Jacob James Kwast was born in Nijkerk, Netherlands, in 1852. After studies with his father and Ferdinand Böhme in his home country, he became a student of Carl Reinecke at the Leipzig Conservatory, and had later studies in Berlin under Theodor Kullak, and Brussels under Louis Brassin and François-Auguste Gevaert. He settled in Germany in 1883, initially as a teacher at the Cologne Conservatory, and later at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt and the Klindworth-Scharwenka (1903–06) and Stern conservatories in Berlin.
Clara Schumann played her last public concert in Frankfurt on 12 March 1891. The last work she played was Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn, in the piano-duet version, with Kwast as her partner.
He died in Berlin in 1927, aged 74.
His reputation as a teacher reached far and wide. The list of his students includes:
- Hans Pfitzner (his future son-in-law)
- Carl Friedberg
- Percy Grainger
- Ethel Leginska
- Walter Braunfels (whom he introduced to the music of Pfitzner)
- Otto Klemperer (who studied under Kwast at three institutions and credited him with the whole basis of his music development)
- Ilse Fromm-Michaels
- Walter Burle Marx, and
- Edith Weiss-Mann.
- Hermann Zilcher
He later married a pupil of his, Frieda Hodapp, who was a successful pianist. She was also a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni, the soloist in the first performance of Busoni's Concertino, and the dedicatee of Max Reger's F minor Concerto, which she premiered in 1910. She also premiered Reger's Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Telemann, Op. 134, on 14 March 1915 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The work was dedicated to her husband.
His brother was the conductor Jan Albert Kwast (Quast).
- Bach cantatas
- Archives Hub Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
- Peter Clive. Brahms and His World: A Biographical Dictionary, p. 403. Retrieved 23 October 2014
- Orel Foundation
- "Otto Klemperer site". Archived from the original on 2011-09-26. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
- "Burle Marx Musica Society". Archived from the original on 2011-09-11. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
- Jewish Women Encyclopedia
- Slonimsky, Nicolas (1978). "Zilcher, Hermann". Baker's Biographical dictionary of musicians (6th ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. p. 1946. ISBN 0-02-870240-9.
- Liner notes to Oryx Romantic 1824, recording by Hugo Steurer
- Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed (1954), ed. Eric Blom, Vol IV, p. 880