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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.