Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Maria Curcio

Maria Curcio (1918- 2009) was born in Naples. She was a classical pianist and best remembered as a much sought-after teacher. Her students included Barry Douglas, Martha Argerich, Evelyne Brancart, Radu Lupu...  it's a very long list. She, herself, was the last student of the great Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel. In classical music she was, in the words of a journalist in The Independent (in 2001) "a tutelary goddess second to none.“

It's hard to say what makes one great musician more a teacher and another a performer. World events, certainly, home life, personality, many things. Maria's father was Italian and her mother was from Brazil, was Jewish and was also a pianist. Somewhere in all that Maria got  a strong stubborn streak. She was playing by age three. At age seven they took her to Rome to play for Benito Mussolini. She abruptly refused to do so, saying she didn't want to play for a man "who is ruining our nation." (Prescient of her. Benito was just getting started.)

She did not have a happy childhood,. She was pushed into too many engagements too soon, and there was no time to play or have friends. She entered the Naples Conservatory at age nine and had her degree by 14. Her mother arranged for her to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Artur Schnabel, himself, from age 15. He did not take young pupils, but his son asked him to take a listen. When he did so, he said Maria was "one of the greatest talents I have ever met"

She made her London debut in 1939. At the outbreak of World War II, she was in Amsterdam, having followed Schnabel's secretary Peter Diamand, and where she often played. However, during the German occupation of the Netherlands from 1940, when Jews were banned from playing in public, she turned down all offers of engagements in protest (Diamand was Jewish). Diamand spent some time in a Dutch concentration camp but escaped. Husband and wife then had to hide from the Nazis, in attics and other cramped places, with inadequate food. Maria became malnourished. She got tuberculosis. She could no longer walk properly, let alone play. Her performing career was over. She married Diamand in 1948, but it took years of therapy to restore strength to her legs, arms and fingers. She finally got her strength back and returned to playing. She played with such artists as Benjamin Britten, Otto Klemperer, Josef Krips, Pierre Monteux and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Her last performance was in 1963. She then turned to teaching and giving master classes.

Her husband, Peter Diamand, had become director of the Edinburgh Festival and they moved to the UK. She became Visiting Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, University of London. She played privately with Sir Clifford Curzon, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and their circle in 1947. In her private life, she and her husband divorced in 1971 after he had an affair with Marlene Dietrich. Maria spent her last few years in Porto, Portugal. She died there in March 2009 at the age of 90. In spite of everything she was a softie and worried if her students could afford to pay. She'd often say, "Don't worry about it." I look at her photo, her eyes, her smile -- well, that's one story I can believe.

BBC Scotland made two films about Maria Curcio in the 1980s: Music in Camera: Maria Curcio - Fulfilling a Legacy and
Maria Curcio - Piano Teacher. A documentary of her life, Music Beyond Sound, was made by her student Douglas Ashley
in 1993. He also wrote a book of the same name.

                                    to music portal                                        to top of this page
© 2002 to 2023