Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dietmar Machold

It now comes to light that Dietmar Machold, a respected dealer in fine instruments is under investigation for supposedly dealing fraudulently with buyers and sellers.  He had offices all over the world and was well-known among high-end dealers.  He was known as Mr. Stradivarius and had built his business very quickly.  His father used to be a violin maker.  Spiegel Online has a rather comprehensive article about Machold's troubles, if you can make time to read it.  I wrote a story about Joseph Tang a few months ago and mentioned at that time that his victims had at least not suffered huge losses because they had not dealt in high-end instruments.  Dietmar Machold appears to be the Major League version of Joseph Tang.  He has been accused of perpetrating frauds to the tune of $35,000,000, selling fakes or inflating prices, or simply not paying owners for instruments he sold which had been placed with him on a consignment basis.  Some sources speculate that the swindles were in excess of $100,000,000.  I wouldn’t know.  The New Jersey Symphony was allegedly one of his victims.  A European bank made him loans of more than $4,000,000 which were secured by instruments purportedly worth a lot more than $4,000,000 but whose real value was closer to $5,000.  By the way, I am still very much of the opinion that the so-called Messiah Stradivarius is a fake.  It sits in a British Museum (the Ashmolean) away from any and all scrutiny.  I have very little respect for dealers who have everything to gain by issuing certificates of authenticity and giving opinions of value on violins they sell.  In fact, I prefer new violins to old, be they Guarnerius, Stradivarius, or Guadagnini. Fritz Reuter knows. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jacob Grun

Jacob Grun (Jakob Maurice Grun) was a Hungarian violinist and teacher born (in Budapest) on March 13, 1837.  When Grun was born, Brahms was 4 years old, Felix Mendelssohn was 28 years old (and already very famous), and Paganini was 54 and would live four more years.  Today, Grun is known as a teacher who had several critically important and famous pupils. He is also known as a very capable concertmaster who spent most of his life and career in Austria.  He first studied with someone named Gustav Ellinger in his hometown.  Later on, his most important teacher was Joseph Bohm at the Vienna Conservatory.  From 1858 to 1861 he played in the Grand Duke’s Royal Band in Weimar.  He was 21 years old.  Then he played in the Royal Band at Hanover (The Queen’s Orchestra) from 1861 to 1865.  Joseph Joachim was the concertmaster of the Hanover orchestra at the time.  Because Grun was not granted a position in the prestigious Court Chamber Orchestra (which would have entitled him to a pension), Joachim resigned his position as concertmaster in protest (together with Grun) in February of 1865.  Grun then embarked on a long concertizing tour of Germany, England, Holland, and Hungary.  Officially, Grun did not qualify for a position in the Chamber Orchestra because he was Jewish.  Joachim, the Chamber Orchestra’s concertmaster, was also Jewish but his situation was viewed somewhat differently because he (like Mendelssohn) had converted to Christianity.  Three years later (1868), Grun was appointed concertmaster of the Vienna Opera Orchestra (aka Vienna Court Opera, very closely tied to the Vienna Philharmonic.)  He was 31 years old.  His Jewishness apparently played no part in that appointment.  In 1877, he began teaching at the Vienna Conservatory, retiring in 1909.  He was 72 years old when he retired from teaching and playing in the Vienna Opera.  It has been said that he was very kind-hearted with his beginning pupils.  Among his students are Carl Flesch, Oskar Back, Oscar Morini, Franz Kneisel, Erica Morini, Peter Stojanovic, and Rosa Hochmann.  He played a 1714 Stradivarius which bears his name and which was later owned by Franz Kneisel.  Grun died in obscurity (in Vienna) on October 1, 1916 at age 79.  The First World War had already begun, Claude Debussy had composed Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Richard Strauss had composed Don Juan, Igor Stravinsky had written his Rite of Spring, and Serge Prokofiev was already 25 years old.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Arthur Hartmann

Arthur Hartmann (Arthur Hartman or Arthur Martinus Hartmann) was a Hungarian (some would say American) violinist, teacher, composer, and writer, born (in Philadelphia) on July 23, 1881.  He was a rather enigmatic, romantic, and restless figure in the world of music during the turn of the twentieth century.  He is best known today for having transcribed a work by Claude Debussy which almost all concert violinists play – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair - a piece which Jascha Heifetz made famous and recorded at least four times, the first time when he was 26 years old.  Hartmann was a child prodigy and first performed in Philadelphia when he was six years old (1887.)  His first teacher was his father.  Later, he studied with Henry Hahn and Martin van Gelder.  In 1891-92, he studied in New York at the New York College of Music.  He toured Europe very successfully from 1892 to 1894.  He was 11 years old.  From 1894 to 1897, he played in America wherever his father could find him opportunities.  He then studied with Charles Loeffler in Boston for two years, beginning in 1897.  His patron in Boston was a wealthy merchant: Arthur Curran.  From 1899 to 1903, he studied in Europe – I do not know where (perhaps Berlin) or with whom.  Although he appears to have begun his career quite strongly, he suffered reversals which put him in very precarious financial circumstances a number of times.  The year 1929 was especially difficult – he suffered from very poor health, his wife and children left him, and he could not work at all for many months.  His concertizing was done in fits and starts but it has been said his performances were acclaimed.  He appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1906.  He was 25 years old.  On November 13, 1908, he played Saint Saens’ third concerto with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall.  Again, on March 2, 1913, he played a Mozart concerto with the philharmonic.  On February 5, 1914, he gave a recital in Paris with Claude Debussy at the piano.  A recording of some of his music – by violinist Solomia Soroka - came out in 2009 which finally illuminated some of his work.  He seems to have been a prolific writer and a very enthusiastic promoter of new music and miscellaneous projects.  He was prone to wear fancy Spanish hats and a cape.  He also knew – in the style of Tivadar Nachez - almost every major figure in music and regularly corresponded with them – Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, Bela Bartok, Richard Strauss, Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, Christian Sinding, Alexander Glazunov, Zoltan Kodaly, Efrem Zimbalist, Tivadar Nachez, Leopold Auer, Joseph Joachim, Eugene Ysaye, Walter Damrosch, Carl Flesch, Frank Bridge, Fritz Kreisler, Maud Powell, Emil Sauret, Albert Spalding, Joseph Szigeti, Edward MacDowell, and Otakar Sevcik were among them.  However, he was no dilettante; he was on the founding faculty of the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York) in 1921 – he had initially been recruited in 1918.  He left Eastman in 1922 to concertize in Germany.  On October 21, 1922, he played both, the Tchaikovsky and the Saint Saens B minor concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic – something that no violinist today would attempt or even contemplate doing.  He was 41 years old.  He returned to the U.S. in 1923 and taught privately in New York.  In 1925 he formed his own quartet – the Hartmann Quartet – which made its debut in New York on November 16, 1925.  It was very favorably received.  It went on a U.S. tour in 1928 but was disbanded in 1929, despite the success it was experiencing.  Hartmann began having difficulties with his health in 1929.  For a decade, life was hard for him.  He would play and teach sporadically.  In 1931, he was forced to sell one of his violins, a Maggini, in order to make ends meet.  From 1931 to 1933, he had a studio in Toronto, Canada, though he continued living in New York.  On December 16 and 17, 1932, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Syracuse (New York) Symphony.  He was 51 years old.  Up to that point, he may easily have already given over a thousand performances – Ruggiero Ricci gave over five thousand performances during a 75-year career.  One source states that Hartmann was a composer of a substantial body of symphonic music, choral works, and chamber music but that may be an exaggeration.  He did write over 200 transcriptions for violin, several works for orchestra, a few for string quartet, and some vocal music.  A great abundance of his music was published, especially that written for violin.  Timar, a symphonic poem, is an example of a work which was initially very well-received and then forgotten.  Every piece he wrote was performed and favorably received.  As far as I know, all of this music is now out of print.  Hartmann was also an authority on J.S. Bach’s violin works, but especially his famous Chaconne, about which he wrote a lengthy analysis.  However, just as Joseph Achron is known for his Hebrew Melody, Hartmann is known for his Debussy transcription – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.  After 1932, Hartmann dedicated the rest of his life (more than twenty years) mostly to writing and composition.  A small book written by Hartmann – Claude Debussy as I Knew Him and Other Writings –  though never completed, came out (with extensive notes) in 2010.  It is probably the best writing on Debussy in existence.  Among Hartmann’s violins was a 1735 Stradivarius which he acquired in 1901 and which was later played by Mischa Elman - it eventually ended up in the hands of a collector in Pennsylvania: Raymond Pitcairn, great uncle of violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn.  Between 1905 and 1925, Hartmann also owned a 1752 Guadagnini.  It’s anyone’s guess where that violin ended up.  He may have acquired it from Franz Kneisel, though that’s only a wild conjecture on my part.  As far as I know, Hartmann never recorded anything commercially.  He died in obscurity (in New York City), on March 30, 1956, at age 75.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Franz Kneisel

Franz Kneisel was a German (some would say American or Romanian) violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Bucharest) on January 26, 1865.  He is known for having taught for many years at the Institute of Musical Arts (Juilliard) and for having led the famous Kneisel Quartet for more than thirty years (1886-1917.)  Together with Theodore Thomas, Max Bendix, Simon Jacobsohn, Theodore Spiering, Ferdinand Laub, and Hans Letz, he was a violinist who set the groundwork for the establishment of classical music as a viable and serious art in the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century.  In Europe, that tradition had already been in motion and thriving for over 200 years.  Kneisel graduated from the Bucharest Conservatory in 1879, at age 14.  In Vienna, he studied with Jacob Grun and Joseph Hellmesberger at the Vienna Conservatory for three years.  In 1882, he made his debut in Vienna.  He then soon became concertmaster of the Hofburg Theatre Orchestra in Vienna.  He was 18 years old.  The following year (1884), he became concertmaster of Benjamin Bilse’s Band in Berlin, the precursor of the Berlin Philharmonic.  By then, however, it was actually known as “Former Bilse’s Band,” since most of its musicians had broken away (in 1882) from conductor Benjamin Bilse to form their own organization.  It did not adopt the Berlin Philharmonic name until 1887.  Eugene Ysaye had just left the concertmaster’s post in that orchestra to become a concert violinist, teacher, and composer.  Kneisel left Germany for the U.S. in 1885 and was soon appointed concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, where he played for 18 years (1885-1903), and with which he appeared as soloist many times.  He was also its assistant conductor.  He was 20 years old.  It has been said that over the years, Kneisel conducted the Boston Symphony over a hundred times.  Joseph Silverstein was probably the last concertmaster in Boston who enjoyed the privilege of being an assistant conductor as well.  Kneisel formed the Kneisel Quartet from among members of the orchestra (Emanuel Fiedler, Louis Svecenski, and Fritz Giese.)  Kneisel and Svecenski (violist) stayed with the quartet until it was disbanded in 1917 but the other positions were filled by many other players later on.  The Kneisel Quartet became known all over the U.S. and Europe.  Several sources state that Kneisel gave the premiere performances of the Brahms and Goldmark violin concertos in the U.S. as well as the famous Cesar Franck A major sonata.  According to Bridget Carr, Archivist for the Boston Symphony, Kneisel first performed the Brahms concerto in Boston on December 6, 1889 (almost ten years after it was premiered in Germany by Joseph Joachim) and the Goldmark concerto almost exactly a year later, on December 5, 1890.  In 1897, Kneisel acquired a 1714 Stradivarius which he owned until his death.  It is known as the Grun ex-Kneisel Strad but I have no idea who plays it now.  He had previously played (and presumably owned) a G.B. Guadagnini from 1752.  He also acquired a 1780 Guadagnini in 1914.  In 1905, Kneisel moved to New York to become the head of the violin department at the Institute of Musical Arts (Juilliard) which was newly established.  He was fifty years old.  Eventually, Kneisel became so busy teaching that he had to disband his quartet, by then, considered the best in this country and one of the best in the world.  He taught at Juilliard until the day he died – about 11 years.  Kneisel’s pupils include Elias Breeskin, Louis Kaufman, Joseph Fuchs, Jacques Gordon, Sascha Jacobsen, Samuel Gardner, Michel Gusikoff, Robert Talbot, Bernard Ocko, William Kroll, Lillian Fuchs, Joan Field, and Olive Mead.  He published several study books which are probably no longer in print.  He also wrote a Grand Concert Etude for violin which, as far as I know, nobody plays anymore.  The Kneisel Quartet may have recorded only once – in 1917.  Kneisel died (in New York City) on March 26, 1926, at age 61.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Israel Baker

Israel Baker was an American violinist and teacher born (in Chicago) on February 11, 1919.  He is best known for having played second fiddle to Jascha Heifetz in several chamber music concert series and recordings begun in 1961.  He is also known for having led innumerable Hollywood movie soundtrack recording sessions as had Toscha Seidel and Louis Kaufmann before him.  In fact, he was concertmaster of the orchestra that recorded the soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movie, Psycho, in 1960.  His sight reading abilities became legendary.  Although a classical violin soloist and recitalist, Baker spent most of his career as concertmaster of various studio or concert orchestras, just as has David Nadien, who was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for four years.  There is scant information on Baker (on the internet) prior to his turning 20.  However, it is common knowledge that he played in public (in Chicago) at age 6.  The performance is said to have been broadcast nationwide on the radio.  It is also known that his first job as concertmaster was with the Dayton (Ohio) Philharmonic.  A year later, Leopold Stokowski recruited Baker for his All American Youth Orchestra.  At age 22, while still a student at Juilliard, Baker became its concertmaster.  (At this point, I contacted Hilary Baker.) That was the summer of 1941.   Baker studied first with Adolf Pick in Chicago.  Later, he took lessons from Jacques Gordon (concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony), Louis Persinger (teacher of Yehudi Menuhin), and Bronislaw Huberman.  Two sources state that he later joined the NBC Symphony in New York (under ill-tempered and rude conductor Arturo Toscanini) but I could not find his name on any lists of NBC Symphony musicians - they somehow missed him.  After a lengthy tour with Stokowski, Baker did join the first violin section of the NBC Symphony.  He also recorded Scheherazade with the legendary maestro (Stokowski) - much later, he would record the solos a second time.  During this time with Toscanini, Baker also had a nationally broadcast weekly radio program on NBC.  During World War Two, he was a violinist in the Army Air Force playing for wounded veterans in the U.S. (Atlantic City, New Jersey.)  Afterward, he worked for Phil Kahgan in New York for a few years.  Kahgan was a contractor for free-lance musicians.  Through Kaghan’s connections, Baker ended up in Los Angeles and quickly established himself firmly in the recording world.  On August 24, 1947, he made his debut playing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Los Angeles Philhamonic, William Steinberg conducting.  Baker was 28 years old.  In 1950, in Los Angeles, he formed a duo with Yaltah Menuhin, violinist Yehudi Menuhin’s younger sister.  In 1951, they gave a joint debut recital in New York.  I don’t know where the debut took place – both artists were in their very early thirties.  Although I’m sure one exists, I could not find a review of that recital on the internet.  However, after their debut in San Francisco in 1950, Alfred Frankenstein - music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle - called their recital a "brilliant achievement." With pianist Alice Shapiro and cellist Edgar Lustgarten, he formed the Pacific Arts Trio.  Baker also led orchestras on the West Coast – in addition to the Paramount Pictures studio orchestra - which recorded with many popular artists, including Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Harry Belafonte, Benny Carter, Sammy Davis, Bill Haley, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Chet Atkins, Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, Count Basie, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Sarah Vaughn.  CBS recordings done with Bruno Walter with the Columbia Symphony included Israel Baker as concertmaster.  Being in the studio naturally meant that he also worked closely with film composers, among whom were Andre Previn, John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Lalo Schifrin, Franz Waxman, and John Barry.  As a soloist or chamber music player his discography is not extensive but as an orchestral player his sound (even if not individual, except for his recording of Scheherazade with Erich Leinsdorf) is on hundreds of recordings and movie soundtracks.  In any case, his recordings of music by Viotti, W.A. Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Antonin Dvorak, Cesar Franck, Rimsky-Korsakov, George Antheil, Vernon Duke, Eric Zeisl, and Alban Berg are easy to find.  Heifetz was quoted as saying that Baker was "a fine fiddler" (a typical Heifetz understatement) and that he was easy to work with.  Except for Erick Friedman, Heifetz never recorded with any other violinist.  Igor Stravinsky himself picked Baker to record his violin concerto; however, he was overruled by executives at CBS who insisted on Isaac Stern as soloist.  In 1981, Baker was concertmaster of the (Orange County, California) Pacific Symphony.  He was also briefly concertmaster of the Los Angeles Symphony – not to be confused with the Los Angeles Philharmonic – as well as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  In fact, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was made up almost entirely of highly accomplished studio musicians.  Baker taught at Scripps College (a private school in Claremont, California, near Los Angeles) for a time and his best known pupil was Jack Benny.  Baker played the Garcin Stradivarius (1731) as well as other violins.  The Garcin Strad is now in the hands of violinist Kees Hulsmann.  Israel Baker died in Los Angeles on December 25, 2011, at age 92.