Keyboardist and scholar Kenneth Gilbert, 1931-2020

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Kenneth Gilbert, a Montreal-born organist, harpsichordist, musicologist and pedagogue who played an important role in the revival of early music, has died in Quebec City at age 88. Sources say the cause was related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Gilbert in 1988 became the first Canadian to be named a full professor at the Conservatoire de Paris. Other appointments were at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Hochschule fur Musik in Stuttgart and the Accademia Chigiana in Siena and Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Gilbert made influential recordings for Archiv Produktion, Harmonia Mundi and the CBC. The following is an excerpt from an interview by Philippe Gervais that appeared in La Scena Musicale in 2012 on the occasion of a McGill conference given in Gilbert’s honour:

“In addition to having recorded approximately 50 albums, including … The Well-Tempered Clavier and The Art of Fugue, [Gilbert has prepared editions of] Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau and d’Anglebert – gruelling work of which today’s harpsichordists are enjoying the fruits.

“In 1959, as an organ specialist, he supervised the construction of the first instrument in Canada with mechanical tracker action, the Beckerath organ [initially installed at Queen Mary Road United Church]that is now installed in Westmount’s Mountainside United Church. He also began collecting old harpsichords, such as a magnificent Italian one signed “FA” and dating back to 1677, which he is lending to McGill University. He sees musical instruments as precious links between [eras]: his Blanchet-Taskin harpsichord, on which he has performed most of his Bach works, was used by Mozart in Paris and will be serviceable for a few more decades if not centuries.

“Gilbert is not only a distinguished specialist, but also a courteous and modest man without any form of pedantry… What makes him…most proud, he says, is seeing how all his protégés [such as Olivier Baumont, Luc Beauséjour, Hank Knox, Davitt Moroney, David Ponsford and Scott Ross]evolved differently and how they rapidly learned to develop their individual personalities.”

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