Sunday, January 15, 2012

Simon Jacobsohn

Simon Jacobsohn (Simon E. Jacobsohn) was a Russian violinist and teacher born on December 24, 1839 (in Mitau or Jelgava, Latvia – Latvia and Lithuania are closely related – Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania) – Brahms was about six years old.  He was a very highly respected and successful violinist and educator working in the U.S. in the late 1800s.  Many American orchestras owe him a great debt for having prepared so many high caliber musicians who later occupied their ranks.  He came from a very modest family - he had to help support them from age seven by playing at social functions.  His father had died by then and left them penniless.  Though it cannot be said that Jacobsohn was entirely self-taught, he did not receive formal training until he was 15 years old.  At age 20 he made his way to Germany.  He studied with none other than Ferdinand David (Mendelssohn’s concertmaster) in Leipzig, where among his fellow pupils were Joseph Joachim, August Wilhelmj, Johan Svendsen, Edvard Grieg, and Henry Schradieck.  He served as concertmaster in Bremen (Germany) from 1860 to 1872.  In Europe, Jacobsohn also formed the Jacobsohn Quartet which achieved fame and was highly regarded.  In 1872, he came to the U.S.  In this country, one of his first jobs was as concertmaster for the Theodore Thomas Orchestra.  He was 33 years old.  In 1877 he joined the Mendelssohn Quintet of Boston then afterwards was invited to teach at the Cincinnati College of Music but continued giving concerts before moving permanently to Chicago in the fall of 1887.  Henry Schradieck was also teaching violin at the Cincinnati College of Music at the time – it is possible that the invitation to teach in Cincinnati came from him.  In 1890, the Chicago Symphony was beginning to take shape – I do not know whether Jacobsohn ever played in it but that’s unlikely since no source out of ten that I checked mentions it.  In Chicago, he also again established a string quartet – the Jacobsohn String Quartet - in which Theodore Thomas played second violin.  Nevertheless, just as is the custom of the Emerson String Quartet in more modern times, Thomas and Jacobsohn alternated playing the first and second violin parts.  Among Jacobsohn’s hundreds of pupils were Nahan Franko, Max Bendix, Nicholas Longworth, and Hugh McGibney.  He was a teacher of violin at the Chicago College of Music until the day he died.  Jacobsohn died in Chicago on October 3, 1902 at age 62.

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