About this Recording
8.110980-81 - GREAT VIOLINISTS

There is a peculiar fascination in tracing the musical ancestry of violinists, their ultimate descent from one great teacher or

There is a peculiar fascination in tracing the musical ancestry of violinists, their ultimate descent from one great teacher or another.


Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) was born in Vienna, studied first with his father,

and then with the younger Joseph Hellmesberger at the Vienna Conservatory and then in Paris with Massart, the teacher of Wienawski. Massart himself had studied with Rodolphe Kreutzer, dedicatee of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, who had been a pupil of Anton Stamitz, tracing the musical lineage back to the great Mannheim orchestra of Mozart’s time. Kreisler completed his technical training at the age of twelve and had a certain success as a performer in America, before returning to Vienna to follow his father’s example, as a medical student. In the mid-1890s he returned to the violin and embarked on a career as a virtuoso, appearing as a soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1898 and the following year with the Berlin Philharmonic, with concerts following in America and in London. He spent the war years from 1914 in America and from 1924 to 1934 based his activities on Berlin. In 1939 he returned to the United States, taking American citizenship in 1943. There was always considerable charm in his playing, particularly in his application of vibrato, an extension of a technique employed by Wienawski. As a composer he is known for his transcriptions for the violin and the pieces he wrote and ascribed to older composers, whose style they then seemed to reflect. These often appeared to be designed for recording, fitting, as they did, onto one side of the discs then in use. He recorded Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, a work of remarkable continuing popularity, in 1924/25 under Eugene Goossens.


An excerpt from the Kreutzer Sonata introduces Adolf Busch (1891-1952), one of the great Beethoven players of the first half of the twentieth century, particularly in his partnership with the pianist Rudolf Serkin. Busch was taught first by his father, an instrument repairer and builder. He studied in Cologne with Willy Hess, who had been taught by his own father, a pupil of the great violinist-composer Spohr, and by Joseph Joachim. In 1912 he became leader of the Vienna Konzertverein Orchestra and formed the Konzertverein Quartet, with Fritz Rothschild, Paul Doktor and P.Grümmer. His association with the younger Serkin, who later became his son-in-law, led to the foundation in 1926 of the Busch-Serkin Trio, with his brother Hermann as cellist. From 1933 until 1949 Busch refused to play in Germany, and in 1935 founded his chamber orchestra in England, settled for a time in Switzerland and then moved to the United States. As a duo Busch and Serkin played from memory, avoiding the distraction of page-turners. They recorded the Kreutzer Sonata in New York in 1941.


Born in Vilna, Jascha Heifetz (1901-1988) was taught the violin by his father

and finally by Leopold Auer in St Petersburg, where he made his début in 1911, following this with a successful appearance in Berlin. In 1917 he left Russia,

to settle in the United States, where in 1925 he took American citizenship, embarking on an international career. For many years he taught at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. As a player he was known

not only for technical perfection but also for his liking for faster speeds. He commissioned a number of new concertos, including that by William Walton. Here he is represented first by his 1937 recording of the gypsy Zigeunerweisen by the great Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate.


Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) won himself a reputation first as a precociously gifted infant prodigy and in later life as a man of wide interests and sympathies, a musician with a profounder understanding of music and of the world. Born

in New York, he studied with Louis Persinger, then in Paris with George Enesco and, during two summers, with Adolf Busch in Basel. As an eleven-year-old he had played Bach’s Chaconne, which he later described as the greatest musical structure for solo violin that exists, to his teacher Enesco. As a teacher his later explanations of the work provided a deep understanding of the work as a whole and how it might be played. The present recording was made in 1934.


Born in Odessa, Nathan Milstein (1904-1992) studied and made his début there in 1920, having briefly been a pupil of Leopold Auer, who left Russia in 1917. He enjoyed great success in the Soviet Union in joint recitals with the pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Milstein and Horowitz were given leave to travel abroad in 1925, as cultural ambassadors for the Soviet Union, but decided not to return to Russia. He made his American début in 1929, eventually, in 1942, taking out American citizenship, although much of his later activity, after the war, was based in Europe. He had a long career as a player, continuing when many of his contemporaries had already withdrawn from the concert platform. His recording of Dvorˇák’s Violin Concerto was made in 1956.


One of the most remarkable chamber music ensembles of the earlier part of the twentieth century was the trio formed by the pianist Alfred Cortot, the cellist Pablo Casals and the French violinist Jacques Thibaud (1880-1953). The three met to play informally in 1905, but soon extended their activities, giving concerts and making recordings together. The last performances of the ensemble were given at the house of friends in Italy in 1934. Born in Bordeaux, Thibaud was taught by his father, before becoming a pupil of Marsick at the Paris Conservatoire. Before he was twenty he had already established his reputation in Paris as a soloist, extending his activities throughout the world. He was killed in a plane crash in 1953, as he embarked on a further concert tour, taking him to the Far East. The recording of Haydn’s Trio in G major, with its final Gypsy Rondo, was made by the Thibaud - Casals - Cortot trio at the Queen’s Hall in London in 1927.


Mischa Elman (1891-1967) had his early training in Odessa with Alexander Fidelman, a pupil of Auer and of Brodsky, before himself becoming a pupil of Auer in St Petersburg. He appeared in Berlin in 1904 and in London the following year, giving his first New York concert in 1908, and settling in America in 1911. He had a highly successful career as a soloist, a chamber music player and in the recording studio, and was said to have acquired his characteristically warm tone in part, at least, from the influence, at second hand, of his grandfather, a Jewish folk-musician. He recorded the Violin Concerto by Wienawski, Auer’s predecessor in St Petersburg, in Philadelphia in 1950, with an orchestra conducted by another Auer pupil, Alexander Hilsberg.


Yehudi Menuhin recorded Elgar’s Violin Concerto in 1932 with an orchestra conducted by the composer, after a cursory meeting at his hotel with Elgar, anxious to leave for the races on such a fine day. The recording is a famous one, not only for Menuhin’s own reminiscences of the occasion, but for the apparently shared understanding of the work by a sixteen-year-old prodigy and an old composer, later a grandfather figure to Menuhin and his sisters, nearing the end of his life.


The Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) was a pupil of Jenö Hubay in Budapest, after earlier teaching from his father and his uncle. He began his international career in Berlin in 1905, then establishing himself in London, where he lived from 1907 until 1913. After the war he taught very briefly in Geneva and continued his career as a travelling virtuoso, ready to accept

new compositions, which he effortlessly took into his repertoire. Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 was first heard in Paris in 1923 and the following year Szigeti played it in Prague and introduced it to audiences in Leningrad. He

was associated with Bartók, playing both the latter’s second Violin Concerto

and collaborating with the composer and Benny Goodman in a memorable performances of the former’s Contrasts. He settled in the United States in

1940 and took out citizenship eleven years later. Szigeti’s first recording

of Prokofiev’s fine concerto was made in 1935, with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.


Jascha Heifetz made several recordings of Brahms’s Violin Concerto.

The excerpt included here is taken from his 1939 recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Koussevitzky.


Maud Powell (1867-1920) may seem a figure from a distant past, her name

as unfamiliar as that of Bériot, a composer known principally to students rather than to concert audiences. A native of Illinois, she studied in America, before completing her training with Schradieck in Leipzig, Dancla in Paris and Joachim in Berlin. She made her concert début in New York in 1885 and embarked on an international career that took her throughout Europe, to South Africa and to Hawaii. In a relatively short life she did much to further American appreciation of music in the classical tradition, making her first recordings in 1904. She recorded the Charles de Bériot Violin Concerto No.7 in 1915 and 1916. Four years later she died of a heart attack, during a concert tour.


Kreisler was nearing the end of his career when, in 1946, he recorded his own Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta. His health had suffered after a street accident in 1941, but he had returned to the concert platform and recording. He eventually retired from public concert performance in 1950. The Fantasietta is characteristic of those pieces that Kreisler wrote as vehicles for his own performance, designed rather to delight than to stretch an audience.


The Polish violinist BronislaW Huberman (1882-1947) made his début as soloist in a Spohr violin concerto at the age of seven. In Berlin Joachim would

not accept him as a pupil, since he was never willing to teach child prodigies,

but Huberman studied with there with Joachim’s assistant and with various teachers, including Marsick in Paris, while consolidating his career as a virtuoso. He aroused great enthusiasm in Vienna, where he appeared in 1895 with Adelina Patti in her farewell concert, and in 1896 played Brahms’s Violin Concerto in the approving presence of the composer. After 1933, when he refused to appear any more in Germany, he turned his attention to the establishment of an orchestra in Palestine, which after his death became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The present recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was made in 1934.


The career of Albert Sammons (1886-1957) centred largely on his native country, a limitation due in good part to his distinct reluctance to travel. Born in London, the son of a shoemaker, he was first taught the violin by his father and elder brother, with later lessons, briefly, from two pupils of Eugène Ysaÿe. His early career, from the age of fifteen, was spent playing in theatre orchestras, with summer hotel seasons, until discovered by Sir Thomas Beecham, who employed him before long as leader of his new orchestra. In a long career he was closely associated with chamber music and with the performance of English music by his contemporaries, and made a memorable recording of Elgar’s Violin Concerto in 1929. Delius dedicated to him his own Violin Concerto, which had its première in 1919, and he led the first performances of Elgar’s String Quartet and Piano Quintet. The same composer’s Violin Sonata also became a part of his repertoire and he recorded the work with the pianist William Murdoch in 1935. He retired from concert performance in 1948 but continued teaching in London in his later years.


Keith Anderson

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