Scott Ross

American organist and harpsichordist (Pittsburgh, 1951 – Assas, 1989)

Surnommé « l’enfant terrible » du clavecin, Scott Ross est un interprète à part dans l’histoire de la musique classique. Mort à l’âge de 38 ans, il laisse derrière lui de nombreux enregistrements et intégrales dédiés à ses compositeurs de prédilection : Haendel, Couperin, Rameau, Scarlatti...

Born in Pennsylvania, his father a journalist and his mother a painter and a publicist, Scott Stonebreaker Ross began studying the piano from an early age, giving his first recital at the age of five. When he was ten, he discovered the harpsichord whilst listening to a recording, and he began trying to recreate the sound of the harpsichord using his piano. Following his dather's death in 1960, Scott Ross moved with his mother to France, in the French Riviera, where he began to learn the organ. At the age of 14, he was asked to play the organ at Notre-Dame for Pierre Cochereau who encouraged the young Scott Ross to join the Nice Conservatoire. There he studied organ under René Saorgin and harpsichord under Huguette Grémy-Chauliac. Ross then joined organ academy in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, studying under Michel Chapuis, before finally studying at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris under Robert Veyron-Lacroix. Orphaned at the age of 19, he competed in the presitigious MAfestival Brugge (Musica Antiqua Bruges) competition, for which he was awarded the rarely-awarded First Prize, given to him by Gustav Leonhardt.

In 1973, Scott Ross accepted a position as an associate professor at the Laval University of Quebec, where he stayed for ten years. That same year, he recorded the album Monsieur Bach with the label Stil, generating wide recognition and fame. Ross continued his career as a concert performer, performing throughout the world during several important tours. In 1975, he embarked upon the ambitious project of recording all the works for harpsichord by Jean-Philippe Rameau, released over 16 discs by Stil. He then turned to the works of François Couperin, before finally recording the 555 sonatas by Domenico Scarlattiwith Erato over 34 discs. Ross's Scarlatti recordings were even broadcast on France Musique ten minutes per day thoughout 1985. The now legendary harpsichordist moved to Arras (Hérault), where he passed away in 1989 from complications related to HIV.

A multi-faceted musician with many talents, a keen botanist and an unconditional fan of Nina Hagen, Scott Ross stood out in the sea of performers of early music. A pianist by training, he never stopped exploring the instrument's repertoire, notably the music of Chopin, Ravel and Debussy, to whom he felt particularly close.

The music of Scarlatti and Debussy is made of the same language. Both have much in common: it is full of surprise, freedom, and strangeness.

(Interview with Denise Fasquelle for Diapason n°334, January 1988)

Scott Ross in 6 key dates : 

  • 1964 : moves to France, studies under Huguette Grémy-Chauliac
  • 1971 : receives First Prize at MAfestival Brugge
  • 1973 : teaches at Laval University in Québec, until 1983
  • 1975 : records the entire catalogue of works for harpsiochord by Rameau, released by Stil
  • 1977-1978 : records the entire catalogue of works for harpsiochord by Couperin
  • 1985 : daily broadcast on France Musique of his recordings of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti

Biography written by the Radio France Music Library, April 2018