One of the world's great cellists, Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, professor emeritus of cello for U-M's School of Music, Theatre & Dance, died at age 81 on June 6, 2013. A native of Denmark, Bengtsson began teaching at the University of Michigan in 1990 following a distinguished teaching and performing career in Europe. He remained in Ann Arbor following his retirement in 2006. "His shining personality, sublime musicianship, and kindness were qualities much treasured by all who knew him," said SMTD Dean Emeritus Paul Boylan.
Born in 1932 in Copenhagen, Erling Bengtsson began cello studies at age three with his father, made his first concert appearance at age four, and debuted as a soloist at 10. At age 16 he became a student of Gregor Piatigorsky at the Curtis Institute of Music, joining the faculty immediately upon graduation. He later returned to his native Denmark as professor at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music, serving for 37 years. Concurrently, he was teacher of cello at the Swedish Radio Music School of Advanced Instrumental Studies in Stockholm and at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne and gave countless master classes throughout Scandinavia, England, and the United States.
Bengtsson enjoyed a rich career as a recitalist and soloist with the world's great ensembles including the Royal Philharmonic, the BBC, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Gulbenkian Orchestra (Lisbon) and the Czech Philharmonic, as well as the orchestras of Baden-Baden, Brussels, Cologne, Copenhagen, The Hague, Hamburg, Helsinki, Leningrad, Oslo, and Stockholm. Beginning with 78 rpm and continuing into compact discs, he made more than 50 recordings, including highly praised performances of concertos by Boccherini, Haydn, Schumann, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Lalo, Saint-Saëns, the complete Bach cello suites, and the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas. In 1998 his recording of the Kodaly solo sonata was chosen by the "Guinness Classical 1000" as among the top thousand recordings of all time.
Among many honors bestowed upon him was the title of "Chevalier du Violoncelle" by the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in recognition of his universal contributions to the art and teaching of cello performance, and the Manchester (England) International Cello Festival's "Award of Distinction," the greatest international honor to be bestowed on a cellist. He was also knighted by the governments of Denmark and Iceland. A larger-than-life sized bronze statue of Bengtsson stands in front of Iceland's University Concert Hall in Reykjavik, a testimonial to the esteem in which the legendary cellist is held by all of Scandinavia.
Professor Bengtsson is survived by his wife of 55 years, Merete, along with two sons, their wives, and a grandson.