Aline Isabelle van Barentzen (b. Somerville, Mass.,
July 7, 1897; d. 1981)
Aline van Barentzen still holds the record as the youngest pianist,
at 11 years old, to have won the First Prize at the Paris Conservatory.
Her first recital was at the age of four, after which her mother moved
with her from Boston to Paris for further music studies. Practicing six
hours a day, at the age of seven she performed Beethoven's First Piano
Concerto with orchestra, and at nine was accepted into the Paris Conservatory.
Her teachers there included Marguerite Long and Delaborde. Later she
studied in Berlin with Heirich Barth and Ernst von Dohnanyi (among her
fellow students were Artur Rubinstein and Wilhelm Kempff), and in Vienna
With Paris as her home she became friends with many of the
leading musicians and composers of the early twentieth century, including
Enesco, Poulenc, Messaien, Roussel, and Villa Lobos, whose works she
often premiered. She performed frequently throughout Europe with the
leading conductors and recorded for His Master's Voice. She became
a French citizen in the 1930's and spent the war in Paris, playing concerts
as part of the effort to boost morale. In an interview/article in
Clavier magazine, February 1981, she tells of how she was programmed
to play Chopin's B minor Sonata and both volumes of the Etudes for the
first half of a war-time concert, and of how she barely had the energy
to make it through, due to the severe food shortages.
Aline absorbed scores quickly, learning all 24 Debussy Preludes
during a vacation, and the Brahms Paganini Variations in five
days. At one time she had an active repertoire of over 500 works. Her
extensive early training resulted in complete technical mastery, it
being told that when she went to study with Leschetizky he declared himself
satisfied with her technique and spent his time on interpretation. Even
though French music was her specialty she also recorded all of Beethoven's
32 sonatas for French Radio, and included a wide range of repertoire in
Her early teaching assignments included the Philadelphia Musical
Academy and the Buenos Aires Conservatory. In 1954 she became Professor
of Piano at the Paris Conservatory and can count Jean-Philippe Collard
and Cyprien Katsaris among her famous students. She was decorated three
times by the French government: the "Chevalier des Arts et Lettres" (1962),
the "Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur" (1966), and the "Officier de l'Ordre
National du Merite" (1975). In 1976 the Brazilian government bestowed
upon her the Villa-Lobos Gold Medal. She was a frequent jury member of
leading piano competetions and was at one time the president of the Bach-Leveque
piano competition. She also composed piano pieces under her married name
A quote from a critic in Budapest sums her up as a performer
(taken from the Clavier article, Feb. 1981):
Aline van Barentzen is an artist of great temperament
who possesses magnificent dynamism and a technique above all praise
which permits her to bring all the finesse and the lyric poetry necessary
to the works she interprets.
Written by Rose Eide-Altman
Hixon, Donald L. And Don A. Hennessee.
Women in music: an encyclopedic biobibliography. 2nd Edition.
Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993
Kehler, George. The Piano in Concert. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow
Tan, Lillian. "Franco-American Virtuosa: Aline van Barentzen."
Clavier February 1981: 29-33.
and material from the
International Piano Archives at Maryland (IPAM)
Last updated August 30, 2001