Sunday, December 5, 2010

Otakar Sevcik

Otakar Sevcik was a Czech violinist and teacher born on March 22, 1852 (Brahms was 19 years old.)  (Emile Sauret – French violinist - was born exactly two months after Sevcik.)  He lived long enough to witness the transition from the old school of violin playing (Paganini, Lipinski, Spohr, Viotti, Kreutzer, Vieuxtemps, Ernst, Enesco, Wieniawski, Remenyi, Sarasate, Joachim, De Beriot, Ysaye, etc.) to the modern era (Thibaud, Elman, Milstein, Heifetz, Kogan, Ferras, Francescatti, Grumiaux, Szerying, Stern, Schneiderhan, Campoli, Haendel, Ricci, Oistrakh, etc.) which to us is now the old school.  When he reached old age, it was said that during the course of his career he had had well over five thousand pupils.  Of those five thousand, about seven are well known.  As far as I know, he taught in more conservatories (and more cities) than any other pedagogue; Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Kiev, Pisek, Kharkiv, London, Chicago, Boston, and New York among them.  He, like Henryk Szerying, spoke seven languages fluently.  At age 7, he took his first lessons from his father, though his father never intended for little Sevcik to become a violinist.  His first public appearance he made at age 9.  Even though he failed the entrance exam twice, he entered the Prague Conservatory at age 14 (1866) where one of his teachers was Antonin Bennewitz, Director of the Conservatory who later on became his bitter enemy.  While he was there, Sevcik made his living singing in the choir in a convent.  (I don’t know which convent.)  At age 18 (1870), he graduated from the conservatory and made his debut soon thereafter playing Beethoven’s violin concerto.  He then took a job as concertmaster (and professor) of the Mozarteum orchestra in Salzburg.  In 1873, he was appointed concertmaster of the Provisional Theatre in Prague (playing under composer and conductor Bedrich Smetana) and (apparently simultaneously) conductor of the Comic Opera in the Ring Theatre in Vienna.  Only two years later (1875), he took a job as professor of violin in Kiev (Ukraine) at the music school of the Russian Music Society where he remained until 1892.  All the while, he had been touring as a soloist in Poland, Austria, and Russia.  He had by then developed a violin method which he used in his classes (published 1880-1893.)  In 1892, at age 40, he took the position of violin professor at his old school, the Prague Conservatory.  He was, however, forbidden (by the Director - Bennewitz) from using his violin method at the conservatory; nevertheless, he secretly used his method using manuscript copies which students made from printed ones.  He remained at the conservatory until 1906.  Between 1906 and 1909, he taught privately in Pisek, a small town in Southern Bohemia.  He took a position at the Vienna Music Academy in 1909 and was there until 1918 (some sources say 1919.)  He left to go back to the Prague Conservatory and this time stayed until 1921.  After that, he traveled in the U.S. and England, teaching as he went.  It has been said that he insisted that his pupils practice eight hours a day.  Some say that what he actually said was that it did not matter how long they practiced as long as they achieved the results he asked for.  Among his famous pupils are Jan Kubelik, Efrem Zimbalist, Marie Hall (for whom Vaughan Williams wrote The Lark Ascending), Victor Kolar (conductor of the Detroit Symphony), Jaroslav Kocian (teacher of Josef Suk), Erica Morini, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and Josef Karbulka (teacher of Peter Stolyarsky.)  His various method books are still being used today.  Otakar Sevcik died on January 18, 1934, at age 81, in Pisek.

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