Saturday, January 31, 2009

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert (Franz Peter Schubert) was an Austrian violinist, pianist, composer, and teacher born on this day (January 31) 1797 (Beethoven was already 27 years old). He studied principally – on and off - with Antonio Salieri (from 1808 to 1817), that infamous composer who supposedly poisoned Mozart. Schubert is most famous for his Unfinished Symphony, the Great C Major Symphony, the Trout Quintet, and the more than 600 songs he wrote. He was one of history’s most prolific composers, having composed over 1000 works, including five operas, symphonies (nine or ten, depending on who you ask), and many chamber works. However, he wrote no concertos at all. He died on November 19, 1828, at the age of 31.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Mozart's violin

I was not there so I cannot guarantee this is correct - nonetheless, the Hill brothers from London say it is verifiable. Do you know what violin Mozart played? It was not a Strad and it was not a Guarneri. It was not a Kloz and it was not a Stadlmann. It was not a Montagnana and it was not a Storioni. It was not a Stainer either. It was a Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa. The violin on the left is a Dalla Costa, but it's not the one Mozart owned.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cho-Liang Lin

Cho-Liang Lin is a Taiwanese violinist born on January 29, 1960. He first took up the violin seriously at the age of 12 and studied in Australia (with Robert Pikler) for three years. From age 15, he studied with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard where he is now a teacher (since 1991.) At 19, he made his New York debut and has since concertized around the world and recorded most of the popular standard repertoire. In 1997, he founded the Taipei International Music Festival. He plays a 1734 Guarneri Del Gesu and the Titian Strad of 1715. YouTube has many videos of his playing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Iona Brown

Iona Brown (Elizabeth Iona Brown) was an English violinist and conductor born on January 7, 1941 (Heifetz was 40 years old and would live another 46 years.) Her early studies were in London with Hugh Maguire. She later studied with Henryk Szeryng as well. From 1963 to 1966, Brown was a member of the Philharmonia Orchestra and played in the Cremona String Quartet. In 1964, she joined the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and became a soloist and director in 1974. There are many recordings of her playing with this orchestra. She left the Academy in 1980. In 1981, Brown was appointed artistic director of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. She also served as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1987 to 1992. In 1998, Brown gave up the violin entirely (due to problems with arthritis) and dedicated herself to conducting. She died on June 5, 2004 at age 63.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) was an Austrian violinist, pianist, composer, and conductor, born on January 27, 1756. Being tremendously gifted and industrious, he composed over six hundred works in his short lifetime – concertos for solo instruments (about 40), symphonies (about 40), sonatas (about 70), string quartets (about 20), operas (about 10), choral music, songs, and other assorted pieces. He is considered by many to be the greatest composer of classical music who ever lived. Mozart’s music can be light and graceful, charming and humorous, sad and dark, and profound and passionate. The famous composer Joseph Haydn wrote about Mozart that "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.” He could easily have said “500 years.” Mozart died in 1791, at age 35.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ferdinand David

Ferdinand David was a German violinist, teacher, and composer born on January 20, 1810 (Beethoven was 40 years old.) While still very young, he studied with Louis Spohr among other teachers. In 1826 (at age 16), he joined the Royal Theatre Orchestra in Berlin. In 1829 he toured as first violinist with a string quartet whose name I do not know. In 1835 (at age 25), he became concertmaster of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig and professor of violin at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843. He is best remembered for having played the premiere of Felix Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in e minor, quite possibly the most popular violin concerto ever written. David thus became the most famous concertmaster in history.* He also made several suggestions which Mendelssohn incorporated into the final revision. English violinist Daniel Hope plays (and has recorded) Mendelssohn's original version which to my ears sounds a little archaic. Even if just a few notes here and there are different, the version we are familiar with is considerably more Romantic in style. I think Mendelssohn owes Ferdinand David a debt of gratitude. David wrote two symphonies, five violin concertos, an opera, and an assortment of other works which nobody plays today, except for his trombone concerto. He also edited the works of other composers, most notably the Partitas for solo violin of J.S. Bach and the Chaconne by Tomaso Vitali. David died on July 19, 1873, at age 63. Mendelssohn had been dead for 26 years. 
*only Steven Staryk and Mischa Mischakoff rival him in that arena. 

Violin Concertos

Assuming that the world has produced at least 7000 composers since the craft was first taken seriously by someone (we do not know who.) Then further assuming that at least ten percent of these men and women produced at least one violin concerto, that would give us 700 violin concertos from which to choose. When considering that the bulk of the concertos being performed today were written by no more than twenty composers - Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Paganini, Mendelssohn, Spohr, Wieniawski, Brahms, Bruch, Vieuxtemps, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Saint Saenz, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Korngold, Barber - that leaves the rest (680) of these 700 composers out altogether. We hear the same concertos over and over and over and over and over and over and over again...especially when it comes to the Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruch, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky concertos. Why?

Stephane Grappelli

Stephane Grappelli was an Italian jazz violinist (some say French) born (in Paris) on January 26, 1908. Grappelli started his musical career playing the violin on the streets of Paris. He began playing violin at age 12 (1920), and attended the Paris Conservatory from 1924 to 1928. He continued to play on the side until he gained fame in Paris. He also worked as a pianist for silent films while at the conservatory and played the saxophone and accordion as well. His reputation as a jazz violinist was first established after he (and Django Reinhardt) formed the Hot Club Quintet of France in 1934. He is best remembered for hundreds of jazz recordings he made with dozens of famous musicians, playing both, violin and piano, though mostly violin. YouTube has videos of him.  Here is one he did with Eddie South.  It is the Bach Double concerto in jazz style. Grappelli died on December 1, 1997, at age 89.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Francois Habeneck

Fran├žois Antoine Habeneck was a French violinist, composer, and conductor born on January 22, 1781 (Mozart was about 25 years old and would only live another ten years.) He was initially taught by his father (what else is new?), and by the age of ten was already playing in public. In 1801, he entered the Paris Conservatory. In the same year, he joined the orchestra of the Opera Comique, but shortly afterwards moved to that of the Opera. In 1817 (at age 36), Habeneck succeeded Rodolphe Kreutzer as concertmaster at the Opera, and in 1821 he became its director, a position which he held until 1846. During that time, he conducted the premiere performances of many operas. In 1828, Habeneck became the founding conductor of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra. By means of this orchestra’s concerts, he introduced Beethoven’s symphonies to a French audience. He composed two concertos, small violin pieces, and several songs. Habeneck died in 1849. A famous Stradivarius violin bears his name. I’ll try to locate a picture of it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Christian Sinding

Christian August Sinding was a Norwegian violinist and composer born in 1856. He first studied music in Oslo then went to Leipzig, Germany, where he studied at the conservatory. In 1920 he came to the U.S. to teach composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester (New York.) He wrote a large number of short piano pieces and songs, one of which he is best remembered for (Rustles of Spring, 1896.) Sinding later spent much of his life in Germany. He also wrote a suite for violin which Heifetz used to play often. Among his larger works are three symphonies, three violin concertos, a piano concerto, choral works, and an opera (The Holy Mountain, 1914). For political reasons, his music is seldom heard today, even in his native Norway. Sinding died in 1941.

Gaspar Da Salo

It is generally accepted that Gasparo Da Salo (1542-1609) was the first to create the form of the modern violin, as his violins are among the first of which there is concrete evidence. Some credit Andrea Amati. Gasparo Da Salo took his name from a tiny city on Lake Garda named Salo. His real name was Gasparo Bertolotti. He came to Brescia as a youth and was already established before 1565. His outstanding ability soon found widespread recognition and to him goes the distinction of having founded the Brescian school. Unfortunately, few of his instruments have survived. His violas, which are very rare, are particularly magnificent. One of those violas is played by Amihai Grosz.  The violin shown here is possibly by Da Salo or by Maggini or by Cellini.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Girolamo Amati - 1609

This is one of Girolamo Amati's violins from 1609. It's an early violin, considering that the modern violin was developed (or took form) around 1520 - five hundred years ago. This one is by the first Girolamo (there are two, although the second one is sometimes referred to as Geronimo). He was the son of Andrea Amati. Girolamo (1551-1635) had two sons - Antonio and Nicolo. Nicolo (1596-1684) was the father of Geronimo (the second Girolamo - 1649-1740), who was the last in line of the Amati violin makers. If you click on the photo, it will probably give you an enlarged version so that you can see all the tiny scratches. This violin is probably worth more than $1,000,000, although I am just guessing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell is an American violinist born on December 9, 1967. Bell began violin lessons at the age of four. Later on, he studied with Joseph Gingold at Indiana University (Jacobs School of Music), from which he graduated in 1989. However, by 1985, he had already made his Carnegie Hall (New York City) debut. He is best known for his soundtrack recording of the violin music on the film The Red Violin. Bell has taught at the Royal Academy of Music (London), MIT, and Indiana University. There is lots of information about him on the internet as well as videos on YouTube and on MySpace websites. He has also recorded most of the standard violin repertoire. I believe his latest is the Vivaldi Four Seasons. It's an interesting rendition, to say the least. Bell plays the Gibson-ex-Huberman Stradivarius (1713 - a notoriously famous violin.) I have a photo of it somewhere. I'll post it later, if I remember to do so.

Ida Haendel

Ida Haendel is an English violinist of Polish descent born in 1928. She took up the violin before she turned four and as a seven-year-old was admitted to the Warsaw Conservatory. She later studied with Carl Flesch and George Enescu in Paris. In 1937 (age nine), she made her London debut. Her career was interrupted by World War Two but in 1946, she was the first artist to appear with the Israel Philharmonic. In 1952, she moved to Canada and remained there until 1989, when she settled in Miami. Her autobiography, Woman with Violin, was published in 1970. She famously said "You cannot play with inspiration when the conductor is an imbecile." Since 1946, she has toured extensively and has also recorded most of the standard repertoire. Some of her performances can be seen on YouTube. Haendel plays either a Guarnerius or Stradivarius violin – I don’t know which.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nico Richter

Nico Richter was a Dutch violinist, composer, and conductor born on this day (December 2) in 1915. He began his violin studies at age 5, though I’m not sure about that – it could have been age 4. He entered medical school in Amsterdam and graduated in 1941, though he always worked hard at composition and violin. He was 26 years old.  Fritz Kreisler was another violinist who studied Medicine. Between 1929 and 1934, Richter composed many works – most of them short – including a violin concerto (1933) and four symphonies. He studied conducting with Herman Scherchen in Belgium and wrote an award winning cello concerto (1935) which was premiered in Brussels’ Palace of Fine Arts with Emanuel Feuermann as soloist. Richter died at age 29 (August 16, 1945) as a result of frail health. Some of his chamber music has been recorded. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

Royal orchestras

I know you’ve been wondering which Symphony Orchestras are the best in the world. I can help you with that. This is my own order of preference: Vienna Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Paris Conservatoire, San Francisco Symphony, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra. I cannot go into why I chose these but I can tell you I gave the list some thought – about two minutes’ worth. When you’re an expert at something, you don’t need to re-think your biases too much, no? That, by the way, is the best concert hall in the world, too. Take my word.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Record Labels

We may all be familiar with the most common record labels: RCA, CBS, EMI, HMV, Deutsche Grammophon, Angel, Everest, Melodiya, Peerless, Capitol, VOX, Mercury, Turnabout, Decca, Columbia, Sony, Virgin, and the list goes on, but, how about these? Anti-Creative Records, Cement Shoes Records, Cheeky Records, I.R.S. Records, AntAcid Records, B-Unique Records, C.I.A. Records, Criminal Records, ZYX Records, Visiting Hours Records, No Idea Records, Track Records, Serious Business Records, Dew Process, Moist Music, Eleven Seven Music, Lingasong Records, Gee Records, Krayola Records, Hep-Me Records, Juana Records, Highpoint Lowlife, and In-Fidelity Recordings. There are hundreds of labels out there, just as there are thousands of composers. Now, many symphony orchestras are beginning to market their own recordings on independent labels via the internet, though the names are somewhat more serious sounding than many of the above.

Messiah Stradivarius

This is the famous Messiah Stradivarius. It is a beauty, no? It is currently housed in a British museum - the Ashmolean - almost in pristine condition. It is the closest thing to a virgin violin imaginable - it has never been played. According to most experts, it's priceless. For various reasons, I think it's a fake. If you care to research the history of this intriguing violin (I don't know why you would - you don't have the time), you might want to start with Stewart Pollens, one of the world's foremost authorities on this instrument. No one is allowed to get close to this magical violin - not since questions about its authenticity surfaced. It is rather sad that the truth about it cannot be conclusively determined, but only because commercial interests have decided not to rock the boat. Don't make too many inquiries or you might discover that Stradivari never existed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Andreas Castagneri was an important French violin maker born around 1696 (nobody knows for sure.) Very little is known about his life and work. It's a highly esoteric field after all. An encyclopedia of violin and bow makers is available from some publisher in New York. It sells for $595 plus shipping, in case you're interested. Castagneri built many violins like this one (circa 1740), though he is better known and appreciated for his cellos. Nowadays, his violins sell for between $5,000 and $25,000. Should you, or someone you know, find one in the attic, parting with it might be worth your while. This example is a little beat up - you can better see the scratches if you click on the photo. Castagneri died in 1747.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tattooed Violins

Here is an Amati from 1563 – the so-called King Charles – which has been decorated. It used to be fashionable to decorate violins like this. Even Guarneri and Stradivari decorated a few of their violins, though not many. You won’t find modern violin makers doing this. I knew a violinist who had a decorated Guarneri. I never saw it because he sold it way before I met him. He got drunk one day and sold it for $500. He had no idea the instrument was quite valuable. He just liked the way it sounded. This violin is decorated with figures of people and a corpulent floating angel. If you click on the photo, you might be able to see the drawings a little better. The decorations render the violin somewhat ugly. Experts are not even sure it’s by Amati, but the back of the violin has been attributed to Amati. Either way, I don’t like it.

Amati 1574

Andrea Amati is said to be the founder of what is called the Cremona school of violin making. He was born around 1520 and died in 1578, perhaps earlier and maybe later – only God knows. His earliest known violins date from about 1564. Amati is unfairly credited with the basic design of the modern violin since Gaspar Da Salo lived around the same time and built them the same way. Andreas’ sons were Antonio and Geronimus. Nicolo Amati (Andrea’s grandson) was Geronimus’ son and Girolamo was Nicolo’s son. It is said that Andrea Guarneri (1698-1744) and Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) studied with either Girolamo (1649-1740) or Nicolo Amati. There is no evidence to prove such a claim though. They had to apprentice with someone - you don't learn to do this stuff by yourself - we just don't know who. The Amati shown here is from 1574. If you want to see it in a slightly larger size, just click on it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Otto Joachim

Otto Joachim was a Canadian violist, violinist, composer, teacher, conductor, and instrument maker, born in Dusseldorf, Germany, on October 13, 1910. He studied violin from 1916 until 1931. I have no idea what he did between 1931 and 1934, but I do know that in 1934, he taught in Singapore and China. In 1949, intending to settle in Brazil, he traveled by way of Canada and within a very short time opted to stay there. He was Principal violist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for some time and taught at the Montreal Conservatory and at other music schools as well. He also conducted the National Arts Centre Orchestra, among many other ensembles. Joachim, understandably, was not a prolific composer, but he managed to write more than thirty works of some variety. His specialty was electronic and twelve-tone music. I have never heard any of it nor do I intend to - I dislike that sort of noise. Joachim died on July 30, 2010, at age 99.

List of Violinists 4 of 4

S-Z: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Emanuel Salvador, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Toscha Seidel, Gil Shaham, Oscar Shumsky, Joseph Silverstein, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Tamara Smirnova, Felix Slatkin, Denise Soriano, Vladimir Spivakov, Mark Steinberg, Simon Standage, Arnold Steinhardt, Malcolm Stewart, Lara St John, Emmy Storms, Joseph Suk, Joseph Swensen, Joseph Szigeti, Kyoko Takezawa, David Taylor, Christian Tetzlaff, Roman Totenberg, Eleonora Turovsky, Eugene Ugorski, Adrian Varela, Maxim Vengerov, Olena Vrublevska, Elizabeth Wallfisch, Reiko Watanabe, Janusz Wawrowski, Eric Wyrick, Eugene Ysaye, Thomas Zehetmair, Wang Zhijiong, Yulia Ziskel, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Nicolaj Znaider, Pinchas Zukerman, Jaap van Zweden.

List of Violinists 3 of 4

M-R: Andrew Manze, Alexander Markov, Ralph Matson, Edouard Matzener, Tymur Melnyk, Anne Akiko Meyers, Shlomo Mintz, Erica Morini, Victoria Mullova, Irina Muresanu, Anne Sophie Mutter, David Nadien, Kurt Nikkanen, Gordan Nikolitch, Siegmund Nissel, Elmar Oliveira, Igor Oistrakh, Mark O'Connor, Raphael Oleg, Sergey Ostrovsky, Michaela Paetsch, Susie Park, Adela Pena, Elisa Pegreffi, Itzhak Perlman, Christine Pichlmeir, Elizabeth Pitcairn, Rachel Podger, Alina Pogostkina, Anton Polezhayev, Hristo Popov, Andrej Power, Hubert Pralitz, William Preucil, Philip Quint, Julian Rachlin, Manuel Ramos, Jonathan Rees, Vadim Repin, Ruggiero Ricci, Aaron Rosand, David Rubinoff,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

List of Violinists 2 of 4

F-L: Hector Falcon, Isabelle Faust, Michael Fernandez, Christian Ferras, Julia Fischer, Jorja Fleezanis, Eugene Fodor, Pamela Frank, Erick Friedman, Angela Fuller, David Garrett, Theodora Geraets, Ivry Gitlis, Midori Gotoh, Vadim Gluzman, Philippe Graffin, David Grimal, Ilya Gringolts, Arthur Grumiaux, Franco Gulli, Viviane Hagner, Hilary Hahn, David Halen, Chloe Hanslip, Sidney Harth, Josef Hassid, Jonathan Hill, Daniel Hope, Lei Hou, Bin Huang, Vaclav Hudecek, Bronislaw Huberman, Monica Huggett, Alina Ibragimova, Pavel Ilyashov, Stefan Jackiw, Andreas Janke, Aaron Janse, Leila Josefowicz, Ilya Kaler, Michael Karlson, Ani Kavafian, Ida Kavafian, Leonidas Kavakos, Tamaki Kawakubo, Nigel Kennedy, David Kim, Rudolf Koelman, Sasha Korobkina, Natasha Korsakova, Henning Kraggerud, Gidon Kremer, Jan Kubelik, Rainer Kuehl, Jaime Laredo, Simone Lamska, Rachel Lee, Shannon Lee, Timothy Lees, Cho-Liang Lin, Bing Liu, Malcolm Lowe, Sergiu Luca,

List of Violinists 1 of 4

A-E: Salvatore Accardo, Khachatur Almazian, Frank Almond, Janine Andrade, Adele Anthony, Matthieu Arama, Cecylia Arzewski, Michele Auclair, Felix Ayo, David Ballesteros, Alexander Barantschik, Rachel Barton, Lisa Batiashvili, Remy Baudet, Corina Belcea, Monte Belknap, Joshua Bell, Margareta Benkova, Dmitry Berlinsky, Vera Beths, Fabio Biondi, Kolja Blacher, Emanuel Borok, Norbert Brainin, Guy Braunstein, Iona Brown, Adolf Busch, James Buswell, Alfredo Campoli, Serena Canin, Andres Cardenes, Giuliano Carmignola, Jonathan Carney, Corey Cerovsek, Martin Chalifour, Sarah Chang, Stephanie Chase, Robert Chen, Kyung Wha Chung, James Clark, Lucy van Dael, John Dalley, Carlos Damas, Ellen De Pasquale, Philippe Descamps, Lindsay Deutsch, Glenn Dicterow, Erika Dobosiewicz, Rafael Druian, Edward Dusinberre, Christiane Edinger, James Ehnes, Evgenia Epshtein, Vesko Eschkenazy,


Everyone has his favorite violin maker (luthier, in formal terms). Stradivari seems to be a universal favorite. Andrea Amati's grandson or great grandson is said to have taught Stradivari but nobody really knows for sure. Here is a sample Amati from 1560. It looks kind of crude and it is. Click on the picture and you'll see how really rough it is. Violins didn't really begin to get sophisticated until about 1600. Makers used to make them out of pine or pear tree wood. For hundreds of years now, luthiers have been using maple and spruce. Though there has been some experimentation with the shape, the violin has stayed the way we see it now for more than 450 years.

Henryk Szeryng

Henryk Szeryng was an extraordinary Polish violinist born on September 22, 1918. He owned the violin whose picture is shown in the previous blog. He began his violin studies at age 7 and, after his prodigious talent was recognized, continued with Carl Flesch in Germany (1929) and Jacques Thibaud in Paris later on. He made a sensational debut in 1933 (in his early teens) and started concertizing right away, even while continuing further studies. In 1946, he became a naturalized Mexican citizen in appreciation of Mexico's efforts to take in several thousand Polish war refugees. He was the only violinist who travelled on a diplomatic passport after he was appointed Ambassador for Cultural Affairs by the Mexican Government. It is not clear to me whether he was fluent in six, seven, or eight languages. There are varying accounts. In addition to being a virtuoso of the highest caliber, he was a great humanitarian and philanthropist. There is insufficient space and time to post even a few of this phenomenal violinist's accomplishments here. I must therefore refer you to his wonderful, official website - There are many, many recordings by this great artist and several amazing videos on YouTube. One thing which is not well known is that he also composed concertos and chamber music. He died unexpectedly on March 3, 1988, at age 69.


I am not certain but I think this violin is now in the hands of the concertmaster of the National Symphony in Mexico City. It could also be in Israel. What do I know? Nothing. It is a nice violin though. It was owned by the late Henryk Szeryng, the Polish violinist. He made his home in Mexico and elsewhere. Guarneri was, of course, a pretty good maker of violins. He made this one in 1743 - some say 1745. It makes no difference - it sounds good. Stradivari was dead by then and he was a good maker as well. I do not know if either one actually knew how to play.

Glass violin

This is just a picture of a glass violin - my very own painting. It looks much better in person but you will probably never (I don't really know) see it in person. I try to spend as much time as I can painting violins in different positions and colors. This one hasn't sold yet and it might never sell, especially if I don't want to sell it.

List of violinists

This is another test - please do not read this. The real list of violinists will be posted here later today. There must be at least a dozen violinists out there.

Prone to violins

I hope this title is not too cutesy. Do not read this - it is just a test while I put this blog together.