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JOSEPH FUCHS

The violinist Joseph Philip Fuchs, born in New York City on 26 April 1899, was part of a profoundly musical family: father Philip was an amateur violinist, sister Lillian (1902–95) was a superb violist and brother Harry (1908–86) an excellent cellist. Joseph had his first lessons at four from his father—therapy suggested by a doctor after the boy had broken his left arm—and then studied at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) with Louis Svecenski (1862–1926), who had been violist of the Kneisel Quartet. In due course Fuchs graduated to the class of Franz Kneisel (1865–1926), who represented the best of the Viennese school. Born in Bucharest of German parentage, Kneisel was taught at the Vienna Conservatory by Jakob Grün and Joseph Hellmesberger and moved to America in 1885 to lead the Boston Symphony, also founding his celebrated Quartet. As chamber musician, soloist, conductor and teacher, he had an incalculable influence on music in America.

The career of Joseph Fuchs was to bear an uncanny resemblance to that of his teacher, although to the occupations of concertmaster, chamber musician and teacher he added a soloist’s reputation. Graduating in 1918, in 1919 he made his first trip to Europe, meeting Busoni and playing the Brahms Concerto in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin. On 12 November 1920 he made a successful home début at the Aeolian Hall in New York, critics writing of ‘artistic finish of style’, ‘musical intelligence’, ‘brilliancy and dash’ and ‘one of the most gifted young violinists who has appeared recently before this public’. In 1926 he became leader of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Quartet, displaying his prowess by performing the Brahms Concerto under the orchestra’s chief conductor Nikolai Sokoloff. ‘He produces one of the most beautiful tones to emanate from a violin on a local stage for a long time’, a critic wrote. Three recorded souvenirs of this period are his solos on Artur Rodzinski’s recordings of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and Till Eulenspiegel and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade—after hearing the latter, the conductor telegraphed to his agent: ‘FUCHS SOLOS JUST A DREAM’. In the late 1930s the violinist’s career was almost ended by repercussions from his childhood injury, but he made a full recovery. Resigning in 1940 to give himself more time for solo work, Fuchs became an essential part of the New York scene. In 1941 he took over leadership of the Primrose Quartet from Oscar Shumsky—this ensemble sadly disbanded in 1943. In 1945 he gave the première of Nikolai Lopatnikoff’s concerto; and he and Lillian gave their first performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, which became one of their signature pieces, along with the composer’s two Duos. Early in 1947 Fuchs and William Kroll founded the Musicians’ Guild, which presented first-rate programmes of chamber music for eleven seasons. The inaugural concert featured Bohuslav Martinů’s String Sextet, with the composer present—and hearing Joseph and Lillian Fuchs play Mozart’s B flat Duo in the same programme, Martinů was inspired to write his beautiful Three Madrigals for them: they gave the première of the pieces later that year. Among other works introduced by Joseph Fuchs were the concertos by Ben Weber, Mario Peragallo and Walter Piston.

Fuchs, who played on the 1722 ‘Cádiz’ Stradivarius, had an immensely long career, continuing to give Carnegie Hall recitals until he was 93. He toured a good deal, appearing at the 1953 and 1954 Casals Festivals in Prades as well as in other European centres, South America, the Soviet Union, Israel and Japan. By the end of his life he had been a soloist with every American orchestra worth mentioning. Among his recordings were the concertos by Hindemith and Vaughan Williams, as well as Mozart’s G major Concerto and three versions of the Sinfonia concertante with Lillian, one of them live, with Pablo Casals conducting. The Mozart Duos were recorded twice, the Martinů Madrigals once. In 1946 he became a professor at the Juilliard School, a post he kept until his death, and he was soon regarded as an important teacher. In 1953 he was appointed professor of music at Yale University, a position he held until 1959. In the same year Fuchs was a co-founder, with the violist Marianne Kneisel and Artur Balsam, of the summer chamber music school Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, Maine, established in honour of Franz Kneisel on the site of Kneisel’s own summer school decades earlier. In 1981 Fuchs founded the summer chamber music institute at Alfred University in Alfred, New York, where he was Artistic Director until 1994. He died on 14 March 1997.


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