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Prone to Violins
violinhunter
About violinists, violins, and the violence that occurs between the two.
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Arthur Hartmann (Arthur Hartman) was a Hungarian (some would say American) violinist, teacher, composer, and writer, born (in Philadelphia) on July 23, 1881.  He was a rather enigmatic, romantic, and restless figure in the world of music during the turn of the twentieth century.  He is best known today for having transcribed a work by Claude Debussy which almost all concert violinists play – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair - a piece which Jascha Heifetzmade famous and recorded at least four times, the first time when he was 26 years old.  Hartmann was a child prodigy and first performed in Philadelphia when he was six years old (1887.)  His first teacher was his father.  Later, he studied with Henry Hahn and Martin van Gelder.  In 1891-92, he studied in New York at the New York College of Music.  He toured Europe very successfully from 1892 to 1894.  He was 11 years old.  From 1894 to 1897, he played in America wherever his father could find him opportunities.  He then studied with Charles Loeffler in Boston for two years, beginning in 1897.  His patron in Boston was a wealthy merchant: Arthur Curran.  From 1899 to 1903, he studied in Europe – I do not know where (perhaps Berlin) or with whom.  Although he appears to have begun his career quite strongly, he suffered reversals which put him in very precarious financial circumstances a number of times.  The year 1929 was especially difficult – he suffered from very poor health, his wife and children left him, and he could not work at all for many months.  His concertizing was done in fits and starts but it has been said his performances were acclaimed.  He appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1906.  He was 25 years old.  On November 13, 1908, he played Saint Saens’ third concerto with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall.  Again, on March 2, 1913, he played a Mozart concerto with the philharmonic.  On February 5, 1914, he gave a recital in Paris with Claude Debussy at the piano.  A recording of some of his music – by violinist Solomia Soroka - came out in 2009 which finally illuminated some of his work.  He seems to have been a prolific writer and a very enthusiastic promoter of new music and miscellaneous projects.  He was prone to wear fancy Spanish hats and a cape.  He also knew – in the style of Tivadar Nachez - almost every major figure in music and regularly corresponded with them – Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, Bela Bartok, Richard Strauss, Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, Christian Sinding, Alexander Glazunov, Zoltan Kodaly, Efrem Zimbalist, Tivadar Nachez, Leopold Auer, Joseph Joachim, Eugene Ysaye, Walter Damrosch, Carl Flesch, Frank Bridge, Fritz Kreisler, Maud Powell, Emil Sauret, Albert Spalding, Joseph Szigeti, Edward MacDowell, and Otakar Sevcik were among them.  However, he was no dilettante; he was on the founding faculty of the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York) in 1921 – he had initially been recruited in 1918.  He left Eastman in 1922 to concertize in Germany.  On October 21, 1922, he played both, the Tchaikovsky and the Saint Saens B minor concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic – something that no violinist today would attempt or even contemplate doing.  He was 41 years old.  He returned to the U.S. in 1923 and taught privately in New York.  In 1925 he formed his own quartet – the Hartmann Quartet – which made its debut in New York on November 16, 1925.  It was very favorably received.  It went on a U.S. tour in 1928 but was disbanded in 1929, despite the success it was experiencing.  Hartmann began having difficulties with his health in 1929.  For a decade, life was hard for him.  He would play and teach sporadically.  In 1931, he was forced to sell one of his violins, a Maggini, in order to make ends meet.  From 1931 to 1933, he had a studio in Toronto, Canada, though he continued living in New York.  On December 16 and 17, 1932, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Syracuse (New York) Symphony.  He was 51 years old.  Up to that point, he may easily have already given over a thousand performances – Ruggiero Ricci gave over five thousand performances during a 75-year career.  One source states that Hartmann was a composer of a substantial body of symphonic music, choral works, and chamber music but that may be an exaggeration.  He did write over 200 transcriptions for violin, several works for orchestra, a few for string quartet, and some vocal music.  A great abundance of his music was published, especially that written for violin.  Timar, a symphonic poem, is an example of a work which was initially very well-received and then forgotten.  Every piece he wrote was performed and favorably received.  As far as I know, all of this music is now out of print.  Hartmann was also an authority on J.S. Bach’s violin works, but especially his famous Chaconne, about which he wrote a lengthy analysis.  However, just as Joseph Achron is known for his Hebrew Melody, Hartmann is known for his Debussy transcription – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.  After 1932, Hartmann dedicated the rest of his life (more than twenty years) mostly to writing and composition.  A small book written by Hartmann – Claude Debussy as I Knew Him and Other Writings –  though never completed, came out (with extensive notes) in 2010.  It is probably the best writing on Debussy in existence.  Among Hartmann’s violins was a 1735 Stradivarius which he acquired in 1901 and which was later played by Mischa Elman - it eventually ended up in the hands of a collector in Pennsylvania: Raymond Pitcairn, great uncle of violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn.  Between 1905 and 1925, Hartmann also owned a 1752 Guadagnini.  It’s anyone’s guess where that violin ended up.  He may have acquired it from Franz Kneisel, though that’s only a wild conjecture on my part.  As far as I know, Hartmann never recorded anything commercially.  He died in obscurity (in New York City), on March 30, 1956, at age 75.  
2 years ago | |
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Franz Kneisel was a German (some would say American or Romanian) violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Bucharest) on January 26, 1865.  He is known for having taught for many years at the Institute of Musical Arts (Juilliard) and for having led the famous Kneisel Quartet for more than thirty years (1886-1917.)  Together with Theodore Thomas, Max Bendix, Simon Jacobsohn, Theodore Spiering, Ferdinand Laub, and Hans Letz, he was a violinist who set the groundwork for the establishment of classical music as a viable and serious art in the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century.  In Europe, that tradition had already been in motion and thriving for over 200 years.  Kneisel graduated from the Bucharest Conservatory in 1879, at age 14.  In Vienna, he studied with Jacob Grun and Joseph Hellmesberger at the Vienna Conservatory for three years.  In 1882, he made his debut in Vienna.  He then soon became concertmaster of the Hofburg Theatre Orchestra in Vienna.  He was 18 years old.  The following year (1884), he became concertmaster of Benjamin Bilse’s Band in Berlin, the precursor of the Berlin Philharmonic.  By then, however, it was actually known as “Former Bilse’s Band,” since most of its musicians had broken away (in 1882) from conductor Benjamin Bilse to form their own organization.  It did not adopt the Berlin Philharmonic name until 1887.  Eugene Ysaye had just left the concertmaster’s post in that orchestra to become a concert violinist, teacher, and composer.  Kneisel left Germany for the U.S. in 1885 and was soon appointed concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, where he played for 18 years (1885-1903), and with which he appeared as soloist many times.  He was also its assistant conductor.  He was 20 years old.  It has been said that over the years, Kneisel conducted the Boston Symphony over a hundred times.  Joseph Silverstein was probably the last concertmaster in Boston who enjoyed the privilege of being an assistant conductor as well.  Kneisel formed the Kneisel Quartet from among members of the orchestra (Emanuel Fiedler, Louis Svecenski, and Fritz Giese.)  Kneisel and Svecenski (violist) stayed with the quartet until it was disbanded in 1917 but the other positions were filled by many other players later on.  The Kneisel Quartet became known all over the U.S. and Europe.  Several sources state that Kneisel gave the premiere performances of the Brahms and Goldmark violin concertos in the U.S. as well as the famous Cesar Franck A major sonata.  According to Bridget Carr, Archivist for the Boston Symphony, Kneisel first performed the Brahms concerto in Boston on December 6, 1889 (almost ten years after it was premiered in Germany by Joseph Joachim) and the Goldmark concerto almost exactly a year later, on December 5, 1890.  In 1897, Kneisel acquired a 1714 Stradivarius which he owned until his death.  It is known as the Grun ex-Kneisel Strad but I have no idea who plays it now.  He had previously played (and presumably owned) a G.B. Guadagnini from 1752.  He also acquired a 1780 Guadagnini in 1914.  In 1905, Kneisel moved to New York to become the head of the violin department at the Institute of Musical Arts (Juilliard) which was newly established.  He was fifty years old.  Eventually, Kneisel became so busy teaching that he had to disband his quartet, by then, considered the best in this country and one of the best in the world.  He taught at Juilliard until the day he died – about 11 years.  Kneisel’s pupils include Elias Breeskin, Louis Kaufman, Joseph Fuchs, Sascha Jacobsen, Samuel Gardner, Michel Gusikoff, Robert Talbot, Bernard Ocko, Lillian Fuchs, Joan Field, and Olive Mead.  He published several study books which are probably no longer in print.  He also wrote a Grand Concert Etude for violin which, as far as I know, nobody plays anymore.  The Kneisel Quartet may have recorded only once – in 1917.  Kneisel died (in New York City) on March 26, 1926, at age 61.  
2 years ago | |
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Israel Baker was an American violinist and teacher born (in Chicago) on February 11, 1919.  He is best known for having played second fiddle to Jascha Heifetz in several chamber music concert series and recordings begun in 1961.  He is also known for having led innumerable Hollywood movie soundtrack recording sessions as had Toscha Seidel and Louis Kaufmann before him.  In fact, he was concertmaster of the orchestra that recorded the soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movie, Psycho, in 1960.  His sight reading abilities became legendary.  Although a classical violin soloist and recitalist, Baker spent most of his career as concertmaster of various studio or concert orchestras, just as has David Nadien, who was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for four years.  There is scant information on Baker (on the internet) prior to his turning 20.  However, it is common knowledge that he played in public (in Chicago) at age 6.  The performance is said to have been broadcast nationwide on the radio.  It is also known that his first job as concertmaster was with the Dayton (Ohio) Philharmonic.  A year later, Leopold Stokowski recruited Baker for his All American Youth Orchestra.  At age 22, while still a student at Juilliard, Baker became its concertmaster.  (At this point, I contacted Hilary Baker.) That was the summer of 1941.   Baker studied first with Adolf Pick in Chicago.  Later, he took lessons from Jacques Gordon (concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony), Louis Persinger (teacher of Yehudi Menuhin), and Bronislaw Huberman.  Two sources state that he later joined the NBC Symphony in New York (under ill-tempered and rude conductor Arturo Toscanini) but I could not find his name on any lists of NBC Symphony musicians - they somehow missed him.  After a lengthy tour with Stokowski, Baker did join the first violin section of the NBC Symphony.  He also recorded Scheherazade with the legendary maestro (Stokowski) - much later, he would record the solos a second time.  During this time with Toscanini, Baker also had a nationally broadcast weekly radio program on NBC.  During World War Two, he was a violinist in the Army Air Force playing for wounded veterans in the U.S. (Atlantic City, New Jersey.)  Afterward, he worked for Phil Kahgan in New York for a few years.  Kahgan was a contractor for free-lance musicians.  Through Kaghan’s connections, Baker ended up in Los Angeles and quickly established himself firmly in the recording world.  On August 24, 1947, he made his debut playing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Los Angeles Philhamonic, William Steinberg conducting.  In 1950, in Los Angeles, he formed a duo with Yaltah Menuhin, violinist Yehudi Menuhin’s younger sister.  In 1951, they gave a joint debut recital in New York.  I don’t know where the debut took place – both artists were in their very early thirties.  Although I’m sure one exists, I could not find a review of that recital on the internet.  However, after their debut in San Francisco in 1950, Alfred Frankenstein - music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle - called their recital a "brilliant achievement." With pianist Alice Shapiro and cellist Edgar Lustgarten, he formed the Pacific Arts Trio.  Baker also led orchestras on the West Coast – in addition to the Paramount Pictures studio orchestra - which recorded with many popular artists, including Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Harry Belafonte, Benny Carter, Sammy Davis, Bill Haley, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Chet Atkins, Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, Count Basie, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Sarah Vaughn.  CBS recordings done with Bruno Walter with the Columbia Symphony included Israel Baker as concertmaster.  Being in the studio naturally meant that he also worked closely with film composers, among whom were Andre Previn, John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Lalo Schifrin, Franz Waxman, and John Barry.  As a soloist or chamber music player his discography is not extensive but as an orchestral player his sound (even if not individual, except for his recording of Scheherazade with Erich Leinsdorf) is on hundreds of recordings and movie soundtracks.  In any case, his recordings of music by Viotti, W.A. Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Antonin Dvorak, Cesar Franck, Rimsky-Korsakov, George Antheil, Vernon Duke, Eric Zeisl, and Alban Berg are easy to find.  Heifetz was quoted as saying that Baker was "a fine fiddler" (a typical Heifetz understatement) and that he was easy to work with.  Except for Erick Friedman, Heifetz never recorded with any other violinist.  Igor Stravinsky himself picked Baker to record his violin concerto; however, he was overruled by executives at CBS who insisted on Isaac Stern as soloist.  In 1981, Baker was concertmaster of the (Orange County, California) Pacific Symphony.  He was also briefly concertmaster of the Los Angeles Symphony – not to be confused with the Los Angeles Philharmonic – as well as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  In fact, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was made up almost entirely of highly accomplished studio musicians.  Baker taught at Scripps College (a private school in Claremont, California, near Los Angeles) for a time and his best known pupil was Jack Benny.  Baker played the Garcin Stradivarius (1731) as well as other violins.  The Garcin Strad is now in the hands of violinist Kees Hulsmann.  Israel Baker died in Los Angeles on December 25, 2011, at age 92.  
2 years ago | |
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Eddie South (Edward Otha South) was an American jazz violinist and bandleader born (in Louisiana, Missouri) on November 27, 1904.  He is known for having achieved legendary status only after he died.  It has been said that had he not been black, he would have chosen a career in classical music.  He began his violin studies at a very early age and by age 10, was studying at the Chicago Music College, from which he graduated, possibly in the year 1921.  He entered the world of jazz in 1921, with assistance from Darnell Howard (a leading jazz violinist of that era), playing with Erskine Tate and Mae Brady.  In 1923, he was musical director of Jimmy Wade’s Syncopators in Chicago.  South's first recording came in that same year with Wade's Moulin Rouge Orchestra.  He formed his own band, the Alabamians, in 1927.  The group was named after the place they performed in, the Club Alabam, on the corner of Rush and Chicago Streets, a section of Chicago then known as Chicago's Bohemia.  Along the way, South also worked with bandleaders Charles Elgar, Henry Crowder, and Freddie Keppard, as well as bassist Milt Hinton, and pianist Billy Taylor.  He toured Europe with this band between 1928 and 1930.  Having arrived in Europe, he also studied at the Paris Conservatory.  While in Budapest, Hungary, in 1929, South took a liking to Gypsy (Roma) music and eventually made it a part of his improvisations.  It is well-known that during a tour of Europe in 1937, he performed and recorded with jazz legends Stephane Grappelli, Michel Warlop, and Django Reinhardt (who famously played with his two usable fingers only) in Paris.  Among the tunes recorded was Bach's concerto for two violins - in jazz style, of course.  Besides recording, he also played on radio and television.  From 1947 to 1949 he played in the big bands led by Earl Hines.  South also worked in New York and Los Angeles.  Nevertheless, despite the exposure he got from working with the biggest names in Jazz, as far as the public was concerned, he stayed unknown for the remainder of his life.  It has been said that his playing style suffered from the strictures imposed by his classical training – it didn’t swing sufficiently.  He recorded for the Chess and Mercury labels among others.  One of his last recordings was produced in 1951, though he last recorded in 1959.  YouTube has several audio files of his playing, one of which you can hear here.  South died in Chicago on April 25, 1962, at age 57.  
2 years ago | |
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Alina Ibragimova is a Russian violinist born (in Polevskov) on September 28, 1985.  She is known for playing on modern as well as period instruments – equally well.  She is also known for having played at Yehudi Menuhin’s funeral in Westminster Abby in 1999, at age 13.  She began her violin studies with her mother at age four.  She then entered the well-known Gnessin Music School in Moscow at age five, studying under Valentina Korolkova, a familiar name in Russia but not anywhere else.  In 1996, at age ten, she relocated to London with her family and began studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School.  Her main teacher was Natalya Boyarskaya, also known as Natasha Boyarsky.  She spent six years there then moved on to The Royal Academy of Music (Guildhall School of Music) and finally the Royal College of Music, from which she graduated in the summer of 2007.  Her main teacher there was Gordan Nikolitch.  She was 21 years old.  She has been concertizing ever since and has played with some of the major orchestras in the world.  Along the way, she founded a quartet – the Chiaroscuro Quartet – which plays on period instruments.  The quartet does not play on a regular basis since all of its members (Pablo Benedi, Emelie Hornlund, and Claire Thirion) have independent careers.  Ibragimova has recently conducted the Academy of Ancient Music, the famous period instrument ensemble based in England.  Her exclusive record label is Hyperion Records and her discography so far includes 9 CDs on that and the Wigmore Hall Live labels.  She also, of course, has a website, which contains extensive information about her, including all of her future engagements, which are considerable.  YouTube has several videos of her playing, one of which is here.  Ibragimova has played a 1738 Pietro Guarneri violin since 2006 – a violin provided her by industrialist Georg von Opel.  However, she is currently playing a 1775 violin by Anselmo Bellosio (a Venetian violin maker who died young), also provided by Mr. von Opel. 
2 years ago | |
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Cecylia Arzewski is a Polish (some would say American) violinist and teacher born (in Krakow, Poland) in 1948.  She is known for playing in some of the top U.S. orchestras as either Concertmaster or Associate Concertmaster, namely the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony.  Although a highly gifted orchestral violinist, her solo repertoire is very extensive – in fact, as extensive as almost any concert artist’s.  The tradition of the concertmaster-soloist reaches as far back as William DeFesch and Leopold Mozart.  More recent examples of this tradition are Rodolphe Kreutzer, Ferdinand David, Joseph Joachim, Ferdinand Laub, Eugene Ysaye, Max Bendix, Karl Halir, Theodore Spiering, Louis Persinger, Abram Shtern, Steven Staryk, Albert Sammons, Hugh Bean, Calvin Sieb, Sydney Harth, Raymond Cohen, David Nadien, Richard Burgin, Simon Standage, Frank Almond, and Glenn Dicterow.  Arzewski began her violin studies in Poland at age 5.  One of her first teachers was Eugenia Uminska at the Krakow Music Academy.  Four years later (1957), she and her family moved to Israel where she was enrolled at the Tel Aviv Conservatory.  Her principal teacher there was Odeon Partos, a violinist I had never heard of until now; he is better known as a Hungarian composer rather than violinist.  Arzewski later came to the U.S (probably 1960, though the year is not entirely certain) and studied with Ivan Galamian at Juilliard (New York) and Joseph Silverstein at the New England Conservatory (Boston.)  She also very briefly studied under Jascha Heifetz and Joseph Gingold.  She played in the Buffalo Philharmonic for one season – 1969 to 1970.  In 1970, at age 22, she joined the first violinist ranks of the Boston Symphony.  She then gradually moved up to the Assistant Concertmaster position, a position she reached in either 1978 or 1985 – sources differ.  Subsequent to receiving a prize at the Bach International Competition in Leipzig, she played a debut recital in New York at Carnegie Hall in 1978.  The program consisted entirely of Bach unaccompanied violin works.  From 1987 to 1990, she played as Associate Concertmaster in the Cleveland Orchestra.  Her tenure as Concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony began in 1990 and ended in 2008.  She has, of course, performed as soloist on many occasions with the Cleveland and Atlanta Symphonies.  She played the Wieniawski concerto in her first appearance with the Atlanta Symphony in 1990 and the Prokofiev second concerto in her last in 2003.  Today, she devotes herself to solo playing and is also the Artistic Director of the North Georgia Chamber Music Festival.  I do not know what violin she plays.  There are several posts of her playing on YouTube – here is one of them, the Strauss Sonata, said to be one of the best violin sonatas ever written. 
2 years ago | |
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Edouard Lalo (Edouard Victoire Antoine Lalo) was a French violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Lille, France) on January 12, 1823.  Some sources – in fact, most sources – give his date of birth as January 27, 1823.  Today, he is not remembered as a violinist, but rather, as the composer of the famous violin concerto, Symphonie Espagnol (1874, opus 21), a work which every concert violinist learns and plays and, if they are lucky, records.  It has been said that his marriage to one of his young pupils when he was 42 inspired him to write the Symphonie, though it actually was not written until nine years later.  In fact, he composed nothing between the year he got married (1865) and 1973, the year he wrote his violin concerto in F.  As a child, Lalo studied violin, cello, and piano at the Lille Conservatory.  He left home at age 16 and entered the Paris Conservatory.  His father then disowned him because he was firmly opposed to the idea that the teenager Lalo should make music his profession.  Nevertheless, Lalo stuck it out and paid for his tuition at the Paris Conservatory by giving lessons and playing in ensembles.  At the conservatory, his violin teacher was Francois Habeneck, one of the foremost violinists and conductors of the day.  Lalo made his living by only playing and teaching privately until about age 50, when he seriously entertained the idea of composing large-scale works.  He had already been composing chamber music for many years prior to this but his reputation as a composer was slowly acquired.  He formed the Armingaud Quartet in either 1848 or 1855 (sources vary) in which he played viola at first then second violin.  Chamber music in France was not much appreciated until about the late 1800s but Lalo’s quartet helped change that.  Early works of his were a Fantasy for violin and piano (1848, opus 1), a piano trio (1851, opus 7), and a violin sonata (1853, opus 12.)  Among his major compositions are three symphonies, two violin concertos, a cello concerto, an opera, a ballet, and a piano concerto.  Other than the Symphonie Espagnol and the cello concerto, none of these works is ever performed, except perhaps in France.  However, the premiere of his opera in 1888, was a huge success for Lalo.  Trio Oriens can be seen and heard on YouTube playing Lalo's first trio and Lynn Harrell can be heard playing the cello concerto here.  Lalo died on either April 22 or April 23, 1892, at age 69.  
3 years ago | |
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Tivadar Nachéz was a Hungarian violinist, teacher, and composer born (in Budapest) on May 1, 1859.  He began his violin studies at age 5, then later studied with the concertmaster of the Budapest Opera, known to me only as Mr. Sabathiel.  He was never a virtuoso of the first rank but was nonetheless successful as a performer, arranger, and composer.  He lived in England most of his life and even became a naturalized English citizen.  While still a young boy, he was accompanied by Franz Liszt.  In Berlin, he studied for three years with Joseph Joachim - at the same time as Jeno Hubay - and privately in Paris with Belgian violinist Hubert Leonard.  He made formal debuts in Hamburg and London in 1881.  He was 22 years old.  He toured regularly - and made friends with all the important musicians of his day - for the rest of his life.  Even as early as 1889, critics who heard him expressed admiration for his musicianship but pointed out technical deficiencies in his playing.  An indication of his limitations as a violinist can be gathered from his opinion that Ernst’s arrangement of Schubert’s Erlkonig for solo violin was “so difficult, in fact, that it should not be played.”  He was quoted as saying that he often practiced between 8 and 10 hours a day.  He performed his second violin concerto with the London Philharmonic on April 17, 1907.  His best known works are probably his edition of one of Vivaldi’s concertos for two violins – the one in a minor, Opus 3, Number 8 – and his Gypsy Dances.  It has been said he used a Tourte bow previously owned by Heinrich Ernst.  He also owned several magnificent violins, including a 1716 Stradivarius which I was not able to find on any list of Stradivari violins.  Nachez died in Switzerland on May 29, 1930, at age 71.  
3 years ago | |
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Karl Halir (Carl Halir) was a Czech violinist, teacher, and composer born on February 1, 1859.  In his day, he was famous for his interpretation of the Beethoven concerto.  However, he is also remembered for having played the first performance of the revised version – the version now commonly heard today – of the Sibelius concerto.  He was also a very tall man with an imposing presence, as were August Wilhelmj and Erick Friedman (and is Arnold Steinhardt.)  It has been said that in his hands, the violin looked like a toy.  His father was his first violin teacher.  At the Prague Conservatory he studied under Antonin Bennewitz (teacher also of Josef Suk and Otakar Sevcik) and later (from age 15) with Joseph Joachim in Berlin, at the Advanced School for Music.  Upon graduation, Halir joined Benjamin Bilse’s Band in Berlin, the precursor of the Berlin Philharmonic.  He was either the concertmaster of this band or played among the first violins.  I do not know for sure.  He was concertmaster also of the orchestra at Konigsberg in 1879.  He was 20 years old.  Two years later, he became concertmaster in Mannheim and remained for 3 years.  One source states that after Konigsberg, he spent two seasons in Italy as part of the private orchestra of a Russian nobleman.  In 1884, he was appointed concertmaster of the orchestra in Weimar (Grand Ducal Court Orchestra) and was there for 10 years (1884-1894.)  That same year, as part of the Bach Festival, he and Joachim played the Bach concerto for two violins in Eisenach to great acclaim.  He was 25 years old.  Joachim was more than twice his age.  Halir much later (in 1897) joined Joachim’s string quartet as second violinist – the quartet had originally been formed in 1869.  After Joachim’s death, Halir formed his own quartet.  After leaving the Weimar orchestra in 1894, he became concertmaster of the Berlin Court Opera orchestra and teacher at the school from which he had graduated (the Hochschule fur Musik) – he taught there until the day he died.  In Berlin, he also formed a piano trio which included pianist George Schumann and cellist Hugo Dechert.  All the while, he continued his solo concerts and recitals.  In 1888, Halir played the Tchaikovsky concerto in Leipzig.  Tchaikovsky was at the performance and was so impressed with the concert he later described it as a memorable day.  In 1896, Halir toured the U.S.  He arrived on November 4, 1896, for a 25-concert tour.  For the tour, Joachim lent Halir his Red Stradivarius of 1715 (now called the Joachim Strad – not to be confused with the Red Mendelssohn), said to be worth $12,000 at the time.  That violin was a gift to Joachim from the City of London in 1889.  It went to Joachim’s nephew, Harold Joachim, upon Joseph Joachim’s death.  Today, it is in Cremona, Italy and is worth more than $12,000.  Joachim’s generosity was a further sign of the affection and respect he had for Halir.  Halir’s itinerary included the cities of Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Cambridge, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, among other places.  On November 13, 1896, in New York, he made his U.S. debut with the Beethoven concerto.  On December 4, he gave the U.S. premiere of Spohr’s eighth concerto.  On October 19, 1905, in Berlin, with Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, Halir gave the famous performance of the final version of the Sibelius concerto.  In Berlin, most of his students were American violinists.  Among other things, Halir wrote violin etudes and scale studies and a cadenza for the Brahms concerto, works which are not well-known today.  Halir died (in Berlin) on December 21, 1909, at age 50. 
3 years ago | |
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Alessandro Rolla was an Italian violinist, violist, composer, conductor, and teacher, born on April 22, 1757.  Although he was a very successful virtuoso of his time, he is most famous for being one of Paganini’s teachers.  Unfortunately, he lived during a time when many great musical luminaries roamed the earth – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Rossini, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Berlioz, to name the better-known among them.  For example, after Mozart died in 1791, Rolla lived an additional 50 years and was witness to Mozart’s eventual universal success.  His life also encompassed Beethoven’s and Schubert’s entire lifetimes.  As a violinist, he was eclipsed by the likes of Paganini, Giovanni Viotti, Louis Spohr, Karol Lipinski, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Heinrich Ernst, and Pierre Rode.  Some of his compositions (about 600 in all according to one source) attest to the fact that many techniques which Paganini routinely used later on – including left-hand pizzicato, extremely high hand positions on the fingerboard, octaves, and double stopping - were first put forward by Rolla.  After his early studies, he moved to Milan where he studied from 1770 to 1778.  At his first public performance, he played a viola concerto of his own composition, said to be the first viola concerto ever heard.  That was in 1772 - he was 15 years old.  However, he did not write the first viola concerto – the first viola concerto was, in all likelihood, written by George Telemann.  In 1782, he was made leader of the Ducal Orchestra in Parma, Italy, playing violin and viola.  He was 25 years old.  He first met Paganini in 1795.  Paganini was then 13 years old.  How much time Paganini actually spent studying with Rolla is anyone’s guess.  It could have been one lesson or several or many.  During those years in Parma, Rolla traveled widely, published many of his works in Paris and Vienna, and conducted far and wide.  He was at Parma until 1802.  He then moved to Milan, where he was concertmaster and conductor of the opera orchestra at La Scala.  It has been said that none other than Louis Spohr praised this orchestra highly.  In 1808, the year of its inauguration, Rolla was made violin and viola professor of the Milan Conservatory, having been invited by Bonifazio Asioli, its first Director.  In 1811, Rolla was also director of the Cultural Society in Milan.  He was associated with La Scala until 1833 – thirty one years.  Upon leaving, Rolla was 76 years old.  At La Scala, he had conducted many of the operas of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, among others.  He had also conducted Beethoven’s early symphonies as part of his activities with the Cultural Society.  He was among the first contributors to the music catalog of the famous Italian publisher, Ricordi.  These works included violin etudes in all keys.  His fame spread far and wide via publication of his works in Leipzig, Paris, Vienna, London, and Milan.  For the viola, he wrote no fewer than a dozen concertos, as well as duos for viola in combination with an assortment of other instruments.  He also wrote many violin concertos.  One of the more recent champions of Rolla's music was Emanuel Vardi.  Some, but certainly not many, of Rolla's works have been recorded and some of his music is still in print.  You can listen to tiny bits of some very charming works by Rolla here.  One of several YouTube postings can be found here and an extensive list of his works is available at this website.  Rolla died on September 15, 1841, at age 84.  Though very highly regarded and almost surely well-compensated during his lifetime, he became neglected in more modern times.  Before someone rescued their music from oblivion, the same fate befell Bach, Vivaldi, and Zelenka.  Perhaps things will change for Rolla, though that is unlikely.  
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