Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Louis Persinger

Louis Persinger was an American violinist, teacher, and pianist born (in Illinois) on February 11, 1887 (Brahms was 54 years old.)  Some sources give the year of his birth as 1888.  So fleeting was his fame as a virtuoso that Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Third Edition, 1953) has no mention of him.  His concertizing career was short-lived.  However, his name is now immortal thanks to several outstanding violinists he taught – Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci, Isaac Stern, Donald Erickson, Zvi Zeitlin, Guila Bustabo, Camilla Wicks, Louise Behrend, Nannette Levi, Fredell Lack, Leonard Posner, Francis Chaplin, and Hermilo Novelo  among them.  In fact, he not only taught them, being an accomplished pianist (as were Fritz Kreisler and Arthur Grumiaux and now Julia Fischer and Arabella Steinbacher), he accompanied several of them on recitals and recordings.  (Ricci, Erickson, Wicks, Zeitlin, and Lack are still with us and Zeitlin and Ricci are still actively teaching.  I believe Camilla Wicks easily rivaled Heifetz, Ricci, Milstein, and Kogan.  It is an artistic tragedy that she had to interrupt her career in order to raise her five children.)  Persinger also taught Dorothy DeLay who then went on to become the teacher of some of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century.  Some time during his childhood, Persinger moved to Colorado (USA.)  With financial backing from a generous and wealthy patron (Winfield Scott Stratton, Colorado Springs gold mine owner) he started out on his career and eventually travelled to Europe (1909) where he studied with Hans Becker at the Leipzig Conservatory, later with Eugene Ysaye (presumably in Brussels, Belgium), and with Jacques Thibaud in France for two summers.  He made his London debut on May 9, 1912 (at age 25) at Bechstein Hall (now Wigmore Hall) and received excellent reviews.  The Titanic disaster had already occurred - April 15, 1912.  On November 1 and 2, 1912, he played with the Philadelphia Orchestra with Stokowski on the podium.  On November 9 of the same year he made his New York recital debut at the Aeolian Hall, the site of the world premiere of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1924.  It was a small hall, seating about 1100.  His accompanist was pianist Samuel Chotzinoff, who would later accompany Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist as well, become Director of Music at NBC (1936), become a music critic, and write Toscanini’s biography (1956.)  Among the works Persinger played were a concerto by Pietro Nardini (an obscure work though Pinchas Zukerman has made a recording of it) and the Bruch g minor concerto.  He also played six encores.  The reviews were very favorable.  More than a month later (December 22, 1912), he played Edouard Lalo’s violin concerto in f minor (Opus 20 – not the better-known Symphonie Espagnole, Opus 21) with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.  Returning to Europe, he served as concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic (some sources say he played in the first violin section) and was also concertmaster of the Royal Opera Orchestra in Brussels, Belgium.  In 1915, he accepted the post of concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony.  He was also named assistant conductor.  He was 28 years old.  He later became the Director of the Chamber Music Society of that city.  It was in San Francisco that he had the good fortune to be sought out by Ricci, Menuhin, and Stern.  In 1925, he moved to New York.  In 1930, he was appointed professor at the Institute of Musical Art (Juilliard) to replace Leopold Auer.  He taught at Juilliard until the day he died.  Menuhin later said “I was, in some ways, the pupil of Persinger’s abandoned dreams.”  Persinger played a Nicolas Lupot violin for some time although he also played a Stradivarius and a Guarnerius violin.  YouTube has a recording of him playing the Capriccio Espagnol solos with the San Francisco Symphony and some with him playing piano for Menuhin.  The only other recording by Persinger that I know of is the one with his son Rolf, the late principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony (1963-1976), featuring works by Hindemith and Handel.  He was a chess player too, though not a very good one.  David Oistrakh, among others, beat him at it.  (Since I have beaten a computer at its top level, I know I would probably have been able to beat him, too.  On the other hand, he was a much, much better violinist than I.)  Persinger died in New York City on New Year’s Eve, 1966.  He was 79 years old. 


  1. Thanks to my Facebook friend Bernard Chevalier (first violinist with the San Francisco Symphony) for a critical and fascinating bit of information included in this profile.

  2. Thank you Violinhunter for the information on my Father and Grandfather. You have provided some interesting information that I was not aware of. Although, I believe that you may have underestimated his prowess as a Chess player. LP (as he was known) won the 1941 USCF Open Correspondence Chess Tournament and I have read several articles that lead me to believe he was quite a player! Thanks again!

    Regards, Brandon Louis Persinger

  3. Dear Brandon, If Mr Persinger won the chess tournament you mention, he was a much better player than I was led to believe. Perhaps my source was a bit jealous!! :-) (Thank you for your informative comment.)

  4. My brother, Charles Tabony, after several years with Fredell Lack, studied with Persinger until Louis' death. He visited him at his apartment and babysat for the son of his young wife. He adored him. Persinger accompanied, by memory, everything he played during his lessons, only demonstrating something once on violin. I believe he was suffering from arthritis. My brother served as Principal 2nd in Hartford, 1st violinist in the Teatro Reggio in Torino, and finished his career as1st violinist and then Asst 2nd Violinist of the Houston Symphony, 1977 - 2012.

    I took lessons for ~9 years from Persinger's pupil, Leonard Posner. He was a fine musician, a fine teacher, and a wonderful storyteller. I put up both selections on YT you refer to.

    Here is a link to a mention of his win in the 1941 chess tournament:

    Thanks for the bio.


    1. Doug (2nd violinist), I believe you are one and the same person who has a YouTube Channel under the same name - 2nd violinist? A very fine channel that is. It's a small world indeed. I have spent my entire career as a second fiddle player although I have many times played in the first violin sections of various orchestras and in studio sessions. A conductor I used to know as a child was concertmaster in Houston long ago - Orlando Barera was his name. Thanks a million for your generous comment.

  5. Update – Brandon just uploaded Louis and Rolf Persinger playing the 2 violin and viola duets by Mozart. The sound is better than the version I uploaded and there are a number of good pictures.

  6. Hello. Living in Brussels, I found on internet a silhouette postcard representing Ysaye playing with pianist Pugno. It was sent to a Miss Ada Dahes (?) in Mont Vernon, and the only signature is a stylefull "P". The year is not clear, it was sent from Brussels on May the 26th and arrived in Mt Vernon (Ohio) on June the 7th (probably 1906, but again the year is not clearly printed).What makes almost sure this was sent by Louis Persinger? Following text: "Dear Ada, as you want cards of musicians how does this suit you? I am studying with Ysaye this summer and now working up the Paganini Concerto after a rest of 1 1/2 years on it. Brussels is the most beautiful city to live in in Europe. I have seen Wiertz museum [a local monumental realistic painter 1806 - 1855]. I liked the reader of novells throu[?] the hole bent [Probably "La liseuse de romans"]. Did not find the buried alive [probably "L'inhumation précipitée"] as strong as expected. P."