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

Europe 1925

On returning back to Europe engagements included the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam under Moneaux in September. Huberman continued his political activities, meeting President Masaryk in Prague and Ramsay MacDonald in Vienna and exchanged views with them. In December he once more gave his impressions of America in a series of articles to the Die Neue Freie Presse, concluding that only a United States of Europe could avert another war and allay the danger of bolshevism.

Beethoven’s centenary celebrations in Vienna took place between 26 and 31 March 1927 with the conductors Schalk and Weingartner presiding. Huberman and Casals featured as soloists and also played as a trio with the pianist Ignaz Friedman. For the celebrations in Hamburg and Berlin, a cycle of chamber music was given by Huberman, Schnabel and Piatigorsky. Piatigorsky in chapter 18 of his autobiography Cellist wrote:

“We agreed smoothly upon the programs and dates, and even the question as to how to divide the fees seemed simple, at first. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be in equal parts, but Hubermann and Schnabel were silent. Finally Hubermann suggested that the matter of money should be left to the managers. (Undoubtedly he was certain that if this procedure were adopted he would come out best.) Irritated, Schnabel came with a winning trump.

‘Gentlemen, we waste our time. The fee should be divided into thirty-five equal parts.’

‘Why thirty-five!’ exclaimed Hubermann.

‘It's simple,’said Schnabel. ‘We will pay thirteen works for the piano and strings: three trios, three quartets, three violin sonatas, two viola sonatas, and two cello sonatas-thirty-five parts in all. As all thirteen works are with piano, I should receive thirteen thirty-fifths of the fee. The violin will be minus two cello and two viola sonatas, and will thus get nine thirty-fifths. The cello will get eight thirty-fifths, and the viola five thirty-fifths.” With mouths agape we all extend to counting the notes, in which case I would have come out much worse.’

Within 12 months the stock market crash caused rather more serious financial problems, leading to the political instability that dominanted the next decade.

In December 1928 Huberman began a contract with the Columbia Record Company, making the first ever recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto. His particular affinity with the slavic temperament of this work can be explained by his experiences while touring Russia as a young man. Huberman felt that folk music and folk dance were the basis of musical expression. While in Russia he attended the opera only once, but went to cafes dozens of times where he could “hear peasant musicians and enjoy the authentic national rhythms.”

His interpretation is therefore not the result of “unbridled individualism” or “extravagent egoism.” It is in fact carefully thought out, and Huberman was capable of justifying his interprative decisions. He later wrote:

“In New York some years ago, a young violinist told me he thought I played the last movement of the Tchaikowsky concerto too fast. I had a bet with him. ‘Come with me to a Russian restaurant which has an orchestra,’ I said. ‘If within two hours we do not hear the principal phrase of that last movement, or something very like it, I will pay you ten dollars.’

He agreed. And it was I who received the ten dollars. For I was able to point out that the native players enunciated the theme at exactly the same speed as I had done, though it occurred in music of a completely different sort. The point is that Tchaikowsky had not borrowed the motive directly from folk music. It occurred in his concerto simply because he had steeped himself in the characteristic Russian national melodies. Because I, too, had acquired that melodic scheme as a background, I was able to give his musical thought exactly the shape and expression it required.”

Listen to Huberman play the beginning of third movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto [wma 98k] from this 1928 recording, and judge his tempo for yourself!

Columbia recordings continued with several short pieces, and then a in 1930 a complete recording of the Beethoven Kreutzer sonata with pianist and Polish compatriot Ignaz Friedman. Again, listen to this excerpt from the first movement, and judge the recording for yourself. Kreutzer sonata [wma 171k].

Vienna, June 1924

Vienna, June 1924

c. 1926

Mein Weg zu Paneuropa, Vienna, 1925

c. 1928


Top photo: Studio d´Ora, Vienna, c. 1925

Huberman photos 12 June 1924 by studio d´Ora, Arthur Benda (1885-1969), Vienna