Music lovers all over the world have lost a great artist in the recent death of Bronislaw Huberman at Vevey on Lake Geneva. They would perhaps like to know something of this eminent violinists early life. I am able to tell them about it, as he spent the greater part of his childhood and youth at my grandparents house in Berlin.
My uncle, the late Ludwig Ginsberg, banker, art collector and musician, frequently travelled to Poland in order to inspect his fathers textile factories. One day as he was walking down a ghetto street in Lodz he heard the strains of a violin, so moving, that he could not pass by. After following the sound for some distance he entered a house where, to his amazement, he found a grubby, squinting little boy of about five, playing passionately on a violin.
My uncle Ludwig took the boy, Bronislaw Huberman, back to Berlin with him. There at my grandparents villa he was brought up and educated with their youngest son. At the time Bronislaw came to live in our home it was an artistic centre. Many pictures and drawings adorned the rooms together with a fine collection of sculptures. A string quartet played there every Thursday; my uncle was the cellist, the other players being members of the Royal Opera Orchestra.
Soon my uncle introduced his young protégé to the famous Joseph Joachim, at the time professor at the Royal Music Academy in Berlin, who immediately recognized the boys genius and offered to instruct him.
Uncle Ludwig had a hard struggle with Hubermans parents, who wanted the boy to appear immediately as a child prodigy; they did not mind where he played, a café was good enough so long as the boy earned money, but his teacher and patron both delayed this until the boy had achieved a definite maturity in his art. Then, almost overnight, the shy little boy with the bobbed hair was acclaimed universally as a great and accomplished violinist. The late Queen of Romania, Carmen Sylva, herself a poetess and painter, often invited him to her palace, and made a drawing of him which he presented to my grandmother.
After having stayed with us for a long time he went to Vienna and Paris to complete his general and artistic education, but very often Bronis, as we called him, came back and always stayed with his Vice-mama (foster-mother) as he called her. Whenever we visited our grandmother we used to see little of Bronis, he betrayed his presence only by the sound of his incessant practising which floated down from the top floor. He unwillingly interrupted his playing to come downstairs for meals. But once at the table the shy, reserved boy became a gay and jovial companion who joked with us youngsters and loved to tell humorous stories.
My grandmother often gave childrens parties. My little friends used to giggle when they first saw the not-so-attractive Bronis, but when he played his violin, the complete abandon and devotion reflected on his face, changed their titters to admiration, so much so that in later years they were proud of their childhood acquaintance.
The years rolled by and when the first world-war broke out, Bronis was again in Berlin. Being of Russian-Polish origin he was interned by the Germans. His imprisonment, however, was only short, because the German Crown Princess arrived at the prison and secured his immediate release, taking him back to Berlin in her car. She was a great admirer of his art, never missing one of his concerts and frequently invited him to her palace in Potsdam.
Huberman was in his early thirties at that time and had achieved a world wide reputation. One of the most highly paid artists, he was able to end his familys poverty many years before. He had married a beautiful actress who left him after a short time for a well-known Hungarian conductor. A son was born of this short marriage. Naturally he had many female admirers, but his only real love was his violin. His most treasured instrument was one of Paganinis Stradivari violins, which he had won in a competition. One day the whole musical world was shocked when it was reported that this famous violin had been stolen. After all hope of recovery had been given up the violin was found. This must have been one of the artists happiest days.
In spite of his success he never relaxed. The violinist, Alfred Wittenberg, once told me that they had once spent a holiday together at Norderney, a seaside resort, and that he had enjoyed himself on the beach; I asked him how Bronis liked the sea. He answered laughingly that the nearest Bronis had been to it had been his hotel room where he spent the whole day practising.
When the Nazis came to power Huberman was abroad, but he immediately cancelled all his concerts in Germany. On hearing of this Furtwangler wrote to him in an attempt to persuade him to return, explaining that the new racial edicts did not refer to great artists. Hubermans reply was a blunt refusal. Huberman never returned to Germany, but offered to assist his old friend and patron Ludwig Ginsberg to emigrate. Ginsberg being a sick man and feeling that he had not long to live accepted for his daughter alone.
The last of us to see Bronis was my youngest brother, now a lecturer at the University of Jerusalem. Huberman lived in his house during his stay in the Holy City. In Palestine he did not only play at concerts but also founded the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra which later was honoured to have Toscanini as a guest conductor.
The tremendous ovation Huberman received at the Albert Hall recently where he gave his first post-war concert showed that he had still a multitude of admirers in this country and I hope that some of them will derive some small pleasure from this brief intimate story of this great violinists life.