Inspired by her brother Joseph’s success on the violin, Lillian Fuchs quietly started lessons and progressed enough to enrol at New York’s Institute of Musical Art (now The Juilliard School) where she learnt violin with Franz Kneisel and composition with Percy Goetschius, winning prizes in both. When she was invited by Kneisel in 1926 to join a new all-female quartet (led by his daughter), her father declared that she would play second fiddle to no one: a view corroborated by the family dog who, when asked: ‘Would you rather play second fiddle in a quartet or be dead?’ would oblige by playing dead! Thus Fuchs made her first move towards being a serious violist, a decision furthered by the lack of violist entrants at a competition in 1927, the winners of which were to form a new string quartet (the Perolé Quartet). Fuchs was chosen by Heifetz, who had heard her play before and who judged the competition alongside Elman.
As well as playing with the Perolé Quartet Fuchs collaborated throughout her career with the Budapest and Amadeus Quartets and with her brothers Joseph (violin) and Harry (cello); and appeared as a soloist with major orchestras. In 1947 Martinů dedicated his 3 Madrigals for Violin and Viola to Lillian and Joseph. Several other works were written especially for Lillian, including Martinů’s Viola Sonata (1955), Quincy Porter’s Duo for Viola and Harp (1957) and Jacques de Menasce’s Sonata for Viola and Piano (1955).
During a distinguished teaching career Lillian re-opened the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School with Joseph. Amongst her students were Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman (in San Francisco), whom she encouraged to play viola as well as violin. Her studies for viola are well used and were highly rated by William Primrose; she also composed concert pieces for both viola and violin and transcribed Mozart’s Violin Concerto, K. 216 for her instrument, as well as Bach’s Cello Suites which she was the first to record on the viola in 1952–1954.
It is interesting to note Lillian’s and Joseph’s differing musical personalities on record. Perhaps in accordance with contemporary taste and a degree of gender stereotype, Joseph seems to play the more dominant rôle, but in my view this is to his detriment. Mozart’s Duo (1951) has a rather strident and harsh approach from Joseph, whilst Lillian’s playing is free from such idiosyncrasies. Both take a heavily-sustained and un-nuanced approach to the opening Adagio though, seriously misrepresenting the Classical phrase structure. In contrast to a rather pedestrian middle movement, the finale is rushed, sounding frenetic rather than exciting. Their Sinfonia concertante (1958), although better balanced, again sounds somewhat sluggish with a modernist attitude to articulation and tone. There is endemic use of hard spiccato, continuous vibrato and an unrelieved phrasing approach that sounds conventional but unremarkable.
Much more successful are Fuchs’s transcriptions of the Bach Cello Suites, executed with an evident musical intellect. Here her tone is full and vibrant, vibrato present but controlled, and with a fastidious use of both dynamics and tonal variation to create a diverse, rhetorically-interesting set of performances. The whole set is delivered with aplomb but the D minor is especially fine, the Allemande in particular being wonderfully strong and clear. Equally impressive are the three Madrigals for Violin and Viola, recorded by their dedicatees in 1951, arguably at the height of both performers’ powers. The speed of the opening piece is compelling, with unimpeachable technical mastery and strength of character.
This violist, fundamentally conventional as regards style and practice for the period, is nonetheless exceptional for the quality, range and intellectual bearing she brings to performance—qualities different in expression from her brother’s, but artistically more than equal to them.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
Role: Classical Artist