The American musicologist, harpsichordist, fortepianist and conductor, Alan (Stanley) Curtis, studied first at Michigan State University and attained his Bachelor of Music's degree there in 1955 and Master of Music in 1956. His graduate study at the University of Illinois was interrupted after the completion of his master's program by two years of study with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam (1957-1959). Following his work with the master harpsichordist, organist, and conductor, Curtis returned to the University of Illinois to complete his doctorate, awarded in 1963.
By this time, Alan Curtis had already published several scholarly texts that had attracted the interest of the growing period performance movement. His doctoral thesis on Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck quickly became a standard text on that composer's works for keyboard and later formed the basis for Curtis' more extended volume, published in 1969 as Sweelinck's Keyboard Music: A Study of English Elements in Seventeenth-century Dutch Composition (London and Leiden, 1969). He joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley in 1960, becoming full professor in 1970. During that decade, he took advantage of increasing opportunities to put into practice the results of his research. A scholar, he has edited several important works with an appreciation for authenticity, effective performance, and - in the case of opera - stage-worthiness. For example, he edited Pièces de clavecin by L. Couperin (1970) and by Balbastre (1980), and Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea (1989).
Equally known for his live performances and musicological work in establishing new performing practices for early opera, Alan Curtis has enjoyed a fruitful career. He has achieved a reputation as an accomplished harpsichordist and, increasingly, as a conductor of 17th and 18th century opera, performing both in America and Europe. A 1980 La Scala debut conducting George Frideric Handel's Ariodante led to other significant engagements in Italy. In 1984, he conducted Gluck's Armida, then not often heard, in Bologna, and in 1989, he led Cimarosa's even rarer Gli Orazi ed I Curiazi in Rome.
In the aftermath, Alan Curtis founded the Il Complesso Barocco and recorded several operas for Virgin Records. Several of his best recordings were issued in the 1990's and in the new millennium. A recording of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea was heralded as an antidote to less authentic realisations. Equally, it demonstrated just how vital period performance could be when shorn of Romantic-period excesses.