The Canadian harpsichordist, organist, musicologist and teacher, Kenneth Gilbert, has died at the age 88. He studied at the Conservatoire in his native city of Montreal with Yvonne Hubert (piano) and Gabriel Cusson (harmony and counterpoint) before travelling to Paris on a Prix d’Europe scholarship to study with the organist Gaston Litaize with whom he worked on the early French composers, notably Dandrieu, Clerambault and de Grigny. He was soon working at the harpsichord where his mentor was the Venetian Ruggero Gerlin, who had been Wanda Landowska's assistant, and also with Sylvie Spicket from 1953–55. He later studied privately under Landowska, as well as with Nadia Boulanger (composition) and Maurice Duruflé (organ).
From 1952 to 1967 he was organist and music director at Queen Mary Road United Church (now Rosedale Queen Mary United Church) in Montreal. In 1967 he returned to Paris on a Canadian government grant to undertake research on François Couperin for a CBC series on the composer. After completing this research, he undertook a project to prepare a new edition of Scarlatti’s 555 keyboard sonatas. Further scholarly undertakings included work on the keyboard works of F Couperin, d’Anglebert, Frescobaldi and Rameau.
He taught at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec (1957-74), McGill University (1964-72), Laval University (1969-76), at the Royal Flemish Conservatoire in Antwerp (1971-74) and, in 1988, he was appointed a professor at the Paris Conservatoire, the first North American to be given such a role. He also gave numerous masterclasses and summer courses. His pupils include Emmanuelle Haïm, Sébastien d’Hérin, Davitt Moroney, Ludger Rémy, Scott Ross, Jos Van Immerseel and Jory Vinikour.
In 1968 he performed in London and his international career commenced, skilfully balancing performance and scholarship.
He recorded extensively, first for the Canadian Baroque Records Co label and then for Harmonia Mundi and DG’s Archiv Produktion label. Though his repertoire tended to focus on the French Baroque, he recorded a great deal of music by JS Bach for Archiv including The Art of Fugue, The Well-Tempered Clavier and the complete harpsichord concertos alongside Trevor Pinnock, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Nicholas Kraemer and The English Concert. He was also the subject of a film by Michel Follin, release on DVD by Harmonia Mundi.
Reviewing one of this earliest releases, the ordres by Couperin (RCA), Robert Layton commented, in November 1972, that ‘he plays …with the stylishness that one would expect from a scholar and with the feeling one would expect from an artist. I do recommend this.’ And shortly afterwards, writing about a further volume in the same series, Stephen Plaistow wrote that 'In May, when I wrote at some length about the previous issue in this series that RCA are doing with Kenneth Gilbert (the Third and Fourth Ordres …), I said that not since Thurston Dart's day has there been such a fruitful coincidence of the scholar's mind and the performer's fingers in this field. In the first flush of enthusiasm one is all too likely to pitch a claim too high. But that one I made with confidence, I'll make it again, and indeed I don't expect it to be seriously challenged.'
[This obituary was updated on April 20 to correct Gilbert's city of birth and to acknowledge his appointment at the Paris Conservatoire. Thanks to Arthur Kaptainis for his assistance.]