Arbiter Records 106

Morini in concert

19th century violin concertos: Spohr • Bruch • Wieniawski

Track List

Erica Morini, violin, with Frederic Waldman and Musica Aeterna, recorded live.

  1. Spohr Violin Concerto no. 9 in D minor, op. 55: I
  2. Spohr Violin Concerto no. 9 in D minor, op. 55: II
  3. Spohr Violin Concerto no. 9 in D minor, op. 55: III
  4. Bruch Violin Concerto in G minor: I
  5. Bruch Violin Concerto in G minor: II
  6. Bruch Violin Concerto in G minor: III
  7. Wieniawski Violin Concerto no. 2 in D minor, op. 22: I
  8. Wieniawski Violin Concerto no. 2 in D minor, op. 22: II
  9. Wieniawski Violin Concerto no. 2 in D minor, op. 22: III

In November 1995, The New York Times reported that Erica Morini had passed away at age 91. The loss of Morini represents the end of an age of mythic violinists. Nathan Milstein, after his final appearance with Morini in Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, confided to her: “Erica, we are the last! Only with you do I want to play the double concerto.”

During her final two decades Morini lived reclusively. The obituary described the theft of her Davidoff Stradivarius, yet no mention was made of the plunder of all her scores, letters, photos, and much else. While a Stradivarius cannot remain anonymous for long, the fate of her invaluable music (with fingerings and bow marks), recordings, and her correspondence is even more distressing . Although some items might eventually be listed in autograph dealer catalogs, the theft and breaking up of the Morini archive leaves tragic consequences. It is difficult to reconcile that, though alive until recently, she has become a lost and distant figure, for most of her close friends, relatives, and colleagues are no longer with us. Any evidence of her art and life is invaluable.

Born in Vienna on 5 January, 1904, Erica Morini was fortunate in belonging to a highly musical family. Her father, Oscar Morini, originally from Trieste, performed in a Viennese orchestra at age 11 and was a Kapellmeister before becoming a noted violin teacher. As Erica Morini’s sisters Stella and Alice were respectively a violinist and a pianist, chamber music was part of daily life. The three-year-old Erica would sit atop her father’s grand piano while he coached students; within a few months she began correcting their intonation errors. After two years of study with her father she performed before the emperor who presented her with a life-sized doll in peasant costume. She next appeared with an orchestra led by the Bruckner disciple Franz Schalk.

At age seven, Morini began studies with the eminent pedagogue Otakar Sevcik (1852-1934), whose pupils included Jan Kubelik, Paul Kochanski, and Wolfgang Schneiderhan. Sevcik later became a controversial figure due to his violin method with its heavy emphasis on semitones: “The beginner experiences no difficulty in finding the intervals,” he wrote, “because all the stoppings are the same on each string and this materially helps him in acquiring pure intonation.” Such a mechanical approach drew ire from other distinguished pedagogues. On 16 October, 1931, the eminent violinist and teacher Carl Flesch confided to his diary his outrage over Sevcik’s doings:

“This man, by now 80 years old, is one of the most striking examples of artistic decadence. He started as a relatively young man in the 1880s to create a new basis for the study of violin technique, to ‘rationalise’ it – i.e. , save time and energy – and this with indubitable success.

“During the past 20 years, however, he began to adopt methods that were increasingly stupid. He made pupils play passages backwards, omitted slow movements of concertos as technically uninteresting, and dissected compositions into minute parts of 2-4 notes at a time, which he made his pupils repeat again and again as finger exercises – all this a symptom of senile dementia.

“Nevertheless, pupils came to him in droves and delighted in letting him ruin them for life. . . The harm caused by this man to those who entrusted themselves to his guidance cries out to heaven. As a theorist, on the other hand, he has created exercises of lasting value.” (Carl F. Flesch. ‘And do you also play the violin?’ Toccata Press, 1990)

Morini concluded her training with Sevcik before his teaching became unbalanced. According to violist Lotte Bamberger, Morini later studied in Vienna with Rosa Hochmann, who worked on bowing, phrasing, and diligently furthered her pupils’ musicality. Morini told an interviewer oince that Hochmann “studied all three of Max Bruch’s [violin] concertos with Burch himself, so I may safely say I play the G minor according to the direct Bruch tradition.” Morini made successful debuts with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras in 1916, both under Arthur Nikisch’s direction. Sevcik’s regimen became a life-long discipline for her as she maintained an extremely high level of technique. Morini rigorously practiced technique and repertoire five to six hours daily, enabling her to play into her late sixties without any decline from her perfectionist standards.

Regrettably, this writer spoke to Morini only once, and by phone, on the subject of the pianist Ignaz Friedman, . She vividly recalled playing with him in 1928, both in London and traveling with him for a joint recital in Warsaw. When Friedman and Morini performed Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata in London, a local critic commented on the contrasts of this duo:

“Friedman is a solidly built, grey-haired man with a great brow, and Morini is young, beautiful, dark-skinned, and smiling. Friedman’s appearance suggests Wall-street (though his manner suggests the artist) while Morini suggests a blue sky and the Bay of Naples. Morini, who had as much technical ability as Friedman, was wild, roguish, melodious and charming in her playing.”

Friedman and Morini carefully rehearsed to arrive at a well-defined conception of the Sonata: “He was very accepting with me,” Morini recalled. Their concert was followed by a dinner reception in their honor, hosted by Lady Quarrie, an aristocrat who had recently received an unexpected humiliation from the pianist Vladimir de Pachmann at his concert. From backstage, Pachmann noticed her in the front row and told his manager Cesco Pallottelli that he would not perform if she sat within view. Pallottelli hurriedly rushed to inform Lady Quarrie that the artist had a ‘phobia’ for the red color of her dress and would not be able to concentrate on his performance. Pallottelli obligingly invited Quarrie to join him in his box. Moments later, a relieved Pachmann emerged and silenced the applause: “Did you see that lady sitting there?” pointing to the now-empty seat. “Thank God she is gone. I could not play with her there. She was the ugliest woman I ever saw. Uglier than a monkey!”

Before the last movement of the Beethoven Sonata, Friedman leaned over and whispered to Morini while she tuned up: “Listen, let’s play it a little quicker so we can eat sooner.” Morini continued: “Then he pointed out Lady Quarrie who sat in one of the first rows. She had on a blue dress, green shawl, red hat, and was not good looking. I started to laugh, then Friedman began laughing. The public saw us and began laughing, not knowing why.”

Morini was an integral member of European musical life. The first collaboration between the conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and Morini occurred with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Concerto (6 October, 1927). A year later they performed Mozart’s A-major Violin Concerto in Berlin, (a work that will appear on an upcoming Arbiter disc of Morini, with Frederic Waldman conducting the Musica Aeterna Orchestra). Their final effort took place in 1931 with the Berlin Philharmonic in the Glazunov Concerto. As Morini was Jewish, her appearances in Germany ceased after 1933. When Morini and Furtwangler met after the war, the tall conductor embraced her in tears, crying on her shoulder: “I was never a Nazi!” We now know that he personally saved the lives of nearly 100 Jewish musicians.

Based in the United States during wartime, Morini appeared with all the major orchestras, and especially enjoyed working with Bruno Walter, who deeply admired her art. She made it a point of reviving the rarely heard 9th Concerto by Spohr, which Morini never recorded commercially. In later years Morini’s orchestral engagements decreased. The Wieniawski heard on this disc is one of her final orchestral appearances.

Morini occasionally taught. She once told an interviewer: “As a young girl I did not want to teach, only to play. One day, a now famous colleague [Jascha Heifetz] came to me and said: ‘Erica, I have a great problem. I cannot learn to play staccato as I would like to. You do it wonderfully. Would you let me in on your secret?’ I was embarrassed. For the first time in my life I had the feeling that playing is not everything, that I have a responsibility and that I should not refuse my help to those of my colleagues who needed my advice. But I was also embarrassed for another reason: I knew how to play staccato, but I had no idea how to teach it. A new field opened up before me. My first experience in it was helpful to both of us: in teaching him how to play staccato, I learned how to teach staccato. And so it went with all my pupils. I learn from every one. And the most important thing I have learned is that you have to teach everyone differently.”

In later years, Morini developed angina and other heart ailments. Her doctors feared she would die on stage, as Morini insisted on playing without restraint. Her brother, Frank Morini, often hid medicine in his palm while greeting her backstage in the presence of others. Her final appearance came in 1976, after many years of absence from public performance. Her partner, the pianist Leon Pommers, sensed a tragic undercurrent in her farewell program, which included the Beethoven “Spring” and Brahms D-minor sonatas. Despite the repeated urgings of Pommers that Morini continue playing chamber music at home, it is believed that she left her violin untouched from that day on. Morini later reflected with bitterness on how her career and recognition had been thwarted by the narrow-mindedness of music managers who would not accept or fully back a woman artist capable of equaling or surpassing her male colleagues. “No one wants women violinists.”

The performances heard on this disc reveal how the presence of an audience inspired Morini. As these concertos have now become rarities, as they are technically demanding and require a stylistic affinity mostly lacking today, we can appreciate an artistry that speaks this deep musical language and, transcending all difficulties, comes forth with impassioned abandon and a freely flowing lyrical simplicity. Source material:

One day, while visiting Frederic Waldman when he was home and not at nearby Columbia University studying Indian architecture, the 91-year-old ‘retired’ conductor mentioned that a pupil of his once recorded some of his performances from the 1960s. On his office shelves we found dozens of dusty acetate discs of his Musica Aeterna concerts, privately made. Among the works were these performances by Erica Morini. It was a thrill to find the discs, as Morini had recorded neither the Spohr nor Wieniawski concertos. Thanks to the kind permission of Dr. Waldman’s widow Rachel Aubrey and Frank Morini, their performances can be heard again. As these delicate, worn discs were the only sources of those performances, Seth Winner spent more than 20 hours to alleviate sonic defects. Again, our gratitude to Seth Winner, Dr. Aubrey, Frank Morini, Lotte Bamberger and Leon Pommers for their invaluable assistance. In months to come, Arbiter will publish additional performances by Erica Morini with Dr. Waldman.

©Allan Evans, 1997