Giovanni Ricordi was an Italian violinist and publisher born (in Milan) sometime in 1785. Mozart was then still very much alive. Ricordi is a good example of violinists who give up their performing careers to pursue other interests – violinists such as Iso Briselli, Arthur Judson, Patricia Travers, Laura Archera, and Olga Rudge. He began his violin studies at an early age but who his teachers were is a mystery. He was good enough to become the concertmaster of a theatre orchestra in Milan. However, by age 18, he was already working as a music copyist and dealer in instruments. By 1806 he had a contract with the Carcano Theatre to supply parts and scores for their productions. He liked the business well enough to undertake a trip to Germany in 1807 to study in Leipzig at the Breitkopf & Hartel printing establishment. A few months later, he returned to Milan to start his own publishing company – Casa Ricordi. He was 23 years old. He must have been a little bit of a workaholic because he was also the prompter at the opera house (La Scala) during this time. It can be said he established one of the first music libraries. Ricordi gradually acquired most of the theatrical works by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi, among many others. By 1814, he had published his first catalogue, by that time already owning almost 800 scores. He had by then probably given up violin playing in public completely though I am not certain of that. In 1840, Ricordi persuaded the Austrian government to establish something akin to copyrights for composers and publishers in Italy. The idea – which we now take for granted - soon spread worldwide. Ricordi died (in Milan) on March 15, 1853, at age 68. By 1908, the number of Ricordi Editions had reached 112,446. Ricordi eventually also got into printing books and advertising posters. Some of the posters are collectors' items although still quite affordable.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Stuff Smith (Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith) was an American jazz violinist, singer, bandleader, and composer born (in Portsmouth, Ohio) on August 14, 1909. Smith was the first jazz violinist to use an amplified (electric) violin. However, as were jazz violinists Eddie South and Johnny Frigo, he was somewhat overshadowed by Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli. As far as I know, he only studied violin with his father, beginning at age 6 or 7. Another interesting thing about Smith is that he is buried in Denmark. He took part - along with Duke Ellington and Count Basie - in the very first outdoor jazz festival – that was in May, 1938, in New York. The festival was a huge success even though it ran for less than six hours. It has been said that his sound was not smooth and pretty but his rhythmic drive, intensity, and inventiveness more than made up for that. The same thing was said of classical violinist Bronislaw Huberman. Smith began playing publicly with his family’s band when he was 12 years old. He attended Johnson Smith University in North Carolina but left at age 15 - he played professionally from that age forward. From 1926 to 1928 (one source says 1927 to 1930), Smith was a member of Alphonse Trent’s group. Trent was a well-known bandleader whose band played in the finest hotels in the Southern U.S. Smith was 19 years old. Afterward, he free-lanced, touring with pianist Jelly Roll Morton, as well as other jazz musicians. Although he did a lot of traveling, his home bases were Buffalo, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. He formed (with trumpet player Jonah Jones) the Onyx Club Boys, a sextet (one source says it was a quintet) which played at the Onyx Club, beginning in 1935, in New York City. Often, he would perform with a monkey on his shoulder. It was a stuffed monkey, of course. Smith knew Fritz Kreisler and it has been said Kreisler admired his playing. Smith recorded with a group called the Stuff Smith Trio, although the other two members of the trio alternated, depending on the instrumentation. One source states that in 1943, he briefly took over Fats Waller’s band after Waller died. Smith played in a group with jazz pianist Billy Taylor too. On June 9, 1945, he, Billy Taylor, and Ted Sturgis (on bass) played a concert in New York’s famous Town Hall - Benny Goodman had already played his historic jazz concert in Carnegie Hall in 1938. In 1947, Smith joined Jazz at the Philharmonic, a very large group of touring jazz musicians managed from Los Angeles and put together by Norman Granz, a jazz impresario. It operated between 1944 and 1957. Smith’s playing has been described as virtuosic, technically adventurous, and full of good humor. Joel Smirnoff (violinist with the Juilliard String Quartet for many years) was quoted as saying that Stuff Smith’s point “was not to be sophisticated, but to swing as hard as possible.” You can hear for yourself here. Smith recorded enough material (for the Vocalion, Verve, Capitol, Decca, ASCH, and Varsity labels) to fill 6 or 7 of today’s CDs. He recorded with Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stephane Grappelli, among other artists. He also played alongside many other jazz artists; Sun Ra and Charlie Parker are among them. Here is a Smith video on YouTube. His violin hold and posture were similar to that of French concert violinist Jacques Thibaud. For reasons unknown (to me), between 1946 and 1955, Smith did very little commercial recording or none at all. In 1958, Art Kane (Arthur Kanofsky) took a photo (for ESQUIRE Magazine) of 57 jazz musicians in front of an apartment building in Harlem (New York) titled A Great Day in Harlem. Smith is the only jazz violinist in that photo. Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Thelonius Monk, Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Mingus, and Sahib Shihab are among the jazz greats in that iconic portrait. In 1965, Smith went to live in Copenhagen, Denmark. For the rest of his life, he worked in Europe, sharing the stage with many European jazz players, some of whom had come from the U.S. Stuff Smith died on September 25, 1967 (in Munich, Germany) at age 58. A book by William F. Lee titled American Big Bands says Stuff Smith died (on the same date given above) in Chicago. Even a great jazz violinist cannot die in two different places at the same time so I’m guessing, since Smith is buried in Denmark, that Munich is the far likelier place of death.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Tai Murray is an American violinist and teacher born (in Chicago) on May 22, 1982. She is known for having recently recorded what is now considered the standard by which all other recordings of the Ysaye solo violin sonatas will be judged - as a young student, she participated in masterclasses with a direct disciple of Ysaye: Josef Gingold. Murray is also known for having privately played a violin “in the nude” – an unvarnished violin, that is. That violin was created for her in 2007 by Mario Miralles, one of the best violin makers in the world. It has been said he has a ten-year waiting list. I do not know why Murray played it - not in a concert, of course - before it was finished - possibly because Miralles wanted to hear how it was coming along while still in the workshop. Luthiers find it easy to disassemble and re-assemble violins. Of course, the violin is now fully varnished although Murray actually used her (circa) 1690 Giovanni (aka Joannes or Johannes) Tononi violin to record the six Ysaye Sonatas. (Johannes Tononi was the father of the more famous luthier, Carlo Tononi, one of whose violins Jascha Heifetz owned and played.) Murray began her violin studies at age 5 with Brenda Wurman and shortly thereafter entered the Sherwood Conservatory of Music (founded in 1895) in Chicago. Even though money was very scarce (a financial condition which befell many nineteenth century child violinists and their families, including the hyper-famous Bronislaw Huberman), by age 8, she had transferred to the University of Indiana where she studied with Mimi Zweig, Yuval Yaron, and Franco Gulli. At age 9, she made her public debut, playing Mozart’s fourth concerto (in D) with the Chicago Symphony. She played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol with the Utah Symphony (and Joseph Silverstein) at age 16. The reviews were very favorable. Her intonation was said to be “superhuman” and her bowing technique “magical.” The Strad has said that she displays “sophisticated bowing and vibrato.” You can observe (and enjoy) her superlative handling of the bow on several YouTube videos. Another music critic described her sound as being imbued with “steely sweetness.” It is truly almost impossible to describe sound with words but I think that comes close. You can hear for yourself here. Murray received her Artist Diploma from Indiana University’s School of Music at 18 then moved on to Juilliard in 2001. There, she studied with Joel Smirnoff (former first and second violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet and now President of the Cleveland Institute of Music.) She graduated from Juilliard in 2006 - some sources say 2004. Meanwhile, she had been concertizing. On February 3, 2001, she soloed with the San Antonio Symphony, playing the Glazunov concerto. Michael Morgan was on the podium. She was 18 years old. Since then, she has gone on to concertize as a soloist with some of the world’s major orchestras, as a recitalist, and in conjunction with several prestigious chamber music ensembles, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In addition to the Tononi and Miralles violins, she has played a 1727 Guarnerius Del Gesu, on loan from the Juilliard violin collection. Murray is now based in Berlin, indulging in her passion for languages – she has already immersed herself in French, Japanese, and German. That, unbeknownst to the general public, is not an unusual activity for violinists. That and chess. Murray has said that when not performing, she practices into the wee hours of the morning. She likes to be where people have a “sense of shared general curiosity, a certain crackle-and-pop that drives things.” (I love that quote.) Aside from Maxim Vengerov, she is the only violinist I know who loves to dance Tango, although she also dances swing and salsa, and loves ballet. (Murray’s portrait is courtesy of Marco Borggreve, a European photographer who photographs the world of music.)
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Achille Rivarde (Serge Achille Rivarde) was a Spanish violinist, teacher, and writer born (in New York) on October 31, 1865. He is referred to in various sources as either a British, French, Spanish, and even American violinist. Although he was known to concertize in the U.S., he spent most of his time in Europe. He is now obscure but was well-known and appreciated by many famous musicians of his day. He bore a resemblance to another Spanish violinist: Pablo Sarasate. Although a somewhat reliable source states that Rivarde studied with Henryk Wieniawski and Jose White Lafitte, he would have had to do so privately and before he entered the Paris conservatory to study with Charles Dancla in 1876, at age 11. Between 1860 and 1872, Wieniawski was in Russia, then he was in the U.S. (on tour) between 1872 and 1875. In 1875, Wieniawski started teaching in Brussels and began a tour of Russia in 1879 during which he became ill, subsequently dying in early 1880. Jose White Lafitte was likewise unavailable (in Paris) between 1875 and 1889 because he was either touring the U.S. or teaching in South America. So, the question is: when would these two violin virtuosos been available to teach young Rivarde? My conclusion from the circumstantial evidence is that he studied with these virtuosos while they were touring the U.S. - between 1872 to 1875 and 1875 to 1876, respectively. Rivarde appears to have graduated from the Paris Conservatory in July, 1879, at age 14. The source mentioned above also states that Rivarde studied with Felix Simon too although it does not say when or where. Felix Simon, concertmaster of the theatre orchestra in Nantes, France, was Camilla Urso’s first teacher in (Nantes) France so the possibility exists that Rivarde studied with him there, either before entering the Paris Conservatory or after graduating. It is also possible that Simon had relocated to the U.S. by (approximately) 1870 and little Rivarde would have been able to study with him as a child of four or five. In any case, at least one music dictionary states that Simon was Rivarde’s first teacher so my conjecture is probably correct. In 1881, Rivarde left Paris and returned to the U.S. He was still only 16 years old. What he did here at that time is unknown to me. One source says he gave up violin playing entirely. In 1885, he returned to France and became concertmaster of the Lamoureux Orchestra. He was 19 years old. The Orchestra had been founded by Charles Lamoureux just three years previously. In 1891, Rivarde quit his post, possibly to concentrate on touring. In 1893, he and pianist Harold Bauer premiered Frederick Delius' b minor violin sonata (an early work without number) in Paris. His London debut came in 1894 and, in 1895, he gave the first English performance of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol, presumably in London. On November 17, 1895, he made his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall (New York) playing Saint-Saens’ third concerto. The critic for the New York Times praised him for his elegant style and beautiful, crisp tone. He was mentioned in The Strad magazine as having “a superb tone, perfect technique, and great breadth of style.” On November 19, 1895, he played in Toronto, Canada. On March 3, 1896, he played Bruch’s second concerto (in d minor) with the New York Philharmonic with Anton Seidl on the podium. In 1899, he was appointed violin teacher at the Royal College of Music in London and thereafter spent most of his time teaching. He retired from that position in 1936. Among his pupils are violist and film composer Anthony Collins; violist, violin collector, and writer Robert Lewin; and violinist and pianist Margaret Harrison. Among his admirers were Carl Flesch, Fritz Kreisler, and Eugene Goossens. A downloadable audio file of a transcription (Dvorak’s first Slavonic Dance played by Leonidas Kavakos) which Kreisler dedicated to Rivarde can be purchased here for about fifty cents. In 1922, Rivarde published The Violin and Its Technique as a Means to the Interpretation of Music, a small study book on violin technique. The book is still available and can be purchased for about $20.00. Rivarde died in relative obscurity (in London) on March 31, 1940, at age 74. The Second World War had begun six months previously.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Ossy Renardy (Oskar Reiss) was an Austrian violinist born (in Vienna) on April 26, 1920. He had the unenviable distinction of having died at a very young age. Many critics (and writers) have said he had a very brilliant career ahead of him – one to rival Bronislaw Huberman, Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Ruggiero Ricci, Mischa Elman, and other top violinists of that time. I don’t know if Paganini ever played his Caprices in public or whether, if he did, he ever played all 24 in a single concert. Renardy did. He may have been the very first to do it. On January 8, 1938, at his Town Hall debut in New York, he played Dvorak’s Sonatina, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol, and Pietro Nardini’s e minor concerto (a very popular work at the time – Pinchas Zukerman has recorded it) in the first half of the program. He then played all 24 Paganini Caprices on the second half. He was 19 years old. The following year, he recorded the Caprices (the version with piano accompaniment), becoming the first violinist to record all 24 Caprices on a single disc (actually, they were issued on two discs.) Seven years later, Ricci put out his first version of all 24 Caprices – without the piano accompaniment – and he later went on to record the Caprices a total of four times – the last version in 1988. Renardy re-recorded the Caprices which again included the piano accompaniment (with a different accompanist) the year he died. Renardy studied with a now-forgotten Russian violin teacher, Theodore Pashkus (1905-1970), but at what age he began is something I don’t know. Pashkus and his wife were successful pedagogues until about 1970. I don’t know if they ever taught at a conservatory or university. Their pupils included Yehudi Menuhin and Ivry Gitlis and their instructional books are still in print. In any case, Renardy is said to have been entirely self-taught (which is possible but hard to believe) prior to meeting Pashkus and made sufficient progress to make his first public appearance at age 11. In October of 1933, he joined a variety show in Merano, Italy. (Merano is about 120 miles southwest of Salzburg, Austria, or about 250 miles from Vienna.) It was then that he changed his name. Another well-known violinist who changed his name was Mischa Mischakoff – three times. In Merano, Renardy played Paganini’s first concerto at the Merano Casino and then took off to tour Italy. He was still only 13 years old. After that, he played in his native Vienna and toured France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Italy. Interestingly, no mention is made in any source I checked about his having toured Germany or Austria. He left the European mainland for England in 1937. He came to the U.S. the same year. He was 17 years old. First, he embarked on a tour of a few central states and then made his New York debut, described above, in 1938. As did many other violinists, Renardy played hundreds of concerts for the U.S. armed services during the Second World War (1941-1945.) As far as I know, he never played in an orchestra. In 1947, he began touring once again, playing with most major orchestras in the U.S., Europe, and Israel. He was 27 years old. In June of 1948, he recorded the Brahms concerto with the Royal Concertgebouw and Charles Munch. Although he recorded about 35 works altogether, he did not record another concerto after this. Here is an audio file of Renardy playing a very familiar work by Wieniawski. His Guarnerius violin - the Carrodus Guarnerius del Gesu of 1743 – is now being played by Richard Tognetti, concertmaster of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. This violin is not to be confused with other Guarnerius violins bearing the same or a very similar name. It is said to be one of the best four or five violins (by any maker) in the world. I do not know how Renardy acquired the violin (in 1949.) Supposedly, it remained un-played for 54 years - between December, 1953 and January, 2007. On December 3, 1953, in the afternoon, Renardy died in an automobile accident while traveling with his accompanist, George Robert, to give a concert in Colorado (USA.) He was 33 years old. George Robert and the Guarnerius survived. Hermilo Novelo (pupil of Louis Persinger and concertmaster of the National Symphony of Mexico) also died in an automobile accident and his accompanist (Violina Stoyanova) was with him at the time as well. His violin survived but went missing after the accident. Stoyanova did not survive.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
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.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Simone Lamsma is a Dutch violinist and teacher born (in Leeuwarden, Netherlands – about 70 miles northeast of Amsterdam) on October 5, 1985. Opinions vary, of course, but I think it is no exaggeration to say she is among the top ten present-day violinists in the world. As has been the case with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, there are few music critics who have resisted the temptation to refer to her striking beauty in their reviews of her performances. From her photograph, you can see why. Lamsma’s recordings have already garnered huge praise. Her tours have included performances with chamber music ensembles around the world. Needless to say, Lamsma has performed with all of the top orchestras in the Netherlands, including the best orchestra in the world – the Royal Concertgebouw. She began her violin studies at age 5 at the Northern College of Music. Soon thereafter, she enrolled at the Sweelink Conservatory in Amsterdam and studied for a while with well-known violin pedagogue Davina van Wely. In 1997, at age 11, she enrolled at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London, England. She also studied at the Royal Academy of Music until 2004, the year she graduated, with Hu Kun in the same city. After that, she began studies with Maurice Hasson at the Royal Academy as well. In addition, Lamsma also participated in master classes with Yehudi Menuhin, Zakhar Bron, Herman Krebbers, Julian Rachlin, and Zvi Zeitlin, among others. By 2006, she had made her recording debut which immediately earned the award for Instrumental and Chamber Disc of the Month from Classic FM magazine. She was 21 years old. She was named an Associate at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011. From various sources I checked, it is evident Lamsma loves violin competitions and has won a number of them beginning at a very young age. Her tours have taken her to China, the U.S., South America, and, of course, throughout Europe. She frequently collaborates with conductor and former concert violinist Jaap van Zweden, one of her many champions. Her U.S. debut was in 2009 in Indianapolis with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Lamsma frequently collaborates with other major artists to perform chamber music. A typical review reads something like this: "… a terrific account of Beethoven's Violin Concerto [was heard] with Simone Lamsma as the sensational and glamorous soloist. Powerful in control, the young Dutch violinist drew silvery meticulousness and burnished tone out of the Stradivarius, but it was her sense of line and phrase that held her audience spellbound.” Another one: “Lamsma’s mix of high ardor and collegial spirit is something to be treasured.” And another: “Her sound is full of energy and refreshing.” Here is a YouTube video of one performance and here is another. Among other violins, she has played a (Ferdinand) Gagliano (1773), a Carlo Tononi (1709), and the Habeneck Strad from 1734, but her current violin is the Chanot Stradivarius (aka the Braga Stradivarius) of 1718 (or 1681 or 1726 – sources differ.) It has been loaned to her by an anonymous benefactor. The violin is reportedly protected by a (Dimitri) Musafia violin case, one of the best violin cases available. The Chanot Stradivarius is rather unique in that it has no corners and has been described as guitar-shaped although it is definitely not guitar-shaped. The Chanot was purchased by Joshua Bell in 1987 and subsequently sold. It is said to have been featured in the 1998 movie The Red Violin.
Photo is courtesy of Denis Ryan Kelly, Jr