Tertis was born in West Hartlepool, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, and initially studied the violin in Leipzig and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. There he was encouraged by Alexander Mackenzie, the Principal, to take up the viola instead. Under the additional influence of Oskar Nedbal, he did so and rapidly became one of the best known violists of his time, touring Europe and the USA as a soloist. Composers such as Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Gustav Holst and William Walton wrote pieces specially for him. The Walton piece was his Viola Concerto, however, Tertis never performed it because he couldn't understand it at that time.
He also owned a 1717 Montagnana from 1920 to 1937 which he found during one of his concert tours to Paris in 1920, and took a chance in acquiring. According to his memoirs, it was "shown to me in an unplayable condition, without bridge, strings or fingerboard.... No case was available -- it was such a large instrument 17? inches -- so my wife came to the rescue by wrapping it in her waterproof coat, and that is how it was taken across the English Channel." Tertis preferred a large viola in order to get an especially rich tone from his instrument. Knowing that some would find a 17-1/8 inch instrument too large he created his own Tertis model, which provides many of the tonal advantages of the larger instrument in a manageable 16-3/4 inch size. He also arranged hundreds of pieces not originally for the viola for his instrument, such as Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto.
Tertis was the author of a number of publications about string playing, the viola in particular, and his own life. They include Cinderella No More and My Viola and I.
Lionel Tertis died in Wimbledon, London.
In February 2007 (with his accompanist, the pianist Michiko Otaki), the British violist Roger Chase initiated "The Tertis Project," which is a series of concerts devoted to 20th century works by British composers composed for Tertis. Chase performs on the same Montagnana instrument that belonged to Tertis.
JACOB: Viola Concerto No. 1. Concert Piece for Viola and Orchestra. 3 Pieces for Viola and Orchestra. Viola Concerto No. 2. Passacaglia Stereophonica
Sep 01, 2011; JACOB Viola Concerto No. 1. Concert Piece for Viola and Orchestra. 3 Pieces for Viola and Orchestra. Viola Concerto No. 2....