Biography

Early years / Patti’s farewell / Viennese triumph / Brahms listens / America 1896 / Paganini’s violin / Marriage / World War I / America 1921 / Europe 1925 / Political tension / Riots in Vienna / Stolen Strad / Palestine / World War II / Liberation

America 1896

After receiving “such astonishing certificates of proficiency from musicians and critics in Europe,” Huberman and his parents sailed from Southhampton to New York on the Spree, arriving on 15 October 1896. The first performance of his 40 concert tour was the next month, so he had four weeks to sightsee and practice. On entering America his declared age of 11 must have raised a few eyebrows. It was soon increased by a year, with one large advertisement referring to him as “A great artist, not a prodigy ... at 12, the greatest living violinist.” The not so young looking Huberman was in fact almost 14.

Huberman debuted in Carnegie Hall on 21st November, playing the Mendelssohn concerto with a symphony orchestra under Seidl, and then a Bach Air and Prelude, Romanza by Wagner, Sarasate Gypsy Airs, and as an encore, Bazzini’s La ronde des Lutin.

Wieniawski student Charles Gregorowitsch, the violinist who Huberman had credited with teaching him “everything that could be learned from a teacher,” had sailed from Southampton on 11th November and was making his own American debut with the American Symphony Orchestra in Chickering Hall on 24th November, playing Wieniawski 2. I’m sure that he would have attended the debut of his most famous student.

The next day the New York Times printed a long and very perceptive review of the concert. The reviewer (who was aware of Huberman’s real age) wrote:

“If a musical hearer … had turned his back to the stage … he would have been greatly interested and impressed by what he heard. For it was a performance … which not only did justice to the suavity of the composition, but also imparted a willfulness and impetuosity … as he could not often have heard before. He could have heard it delivered in a tone which, if not exquisite, was full and clear, and with a complete mastery of its difficulties. His conclusion would have been that some theretofore unknown but very individual violinist was giving his own interpretation, at many points novel, of the familiar classic.
If he had then turned round and looked … it would have seemed too preposterous that the slight child of thirteen, in long hair and a silken blouse, should know and feel and do all that.
The most remarkable point about his playing is not at all its precocity, but its maturity, the magistral and authoritative way in which he presents you with his interpretations to take or to leave – the total absence of anything tentative or conjectural or dubious about them.”

All of the mature Huberman’s trademark qualities were already apparent. The ‘unbeautiful’ tone, the striking individuality and flair, the force of his personality, and the depth of his interpretation. Other papers were equally enthusiastic, with The Sun writing “Huberman is a genius; his movements and looks indicate it, and his playing more surely yet verifies this idea,” and the Press exclaiming “If this child does not burn with the true fires of genius, then genius never existed.” The Evening Post obsered “His performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto would have been marvelous had he been twenty years older,” the double meaning being presumably unintended.

Huberman’s first recital was an afternoon Thanksgiving Day Matinee at Carnegie Hall on 26 November, where he played the Bruch G minor concerto, Wieniawski’s Faust Fantasie, and Chopin’s Romance. This time a critic for the New York Times was not so complimentary, referring to him as about 16 years of age, and writing:

“Bronislaw Huberman, the juvenile violinist, suffers from over-advertising and underdressing. There really is no good reason why Huberman should be advertised as a mature artist, nor is there good ground for dressing him in knee trousers, loose silk shirts, and long hair ... he pleases most by the splendid sonority of his tone, a tone rough and impure yet, but very noble in its majestic breadth ... he has a fine future before him, if he will content himself with being a violinist and drop his present style of dress and advertising.”

Several informal daytime concerts followed at wealthy patrons’ houses, with audiences of about 500. The date of the second Carnegie Hall recital was changed from Saturday 5th December to the following Tuesday due to “numerous requests,” and the program was also changed, with Goldmark’s Concerto being substituted for Raf’s Suite – the other pieces were Chopin’s Romance from the E minor concerto, and Vieuxtemps’ Ballade and Polonaise.

At a series of Sunday night concerts at the Metropolitan Opera House under the conductor Anton Seidl, an attempt was made by the Gerry Society (a New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) to stop “young Huberman” from performing because of his age. Huberman was beyond the Gerry Society age limit, and he was able to keep performing. At one of these January concerts:

“Master Huberman played the ‘Ballade and Polonaise,’ by Vieuxtemps, and the ‘Faust Fantasie,’ by Wieniawski. His wonderful technique and the amount of feeling displayed gained him a shower of applause, and as encores he gave the ‘Träumeri,’ by Schumann, and Sarasate’s Spanish dances.”

On 1st April a concert was given before an enthusiastic audience at the new ballroom of the Waldorf. “Five hundred musicians and lovers of music listened to the youthful player and demanded encores … some of the pieces played by Master Huberman were Spohr’s ‘Gesangscene,’ Raff’s ‘Romanze,’ and Paganini’s ‘Hexentanze.’ ”

After America, a tour of Russia was undertaken in the winter of 1897/98 where Huberman had particular success in the German colony Riga.

15 Nov 1896

21 Nov, 1896

Carnegie Hall, 1895

Huberman, 5 Dec 1896

Anton Seidl, 1895

26 Nov, 1896

20 Dec, 1896

26 March, 1897


Newspaper clipping: New York Times, 27 Nov 1896

Anton Seidl (1850-1898) was born in Budapest, and worked at Bayreuth from 1872 assisting in making the first copy of Der Ring des Nibelungen. In 1876 took part in the first Bayreuth festival, and in 1885 he moved to America, conducting German opera at the Metropolitan. He became the permanent conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 1891, and conducted the premiere of Dvorak's New World Symphony with them at Carnegie Hall in December 1893. Unsurprisingly he disagreed with Nordau's book The Richard Wagner Cult which discussed Wagner and musicial degeneration. You can read Seidl's article on this, A Musician's Retort as well as Nordau's Reply to my Critics.

Anton Seidl Photo is used courtesy of:
Philip H. Ward Collection
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
University of Pennsylvania

Top Photo: Huberman in America, 1896

Huberman photographs by R. Wilhelm, New York, 5 Dec 1896