The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music obituary: Yale pianist Donald Currier dies at 91 | February 5, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently I sat down, by myself and in a quiet house, at the piano and played some Bach and Chopin: the Allemande, Sarabande and Air from Bach’s French Suite No. 4 in E-Flat Major and Chopin’s lament-like and processional Nocturne in G Minor, Op. 37, No. 1, with its lovely chorale middle section.

It was my private memorial service to Donald Currier.

Currier taught piano at Yale University for 38 years before he retired in 1989. On January 7, he died at 91 at a local New Haven hospital shortly after falling down some stairs from his practice room in his home in Guilford, Connecticut. At least that is how I understand what happened.

Here is a link to an official obituary as well as places to obtain a recording he made or hear excerpts from Schumann and Debussy right now:

http://music.yale.edu/news/?p=2982

http://music.yale.edu/news/?p=2986

http://music.yale.edu/news/

http://www.instantencore.com/buzz/item.aspx?FeedEntryId=74233

Over the years, Currier had many famous students. Among the professional musicians are the conductor John Mauceri (below) and the pianist Joan Panetti. He also taught Anthony Tommasini, ((below)   the chief classical music writer for the New York Times, who wrote a wonderful story about him — see the link below.

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/27/arts/critic-s-notebook-master-teachers-whose-artistry-glows-in-private.html?pagewanted=all

And Donald Currier taught me.

I was not a Yale student but a private high school student. Back in 1962, I had moved to New Haven when I was 15 and a serious piano student. One summer day, I took a bus from Woodbridge (a suburb of New Haven) down Fountain Street to the Square, then walked over to Wall Street and wandered through the Yale School of Music.

Moving up and down the floors of the old building, I let my ears do the choosing.

I came upon a closed door, and from behind that studio door I heard the most gorgeous piano playing and piano music I had ever heard apart from a Carnegie Hall concert by Arthur Rubinstein. I later recognized it as Chopin’s Scherzo No.3 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 39.

When the lesson was over and closed door opened, I asked to speak to the tall and trim older man. I simply said I wanted to study piano with him.

He quietly asked me to come in and play for him.

What nerve I had back then!

When I was done, he asked me to go home for the summer, learn a specific Beethoven sonata and come back to play for him, with my parents in tow, in the fall.

I played, we discussed the terms of the lessons, and he accepted me.

I studied with him for the next two years, until just before I left for college and right after I lost a concerto competition, which he had wisely advised me not to compete in but which nonetheless revealed to me once and for all that I did not have either the talent or the stage nerves for professional performing.

Decades later, through a coincidence too complex to explain, we were back in touch with each other. I’m glad I had the chance to thank him for how he changed my life.

I practice now every day and think of the ever-reserved Mr. Currier, as he remains in my memory, every day.

How would he play it? I wonder. What would he tell me to do or not to do?

He had great instincts and profound musicality. I will long remember him performing Schumann’s “Carnaval” and Beethoven’s Sonata in E-flat, Op. 27, No. 1 and other works, at Sprague Hall. And the first chamber music I ever heard and immediately fell in love with was Currier performing Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat in a live evening concert in the courtyard of the Yale Law School. Was ever a more beautiful slow movement written?

In between came my lessons in playing Beethoven and Mozart, Schubert and Schumann, Bach and Chopin. My current teacher praises my musicality – so much of which I owe to Mr. Currier.

I am sure there are many others out there, amateur and professional musicians, whose paths crossed with Don’s.

I invite you to submit your own memories. I would love to read them and so would his wife, Charlotte Garrett Currier.

Mr. Currier deserves all the honors we can muster and share.

I think I will go play the piano again, something I studied with him, maybe one of the more poignant moments from Schumann’s “Papillons” or the slow movement from a Mozart sonata.

Thank you, Don.

Rest in peace, Mr. Currier.

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Posted in Classical music

4 Comments »

  1. What a lovely tribute. It’s a profound gift that our teachers give us.

    Comment by Cheryl — February 5, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

    • Thank you, Cheryl.
      My guess is that almost every musician — amateur or professional– had someone similar in their past.
      In fact, my guess is most people, in no matter what field or profession, had some formative teacher like Donald Currier who helped shape them in profound and everlasting ways.
      It is what draws us to teachers, and teachers to us.
      Keep up the good work at Wisconsin Public Radio. Even as I write, I am listening right now to you spinning out the Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo” Variations with Mischa Maisky. A fine choice.
      Best,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 5, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

  2. This is a wonderful and moving tribute, Dr. J.

    Mr. Currier sounds like an exceptional person and we are very pleased your shared this intimate memory with your readers. It give us insight not only into the teacher, but also his student who himself became a teacher, which is the most sincere tribute of all.

    Comment by Mike and Jean — February 5, 2010 @ 2:04 am


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