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

Early years

Bronislaw Huberman was born in Czestochowa, Poland on 19 December, 1882. His father Jacob, worked as a modest clerk in a lawyer’s office, his ungovernable temper having lost him his original teaching position. Temperament and musicality ran in the family – Huberman’s father had been an amateur violinist, and although he had given up because of lack of progress, he hoped that one of his sons would become a musician. This dream seemed to be realised in young Bronislaw, the eldest of three brothers, who at the age of 4 could sing in tune, and desperately wanted an accordion for his birthday. One evening at a family house-concert, a violinist noticed that Huberman’s hands had an extraordinary stretch, and so at the age of 6, Huberman was bought a violin and started lessons. Within a year he gave his first public appearance, a benefit concert for the poor where he played Spohr’s Second Violin Concerto. He had lessons for a short time from Michalowicz and Rosen in Warsaw, and also studied for three months with the well known teacher Isidor Lotto at the Warsaw Conservatory. Huberman combined this study with frequent public appearances, and although some felt that it was the financial aspect of concertising that motivated his parents, Huberman later felt that these appearances had been an immense education to him.

He had made exceptional progress, but there were no great teachers in Warsaw and friends advised the family to send him to the great pedagogue Joseph Joachim in Berlin. The family was poor though, and in order to do this, they had to save for a whole year, even selling some of the household furniture. In June 1892 they left for Germany. It was a brave as well as expensive decision. If they stayed out of Poland for more than a year, Huberman’s father would lose his job as advocate. The family was full of hopes, but scarcely had they arrived in Berlin they struck a serious problem. There had been such a spate of recent ‘enfants prodiges’ that Joachim had become totally sick of them. Any request for an interview met with stubborn refusal.

In the end Huberman’s father resorted to a trick, and made an appointment in his professional capacity as advocate, without mentioning the purpose of his visit. Joachim, assuming the meeting was regarding a judicial matter, was welcoming and polite, but when he saw young Bronislaw hiding behind his father and holding a violin case he became furious and shouted “Another ‘enfant prodige’, ah non, ah non!! I have had more than enough of them, I do not want to know any more of them. Go away, go away!” It was a terrible moment, but after much begging and imploring the Maestro gave in, and told the young boy harshly “Play!” Huberman began to play a Nocturne by Chopin. With the first strokes of the bow, Joachim relaxed and became more attentive … at the end of the piece he ran to embrace Huberman, telling him that he would be one of his dearest pupils, and thanking his father for bringing him … to the father it sounded like “the words of a God.”

Joachim immediately gave a letter of recommendation, writing:

“I state with pleasure that the 9 year old Huberman from Warsaw possesses a truly remarkable musical talent. In all my life I have hardly ever encountered such a promising, precocious musical development on the violin.”

“Mit Vergnügen spreche ich es aus, dass der neunjährige Hubermann aus Warschau ein ganz hervorragendes, musikalisches Talent besitzt. Mir ist kaum in Leben eine so viel versprechende, frühzeitige Entwicklung auf der Violine vorgekommen.”

On the strength of this testimony, a series of concerts in different health spas throughout Germany and Austria were arranged, and Huberman was able to earn some money for his family during the summer, before returning to Berlin to commence his studies. At one of these concerts in October, Anton Rubinstein wrote “Only a genius plays like that.”

It was at this stage, when Huberman was almost 10, that his father gave up work in order to build up his son’s career. The financial support of the whole family fell onto the shoulders of the young boy; a role that he took very seriously, and that was to cause him much stress and anxiety in later years.

Warsaw 1889

Joseph Joachim, c. 1892

Huberman aged 10, 1892

Joachim concert, Grosser Musikvereins-saal, 11 Feb 1889

Joachim's testimonial, Berlin, 24 June 1892

Top Photo: Huberman aged 6 (1888)

Joachim photo is a woodburytype by W & D Downey, London, 3 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches.

Thanks to Wolfgang Wendel who sent me the 1889 photograph..