Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cesar Thomson

Cesar Thomson was a Belgian violinist, teacher, arranger, and composer born (in Liege, Belgium) on March 18, 1857.  Although he was considered a brilliant violinist in his time, he is now remembered more for his teaching.  He began violin lessons with his father at age 5 or 6.  By age 7 he had entered the Liege Conservatory where he studied with Jacques Dupuis, a very strict teacher.  (Liege is about 50 miles east of Brussels, Belgium.)  He also studied with Rodolphe Massart and Desire Heynberg, who also taught Eugene Ysaye.  According to Grove’s Dictionary, it was said that Thomson, by age 16, had a technique unrivalled by any other living violinist – the year was 1873, so that is saying quite a lot.  Take it with a grain of salt.  Thomson later studied additionally with Hubert Leonard, Henryk Wieniawski, and Henri Vieuxtemps.  If he was already a superlative, pre-eminent violinist, it is hard to imagine what it was they taught him.  In 1873, he became concertmaster of a private orchestra (in Switzerland) at the service of Paul von Derwies, a Russian banker, railroad industrialist, and serious patron of the arts.  Thomson stayed for four years and during the interim, married into the nobility.  By 1879, he was assistant concertmaster of Benjamin Bilse’s Band in Berlin, where Eugene Ysaye was the concertmaster.  Thomson was barely 22 years old - Ysaye was 21.  A few years later, this orchestra would become the Berlin Philharmonic, but not under the direction of Benjamin Bilse.  One source clearly states that Thomson was concertmaster of the Bilse Band but that may be due to a tradition in German orchestras of having two or more concertmasters, making no distinction between two or three leaders in the same position.  By 1882, Thomson was back where he started, in Liege, teaching at the Liege Conservatory.  In 1897, he took over for Eugene Ysaye at the Brussels Conservatory.  He was 40 years old.  A year later, he formed a string quartet.  Many sources state that Thomson was austere and cerebral in his approach to music - he can perhaps be compared to Joseph Szigeti.  A review of his first concert in New York City on October 30, 1894, stated the following: “His treatment of the Bruch concerto [in d minor] proved him to be a player of substantial force, but it revealed no influential emotional power.  It was dignified, well-considered, and thoughtful.  Mr. Thomson may be classed with the scholarly players who interest the mind rather than overwhelm the heart.”  On November 9, 1894, he played one of the violin concertos of Leopold Damrosch with the New York Symphony, Walter Damrosch conducting.  That concerto has probably not been heard from since, but that I do not know for sure.  Thomson toured a great deal in Europe, South America, and the U.S.  Between 1924 and 1927, he taught at Ithaca College (New York) and at Juilliard as well.  Students came from faraway places to study with him.  Among Thomson’s pupils are Haydn Wood, Johan Halvorsen (famous for his Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia for violin and viola), Paul Kochanski, Adolfo Betti, Antoinette Zoellner, Joseph Zoellner, Alma Moodie (Carl Flesch’s favorite pupil), Aylmer Buesst, Edwin Grasse, Hugo Alfven, and Guillermo Uribe Holguin (founder of the National Symphony of Colombia.)  Thomson edited, arranged, and transcribed music by Arcangelo Corelli, George Frederick Handel, Giuseppe Tartini, J.S. Bach, Pietro Nardini, and Vitali – I don’t know which of the Vitalis.  Among his own works is a Gypsy Rhapsody for violin but I don’t know if it has been recorded or even published.  He played a G.B. Guadagnini violin (1780), a Santo Serafin (constructed in 1740 – later owned for many years by Zino Francescatti), Giuseppe Guarneri (1703, auctioned in late 1990s for about $400,000), and an Andrea Guarneri violin (1650) which ended up in a museum.  Thomson died (in Bissone, Switzerland) on August 21, 1931, at age 74.  In Liege, a street is named after him.   


  1. This is violinist profile number 340.

  2. I studied with Harold Hess, who studied with and translated lesson notes for Thomson. I have many books containing handwritten lesson notes, technical exercises, and other material specific to the development of passages in major literature. These are dated in the early twenties and contain dates, students' names, and specific musical references.
    By far, most of the notation is in the hand of Hess, but there are places when another hand, far more skilled, seems to have taken the pencil in haste. The notations are specific to a technique or a particular passage, advance in difficulty, and demand the highest level of patience and effort. Not surprising that he excelled technically........or that he was known as an outstanding teacher.