You should not have played the cadenza so beautifully.
–Johannes Brahms to Huberman, 29 I 1896
- Brahms Violin and Piano Sonata in G, op. 78: I
- Brahms Violin and Piano Sonata in G, op. 78: II
- Brahms Violin and Piano Sonata in G, op. 78: III
- Bach Partita in D minor: Allemande
- Bach Partita in D minor: Courante
- Bach Partita in D minor: Sarabande
- Bach Partita in D minor: Gigue
- Bach Partita in D minor: Chaconne
- Schubert Phantasie for violin and piano
- Sarasate Romanza andaluza
Learn from the past, enjoy the present, work for the future. -Bronislaw Huberman
A vital culture once thrived in middle Europe. Its multi-lingual citizens had endured life under Russian Tsars, Austrian and German emperors, Turkish sultans, and their own equally horrid Nationalists. The writer Gregor von Rezzori came from Czernowitz, Austria, or Cernauti under Romania, then Cernovtsy in the Soviet Union and now part of an independent Ukraine. The languages used locally included German, Romanian, the tongue of the Huzuls, Armenian, Yiddish, Ladino, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Turkish, Polish, and Gypsy dialects. Rezzori told this writer about a Huberman recital in his native city:
“The Concert Hall had rather large entrance doors on the sides which led out onto the street. For Huberman’s concert there came a fantastically snobbish public in white gloves made up of officers and functionaries. They scarcely clapped with their white gloved hands. After the first part, the doors swung open and they swarmed out for cigarettes. The hall filled again for the second half and Huberman played to a storm of applause; the Jews loitering outside had come in!”
Bronislaw Huberman was acclaimed during his fifty-year career as one of the most musical and original violinists. His popularity was at its strongest in Czernowitz, throughout Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Russia. He repeatedly toured throughout the entire world. Under Fascism and Communism, the culture he embodied collapsed and now barely exists. The few recordings made by Huberman reveal an art unimaginable in our time. During his life, Huberman’s sincere and personal style created polemics, which were discussed in a toned down manner in Carl Flesch’s autobiography. (For a detailed account see his son’s book: Carl F. Flesch. ‘And do you also play the violin?’, Toccata Press, 1990; and in German as ‘Und Spielst du auch Geiger?’, Atlantis Verlag, 1990).
Huberman’s life began on December 19, 1882, in Czestochowa, Poland, then under Russian rule. His parents brought him to the Warsaw Conservatory at age six, where he was instructed by Michalowicz, Rosen, and Isidor Lotto. After one year of study he capably performed in public Spohr’s second concerto and played with a string quartet. The young Huberman had the support of a Berlin patron to study with Gregorovitch under Joseph Joachim’s supervision. His first major recital took place in 1892 at age ten in Vienna, after which he was commanded to perform for Emperor Franz Josef, who had no ear for music. Huberman fondly remembered the occasion and the valuable violin presented to him afterwards by the Emperor.
In 1893 Huberman began touring in Holland, Belgium, France, England, and Germany. Adelina Patti heard his 1894 London performance and engaged him to appear with her at the singer’s Vienna farewell concert. According to Boris Schwarz:
“This memorable event took place on January 21, 1895. The twelve-year-old Huberman, as assisting artist, played the first movement of Mendelssohn’s concerto, with Hellmesberger, Jr., conducting the orchestra. The success was ‘thunderous, a hurricane.’ The boy had to play an encore, Bach’s Prelude in E for violin solo. Madame Patti was furious and threatened to leave the hall if the boy were permitted to play any more! The following day, one of Vienna’s most respected critics wrote, ‘We had come to say farewell to a setting star – and we had the joy to greet a rising star’.”
A solo recital one week later provoked a similar reaction, and Huberman had to follow it with nine sold-out appearances. In the 1896 season, Huberman gave four concerts, beginning in January with Brahms’s concerto. The composer had been alerted to the news that a thirteen-year-old boy was to perform his violin concerto; Brahms decided to attend, possibly to reprimand the boy for daring to take on such a demanding work. According to Brahms’s biographer Kalbeck:
“As soon as Brahms heard the sound of the violin, he pricked up his ears, during the Andante he wiped his eyes, and after the Finale he went into the green room, embraced the young fellow, and stroked his cheeks. When Huberman complained that the public applauded after the cadenza, breaking into the lovely Cantilena, Brahms replied, ‘You should not have played the cadenza so beautifully.’ ”
Brahms later visited Huberman at home and eagerly examined Huberman’s stamp collection. According to Schwarz, Brahms intended to compose a fantasy for him (“if I have any fantasy left”) but died the following year without having begun the score. As seen on the silhouette reproduced in this booklet, Hanslick and many eminent musicians were at the concert, including Bruckner and Mahler. Hanslick wrote “In the face of such transcendent genius, criticism as such ceases.” Karl Goldmark wrote in Huberman’s autograph album: “Now I begin to believe in the wonders of the Bible.” Huberman became identified with the Brahms Concerto, performing it under Arthur Nikisch in Berlin at a 1913 Bach-Beethoven-Brahms festival, and often with Bruno Walter. The conductor Joseph Hellmesberger termed this rather “modern” concerto as the violin against the orchestra, to which Huberman added, “but the violin wins.”
Touring continued until Huberman took a four-year absence starting in 1897. In 1902 he was invited to play on Paganini’s Guarnerius del Gesu in Genoa. According to Schwarz: “The violin sounded husky and ‘dead’ on the G- and D- strings, when Huberman first tried it; replacing the strings improved the G but not the D. The two upper strings sounded brilliant. The bridge of the violin was cut rather low and round, with the strings lying close to the fingerboard, inhibiting the vibration, and Huberman, who played with his own bow, took time to get used to it. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm of the invited audience was boundless.”
Throughout his career, Huberman maintained Joachim’s practice of offering serious programs. He gave Beethoven sonata evenings with Liszt pupils Eugen D’Albert and Frederic Lamond. The tense political climate after the First World War furthered Huberman’s involvement with the Pan-Europa movement; he published articles such as Mein Weg Zu Pan-Europa and gave lectures on its behalf. With the Nazi victory in Germany’s 1933 elections, Huberman immediately cancelled all of his appearances there and wrote an open letter to Furtwangler, which was reprinted internationally. In it Huberman stated:
“The question of a more or less inspired interpretation of a violin concerto is only one of many aspects. . . which obscures the essential problem. . . The issues are the most basic preconditions of our European culture: the freedom of the personality and its unconditional self-responsibility, liberated of all chains of caste and race.”
Worsening anti-Semitism and the spread of Fascism throughout Europe prompted an open letter to the Manchester Guardian (March 7, 1936), in which Huberman wrote:
“Before the whole world I accuse you, German intellectuals, you non-Nazis, as those truly guilty of all these Nazi crimes, all this lamentable breakdown of a great people. It is not the first time in history that the gutter has reached out for power, but it remained for the German intellectuals to assist the gutter to achieve success.”
Huberman had the uncanny foresight to take action against the grave danger awaiting Jews, musicians, and the continuity of European culture. He resigned from a professorship at the Vienna Academy in order to devote his efforts to creating the Palestine Symphony, which would employ and offer safety to musicians dismissed from Europe’s prominent orchestras by Nazi racial decrees. Huberman risked his savings, singlehandedly recruited the musicians, found backers and overcame a hostile, complex British bureaucracy which, through Huberman’s efforts, enabled musicians to emigrate and establish a new orchestra in Palestine. Huberman found an ally in Arturo Toscanini, who despised Fascism. Toscanini eagerly rehearsed and led the inaugural concerts, beginning on 26 December, 1936. According to Schwarz, “Huberman did not appear as soloist with the orchestra until 1938, keeping modestly in the background. Ultimately, his faith and vision were fully vindicated: today the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is considered one of the finest ensembles in the world.” Huberman later reflected with a smile, “I had a great helper in Mr. Hitler. He furnished me with the cream of Central Europe’s orchestras.”
In October of 1937, Huberman survived a plane crash in Sumatra, though injuring his hands. His recovery was slow but complete: Huberman wrote to Georg Szell that the violin became for him “an orthopedic rather than a musical instrument.” Huberman remained in the United States during the Second World War. As some of his American concerts were broadcasted we were able to compile on this disc all of Huberman’s extant live performances without orchestra (except his arrangement of Chopin’s Waltz op.64, no.2, which we will publish in the future). At his New York recitals, Huberman programmed works by Szymanowski, the long and rarely heard Sonata Epica by Medtner, and appeared with a conductorless chamber orchestra in Bach’s E major concerto. No commercial recordings were made during his last decade. Until the discovery and compilation of these performances, one could only imagine his interpretive art in these otherwise unrecorded works. Note the fortunate similarity of this disc to a solo recital Huberman gave in New York on October 31, 1944, with Boris Roubakine: Beethoven: Sonata in C minor, Op.30, no.2 Bach: Adagio and Fugue from the unaccompanied Sonata in G minor ? Brahms: Sonata in G, Op. 78 Schubert/Huberman: Two pieces Brahms/Joachim: Hungarian Dances [selections]
Huberman’s health began to fail, and he died in 1947 at his home near Vevey, Switzerland in his 65th year.
Unlike many celebrity violinists, Huberman musically interacted with his pianists and encouraged them to play as equals. Huberman’s plastic use of rhythm and phrasing is well matched by Boris Roubakine, who supports him at all times and provides a steady beat while Huberman soars freely. Roubakine (9 May 1908, Clarens- 30 April 1974, Calgary) was the Swiss-born son of Nicholas Roubakine, a Russian novelist. He grew up in Clarens while Stravinsky lived there (and where he composed Le Sacre du Printemps. Roubakine’s advanced musical studies took place in Paris at Alfred Cortot’s Ecole Normale de Musique where he was taught piano by Paul Loyonnet, had lessons with Paul Dukas for composition and piano literature with Nadia Boulanger. He partnered Huberman from 1939 until 1946. Roubakine moved to Canada in 1949 and taught at the University of Toronto; after 1957 he headed the piano department at the Banff School of Fine Arts. He was also an accomplished landscape photographer. His outstanding playing makes one regret that no other examples of his art have been published.
Fifty years after Huberman’s death, there were few people alive who knew or remember Huberman. How fortunate that the distinguished violinist Felix Galimir, (86 years old in November 1996), is able to describe a colleague who played a crucial role during his early career. “Huberman was adored by the Viennese, he could do no wrong.” Galimir attended many of Huberman’s four to six annual concerts. Before the Second World War, Huberman’s pianists were Jakob Gimpel and Siegfried Schulze. The first impression Galimir had of Huberman’s playing was his wide vibrato, which impressed most listeners as exaggerated. His use of sliding was quite distinct and even then was considered an archaic expressive device. “But it fitted Huberman. It is not exaggerated. It fits him”. Galimir heard Huberman play Beethoven’s C-minor sonata, yet remembers best the Op. 47 “Kreutzer”, which he heard Huberman play several times. Once Huberman tried it with a bow fitted with wire bowhair. As the sonata begins with vigorous unaccompanied arpeggios, it seemed a harsh opening. When a bow string snapped, Huberman struggled to tear it off. He was able to continue only when a locksmith arrived with pliers.
Huberman’s Bach was unusual. Galimir recalled how he articluated the subject of the A minor unaccompanied Fugue with detached, accented spiccato. Huberman’s Brahms was another matter: “The performances he gave of the Violin Concerto were fantastic! I still hear certain things impregnated in my memory of sounds; a very strong influence – idiosyncratic but personal.
“He didn’t play much contemporary music. But his Szymanowski was wonderful. There were all kinds of sounds which he created – not violin sounds.” Galimir vividly recalls how Huberman brought forth strange timbres that sounded unusual on a violin in order to capture the spirit of the music.
Huberman once rehearsed the Chausson chamber concerto with Galimir’s string quartet and a pianist. As he didn’t like the piece, Huberman afterwards decided against their performing it. Galimir’s next personal encounter proved to be critical. Galimir had been hired as a member by the Vienna Philharmonic in 1936. “When the lights went down, just before the conductor raised his baton, the first clarinetist called out in a voice that could be heard throughout the theater ‘Galimir, have you eaten your matzos today?’ You can imagine my outrage. When the management summarily dismissed me for the following season, I wrote to Felix Weingartner, the artistic director. He replied that he regretfully couldn’t keep me there, owing to circumstances beyond his control.” When Galimir next met Huberman and discussed the situation, Huberman told him, “Don’t be a fool. Don’t stay here a day longer. Come with me to Palestine.” He also asked Galimir’s sisters, who with their brother comprised the Galimir Quartet, to accept orchestral positions. Their quartet had given the premiere of Berg’s Lyric Suite in Vienna. Galimir recalls the panic and despair that broke out in Israel when news arrived by shortwave radio of the Austrian anschluss.
Galimir eventually became a major performer of chamber music, a vital teacher at major conservatories, coach, conductor and presence at the Marlboro Music Festival; he is a mentor to countless string players and other instrumentalists. Had it not been for Huberman’s efforts to rescue musicians like Galimir, our international music life would have been drastically impoverished.
When Galimir left Palestine to settle in New York and play with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony, he met with Huberman on occasion. Huberman once teamed up with Galimir and two others to play through quartets in private. While Galimir did not like Huberman’s approach to ensemble playing he always found it interesting.
Which brings us to a schism in violin playing that occurred at the beginning of this century. Before the advent of Heifetz and other prominent Auer pupils, eminent violinists did not always aim for a beautiful, silken tone. Galimir views Huberman as belonging to an earlier age, though not to the extent of Arnold Rose and his quartet, whom he heard on many occasions, and always with the same peculiar experience:
“The first quartet they would play sounded gritty, rough. With the second you became used to it. The third won you over. It was like this every time. Rose had strength and conviction. No matter what, whenever you left the concert hall, you felt: ‘That’s the way I want to play.'” Galimir recalls a concert given “by my brother-in-law, Louis Krasner, of the premiere of Berg’s Violin Concerto. The Vienna Philharmonic also played Brahms’s First Symphony. Ros=E9 the concertmaster was past seventy then and his solo had none of the roughness but an extraordinary beauty.
“But Huberman and the way he played the violin was entirely different from any violinist. He was a technical wizard, with a fantastic intonation and facility. When he played [Sarasate’s] Carmen Fantasy, it had incredible virtuosity. One didn’t expect these things from him. He has impregnated himself in you. You can’t get rid of that sound.”
* * * * * * * *
Huberman’s recordings consisted of concertos, short pieces and just one substantial sonata, Beethoven’s “Kreutzer”, op.47, recorded twice. The second version, with Ignaz Friedman is an important document of their rare collaboration, which occurred only once before, at the 1927 Beethoven Centenary in Vienna (photos of their rehearsal and the concert program are reproduced in this booklet). When the artists planned to record the “Kreutzer” in 1930, Huberman wrote to Friedman:
“How does it stand with rehearsals? We have to make the thing into a masterpiece. This can only come about, even with two or so different personalities as we are, with your musical feelings (and not only the human ones – that is always there), which should grow together. This cannot happen with single records. The process must be spiritually digested through several nights.”
The “Kreutzer” is no longer the sole sonata recorded by Huberman. With the discovery of the Brahms and a new transfer made of the Schubert and Bach from their original sources, we gain a fuller idea of his art. The search for and restoration of Huberman’s live performances spanned many years. The Brahms and Schubert had been recorded from broadcasts on to fragile glass-based acetate discs by a collector. It is fortunate that the discs were copied to tape in the 1960’s, for their condition has since deteriorated. Hours were spent establishing the correct pitch, as each side progressively became a full tone sharper. The Bach survives on a lacquer copy of a missing original disc. Several sides were heavily warped and had to rest under weights for nearly seven years to become playable. At last we may hear Huberman’s art in a way that approximates his recital programs and documents his playing during a time when he was shamefully neglected by recording companies.
Allan Evans ©1996