Scott Ross (harpsichordist)

Scott Ross (harpsichordist)

Scott Ross (March 1, 1951 – June 13 1989) was a United States-born harpsichordist who lived in France for many years. His recordings include the first integral edition by a single performer of the 555 harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.


Scott 'Stonebreaker' Ross was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was nearly crippled by a severe scoliosis which kept him in a corset for much of his early life.

He studied piano and organ in Pittsburgh. Following the death of his father he moved to France with his mother in 1964, where he studied harpsichord at the Conservatoire de Nice. While living in Nice his mother committed suicide when Ross was aged 17. After completing his studies at Nice, he enrolled at the Conservatoire National Superieur in Paris, where he was awarded the prestigious Concours de Bruges in 1971.

He then began a teaching career at the School of Music, Université Laval, Quebec. While there, he made award-winning recordings of the complete "Pièces de Clavecin" by Rameau. Ross dressed in similar fashion to his students (even in performance), and his 'granny' spectacles appeared to align him more with the popular music icon John Lennon than the authentic performance scholar Gustav Leonhardt. For one concert at Université Laval which was attended by the university chancellor and the French Consul General he wore jeans and a red lumberjack shirt. Self-effacing to a fault, he explained, "I started the Goldbergs 'cause I quit smoking and, to keep one's fingers busy, it's better than knitting".

A passionate collector of orchids, his other hobbies included vulcanology, mineralogy, and mushrooms. His keyboard interests were similarly wide ranging, extending beyond the harpsichord to the music of Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel which he performed on the piano, and he also accompanied Schubert Lieder. He loved the music of Brian Eno and Philip Glass, and was a fan of the punk performance artist Nina Hagen. The inevitable comparisons with the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould are put into context by Ross's stating: "When I hear Glenn Gould, I say, he understood nothing about Bach. An artist who doesn't show himself in public has a problem. He's so much off-target that you'd need a 747 to take him back"Fact|date=May 2007.

In 1983 Ross took an indefinite sabbatical from Laval, embarking on a recording of François Couperin's "Suites pour le Clavecin", as well as the music of other composers including Bach, George Frederic Handel, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Jean-Henri d'Anglebert. He returned to his beloved France, renting a small house in Assas, near Montpelier, and another in Paris. In 1984 he signed a five-year recording-contract with Erato, but also experienced his first premonition of the illness that would later kill him.

The main fruit of his new contract was the daunting task of recording the complete keyboard sonatas (555 in total) of Domenico Scarlatti, a project started by Radio France which decided to broadcast the sonatas in celebration of the composer's three hundredth anniversary in 1985. Scott Ross began recording the sonatas on June 16, 1984, and during the eighteen months of recording Ross knew he had a fatal illness. Ninety-eight sessions were required, and the last take was completed on September 10, 1985. In all, there had been eight thousand takes.

Scott Ross died on June 13, 1989 in Montpelier's Lapeyronie Hospital of an AIDS-related illness, aged 38.

External links

* [ Scott Ross biography and tribute]
* [ The Scarlatti sonatas] re-released in a 34-CD boxed set by Warner Classics

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