Anthony Newman is an American classical musician (born May 12, 1941). While mostly known as an organist, Newman is also a harpsichordist, pedal harpsichordist, pianist, fortepianist, composer, conductor, writer, and teacher. A specialist in music of the Baroque period, particularly the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Newman considers himself to have played an important role in the movement towards historically informed performance. He has collaborated with noted musicians such as Kathleen Battle, Julius Baker, Itzhak Perlman, Eugenia Zukerman, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Leonard Bernstein, Michala Petri and Wynton Marsalis for whom he arranged and conducted In Gabriel’s Garden, the most popular classical record of 1996.
Newman was born in Los Angeles, California. His father was a lawyer and his mother was a professional dancer and an amateur pianist. Newman started playing the piano by ear at age four and could read music before he could read words. He was five when he first heard the music of J.S. Bach (the fifth Brandenburg Concerto) and was “delighted, elated and fascinated.” At five he began piano lessons but decided to add organ after hearing his first Bach organ music (Toccata and Fugue in D minor). He had to wait until he was ten to begin organ lessons because before then his feet would not reach the pedals. From the age of ten to seventeen he studied the organ with Richard Keys Biggs.
At age seventeen Newman went to Paris, France, to study at l’École Normale de Musique. His primary teachers were Pierre Cochereau (organ), Madeleine de Valmalete (piano), and Marguerite Roesgen-Champion (harpsichord). He received a diplôme supérieur, with the commendations of the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot.
Newman returned to the United States and received a B.S. in 1963 from the Mannes School of Music having studied organ with Edgar Hilliar, piano with Edith Oppens and composition with William Sydemann. He worked as a teaching fellow at Boston University while studying composition with Leon Kirchner at Harvard University. He received his M.A. in composition from Harvard in 1966 and his doctorate in organ from Boston University in 1967 where he studied organ with George Faxon and composition with Gardner Read and Luciano Berio for whom he also served as teaching assistant.
Newman’s professional debut, in which he played Bach organ works on the pedal harpsichord, took place at the Carnegie Recital Hall in New York in 1967. Of this performance The New York Times wrote, “His driving rhythms and formidable technical mastery…and intellectually cool understanding of the structures moved his audience to cheers at the endings.” Based solely on the Times’ review, and without an audition, Columbia Records signed Newman to a recording contract. Clive Davis, head of Columbia Records, took his cue from the prevailing anti-establishment sentiment among young people and Newman’s long hair and interest in Zen meditation and marketed Newman as a counterculture champion of Bach would could draw young audiences. As a result, according to Newman, it took some years for him to “live down” the image created by Davis and to be taken seriously in the classical music world. But Newman did indeed draw young audiences as noted by Time magazine in a 1971 article in which they dubbed him the “high priest of the harpsichord.” After recording twelve albums for Columbia Records Newman left along with pianist André Watts, another of Davis’ protégés, when Davis left Columbia in 1979. Newman has gone on to make solo recordings for a variety of labels including Digitech, Excelsior, Helicon, Infinity Digital/Sony, Moss Music Group/Vox, Newport Classic, Second Hearing, Sheffield, Sine Qua Non, Sony, Deutsch Grammophon, and 903 Records. Newman has recorded most of Bach’s keyboard works on organ, harpsichord and piano as well as recording works of Scarlatti, Handel, and Couperin. On the fortepiano he has recorded the works of Beethoven and Mozart. As a conductor Newman has led international orchestras such as the Madeira Festival Orchestra, the Brandenburg Collegium, and the English Chamber Orchestra.
Baroque performance controversy
From the beginning Newman’s interpretation of the music of J.S. Bach brought disdain from many musicians. His chosen tempos are generally extremely fast, and he often takes liberties with rhythm and ornamentation. Newman’s argument in favor of his tempo is that what he calls the “traditional” approach to Bach began 100 years after Bach’s death and is misguided by a mystique and reverence for the composer that results in performances which are slow, rhythmically restrained and without the vivification of ornamentation. In contrast, Newman’s recordings of Bach have been considered “exciting” by some who are skeptical of the validity of his interpretations. In Newman’s scholarly text, Bach and the Baroque, published in 1985 and revised in 1995, Newman supports his performance of Baroque music with a thorough analysis based on contemporary 17th and 18th century sources. Newman discusses how alterations to the written music – rhythmic variations such as rubato and notes inégales as well as improvised ornamentation – were common in Bach’s time and that fast movements were played faster than has been traditionally accepted. Scholarly opposition to Newman’s approach was led by Frederick Neumann who had long-held that notes inégales were limited primarily to French performance practice and that Bach, who traveled relatively little, would not have been exposed to this technique. In reviewing Newman’s Bach and the Baroque in 1987 Neumann was at first somewhat gracious calling Newman “…a splendid keyboard performer who can dazzle his audiences with brilliant virtuosic feats. He can, and often does, play faster than perhaps any of his colleagues, and shows occasionally other signs of eccentricity.”