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The Golden Age of Violinists

Janet Horvath_019#2 4x5Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt. Below is a blog post she did for Interlude.

The turn of the 20th century was the golden age for violinists. Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman, Fritz Kreisler, David Oistrach and Yehudi Menuhin, considered the greatest violinists of all time, graced us with their presence.

At least in part, in the cases of Heifetz, Elman and Milstein, this outstanding confluence can be attributed to the legendary teacher Leopold Auer. Auer, born in Hungary in 1845, was an outstanding violinist in his own right. Auer’s playing was transformed after studying with Joseph Joachim in Germany (the violinist to whom the Brahms Double Concerto is dedicated), and Joachim’s instruction formed the basis of his own teaching later in his life.

“Joachim was an inspiration for me and opened before my eyes horizons of that greater art of which until then I had lived in ignorance. With him I worked not only with my hands but with my head, studying the scores of the great masters and endeavoring to penetrate the very heart of their works”

Auer taught at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory for an astonishing forty-nine years. He also held positions at the Juilliard School and Curtis Institute in this country.

Auer is remembered as one of the most sought-after teachers for gifted pupils although he was feared for his grueling lessons. Auer demanded discipline and technical perfection. During lessons he would walk around scolding, observing, oftentimes harshly criticizing the poor young person playing for him. He was unrelenting, especially regarding lifeless playing, demanding more “krov.” (blood) in this case used to mean fire or passion. Many a student was poked in the ribs by Auer’s bow. Despite his exactitude, he was nonetheless devoted to his students. One of them was Nathan Milstein.

Keep reading this post on Interlude.

Playing Less Hurt

Making music at any level is a powerful gift. While musicians have endless resources for learning the basics of their instruments and the theory of music, few books have explored the other subtleties and complexities that musicians face in their quest to play with ease and skill. The demands of solitary practice, hectic rehearsal schedules, challenging repertoire, performance pressures, awkward postures, and other physical strains have left a trail of injured, hearing-impaired, and frustrated musicians who have had few resources to guide them.

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.

Remembering Rabin

Forty years ago today was the passing of one of history’s greatest violinists, Michael Rabin. To tell Rabin’s story, Anthony Feinstein (pictured left) has written the first, authorized biography of this man who had such rare talent.

The following is an excerpt of Michael Rabin, America’s Virtuoso Violinist, recently revised and updated from Amadeus Press, written by Anthony Feinstein.

On August 7, 1950, Michael made his much-heralded appearance on the Telephone Hour’s tenth anniversary program, but not before special permission had been obtained from the local musicians’ union because of the soloist’s young age. He was accompanied by Donald Voorhees and the Bell Telephone Orchestra. “Michael borrowed a Guarnerius violin and played the Paganini Caprice No. 17 and the finale of the E Minor Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn, that standard testing piece of all violinists,” noted Newsweek:

 When his trial by air was over, Michael was tired. Nevertheless, by 7:30 the next morning he was out on the streets of New York with his shiny new bicycle, his current pride and joy. But like all good violinists, Michael is also a good table tennis player and is hoping someday to take on Jascha Heifetz, dean of ping-pong peddling fiddlers.

Michael did not have to wait long before meeting his idol, which took place on October 30. “Four o’clock today is H-hour for 14-year-old Michael Rabin, colorful young violinist,” wrote a columnist for the New York World Telegram and Sun:

 He will be photographed with Jascha Heifetz. The brilliant Mr. Heifetz is his idol and the extremely reticent Mr. H. has made the comment that with hard work the teenager has possibilities for the future, words that have Michael working harder than ever at his practice sessions. Today’s picture taking will be long remembered.

The photograph that was released shows Heifetz playing, Voorhees conducting, and in the bottom right hand corner, in profile, the face of young Michael, looking up at Heifetz, who towers physically and metaphorically above him. It was at this meeting that Heifetz — reserved, austere, a world removed from the effusive bear-hug embrace of Mischa Elman — autographed Michael’s score of the Bach sonatas and partitas. There were no encouraging remarks, no warm regards expressed — just the bare signature, “Heifetz.”

In Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist, Anthony Feinstein tells the poignant story of the life and career of one of history’s greatest violinists. As a child prodigy, Rabin had the classical music world at his feet. Notable successes included a coveted EMI contract, recording the soundtrack for an Elizabeth Taylor movie, and guest appearances on the Milton Berle Showand the Bell Telephone Hour.

Yet no sooner had Rabin taken his place alongside such illustrious colleagues as Heifetz, Milstein, and Stern than he abruptly and inexplicably disappeared from the concert stage. For three years, the public saw and heard little of him. In the mid-1960s, Rabin resurfaced and painstakingly began rebuilding a once-great career. Then one morning, the music world awoke to news of his sudden, mysterious death at age 35.

For the first edition of this biography, Feinstein had unprecedented access to Rabin’s private papers and medical history. Now he draws on additional material obtained from recent interviews with Rabin’s colleagues, girlfriends, and management. The result is an added appreciation of Rabin’s remarkable family, his cloistered upbringing, and a micromanaged career that ensured not only great success but also periods of deep despair. Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist is more than a story of a great violinist. It is also the moving account of a man of rare talent who never stopped battling to find personal happiness on that fragile journey from wunderkind to adulthood.

This book is available at Amazon, B&N, independent bookstores, and from Amadeus Press.