About William Pleeth
This British cellist came from a family of Polish immigrants in which there were several generations of professional musicians. William Pleeth began to show talent as a cellist at the age of seven, when he was still smaller than the instrument. At 10 he began studying with Herbert Walenn at the London Cello School, continuing his studies on a scholarship in the musically rich city of Leipzig. Pleeth was the youngest student ever admitted to this particular program and at 15 years he had learned all the Bach Cello Suites. He was surely benefiting from living in the city where the composer himself had practiced on the church organ, but beyond that seemed to possess a remarkable aptitude for memorization that would serve him well in his performing career. Pleeth met fellow cellist Emanuel Feurermann in Leipzig, and the two performed together in the Quartet for Four Cellos written by Julius Klengel. The other cello parts were played by Fritz Schertel and the composer. Pleeth certainly wasn't hiding behind other cellists just because he was only 15, however. The prodigy mastered the Dvorák and Haydn D Major concertos and began performing as a soloist that same year. In 1940 his career received a major boost as the result of his radio performance of the Schumann Concerto with Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
He became passionate about chamber music, organizing the Allegri String Quartet in 1952 with violinists Eli Goren and James Barton and Patrick Ireland on the viola. Pleeth preferred working within a chamber ensemble than the other available options either as performing solo or working as a guest with different orchestras. The latter involved a task that he found intimidating, that of coming to terms with an eminent conductor at each new collaboration. His absolute favorite material to perform were the quintets of Brahms or Schumann. He frequently performed this repertoire with the Amadeus Quartet.
Pleeth's greatest mark may have been left as a teacher after all, despite the high quality of his discography and a prestigious career. He is considered to have been simply one of the great cello teachers. He began teaching at the Menuhin School in 1977, with his academic career providing him with one student that would be remembered above all: Jacqueline du Pré. But his successful students also included his son, the Baroque cellist Anthony Pleeth as well as several other child prodigies. The Yehudi Menuhin Music Guide series has published William Pleeth's book entitled Cello. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1989, and died a decade later following a four-year battle with leukemia.