg, Germany, on Dec. 16, 1923, 153 years after what is generally accepted as Beethoven’s birthday. One of three children of Moshe and Judith (Zavderer) Pressler, he began playing the piano at 6 and was an accomplished performer as a teenager, taught secretly by a church organist after Hitler’s persecution of the Jews rose to a fever pitch.

He recalled Kristallnacht, in November 1938, when the Nazis orchestrated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues.

“The thugs broke into our family shop in Magdeburg — a gentleman’s outfitters,” Mr. Pressler told The Guardian in 2008. His English still accented with the German of his childhood, he slipped into the present tense as vivid memories returned: “We are hiding in the house, hoping it will go by. In the street, you hear running, yelling, smashing sounds, banging at the door.”

Menahem, his parents and his siblings, Leo and Selma, escaped to Italy months later and then reached Haifa. His grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all perished in the Holocaust.

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