Strad Magazine 1932

Huberman was interviewed by Arthur Herman for the February 1932 issue of Strad magazine. He later said that he very much appreciated this biographical article. .

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Bronislav Huberman.

By Arthur Herman.

Bronislav Huberman, one of the towering musical personalities of our time, was born in the little Polish town of Czenstochaus, on December 19th, 1882. He began to study the violin at the age of six, his early instructors begin Milhalowicz, Rosen and Lotto. His father was a barrister of moderate means who left no sacrifice untried in order to give the boy’s talent free room for unfoldment. The glamorous teacher of that period was Joseph Joachim in Berlin, and so Bronislav, at the age of nine, was brought to the master for instruction.

Dismayed to find himself more often taught by Joachim’s pupil, Markees, than by Joachim himself, the young Huberman studied at the same time in secret with Grigorovitch. It is to Grigorovitch that he attributes whatever he may have learned from teachers generally. Before eight months had passed, Bronislav had fled from Berlin, first to Heermann in Frankfort, then to Marsick in Paris. Flight from the Olympian Joachim? None could understand. It is only now that Huberman reveals how stifling to him was the atmosphere of pedantic academicism then infesting Berlin, how galling were the chains of dusty scholasticism to a nature longing for individualistic expression. For Joachim, the unparalleled interpreter of the classics, Huberman has only the most affectionate reverence; his strictures are directed solely against the blight of pedantry under which the musical Berlin of that era appeared to live.

After a brief interlude with Heermann and Marsick, there followed the beginning of that concertising career that has carried Huberman to the pinnacle upon which he stands to-day. He played in Holland and Belgium, in Paris, London and Berlin. Finally, in Vienna, came the moment that sealed his renown for ever. In January, 1895, he appeared in concert with Adelina Patti. The Viennese thereafter could not have enough of him; he was forced to give twelve successive recitals to sold-out houses. Recently (November 14th, 1931), nearly thirty-seven years afterwards, the Viennese proved that time had only fortified their loyalty; they filled the concert-house to overflowing and acclaimed him for the truth, the beauty and the purity of his art. Among other compositions, he performed the Brahms Concerto, that concerto which, at the age of thirteen, he had played before Brahms himself with such astounding virtuosity and maturity as to bring tears to the eyes of the great composer.

These, in brief, are the facts which form the history of the outer man. What of the inner Huberman, his artistic ideals, his vision of life? Much is revealed by his adoration of Beethoven, whose works he performs with tender love and profound understanding. He hears in Beethoven’s music the accents of humanity itself speaking; it is music that goes through and beyond mere artifice, through and beyond art itself, so as to become a sublimated embodiment of mankind and of the relations between man and man. These are the values that Huberman himself demands impatiently of all art. After Beethoven, Brahms speaks to him next intimately; for he sees in Brahms a synthesis of the human and the transfigured sensual, followed often by a conscious renunciation of impulsive longings, though not as disavowal but as resignation, expiation and forgiveness. Bach’s music is to Huberman lofty but distant, symbolizing the relationship of man with God.

Huberman will not admit that the interpretative artist plays only a passive mediatory role. On the contrary, there are two aspects in which he participates in a creative process. First, in his reproduction of a musical work, he must make the listener feel the artist’s experience of the moment. Secondly, he must make the listener aware of the inner storms and birth-pangs which buffeted the composer in the act of creation. The reproducing artist, however, is obligated to a sacred respect for the intentions of the composer, which he may deduce from a thousand indicia, large and small, outer and inner, such as the tempo marks, the harmonization and the orchestration. Huberman perceives in every tiny change of modulation the search of the composer after new diction and new articulation. He withdraws the whole problem of rubato playing from the sphere of caprice or mood and makes it dependent solely upon the character of a composition in respect of the individual turns of expression. Huberman maintains that one must always accentuate the composer’s intentions and not weaken or level them as do many musicians who are either timid or emotionally poverty-stricken. He seeks the balance between a styleless virtuosity and a meaningless austerity. The true touchstone is emotion; reason, intelligence, display and analysis must assume secondary roles.

Nothing is more interesting and characteristic than the manner in which Huberman approaches a new work for his repertoire. He studies it for a comparatively long time, less by consciously busying himself with it than by permitting it to seep into and mature within his subconsciousness. No matter how thorough his theoretical understanding of the new composition may be, he will never invest it with artificial attributes of emotion but will wait until the day when the emotion becomes stronger than himself and takes control. “I must live the piece before I can play it beautifully,” he said. “That moment may come when I am playing it upon the stage for the first, the fifth or the tenth time; but if it does not come, I discard the composition, no matter what pains its mastery may have cost me.” In this, as in every phase of his art, Huberman discloses his austere, uncompromising integrity.

A new aspect of the man has come to light during the last few years, though we are justified by the consistent idealism of his personality in calling it a new-old aspect. This is his almost mystic absorption in the movement for a Pan-Europa. The following incident will illustrate the measure of his devotion to it.

Recently, in Budapest, Huberman had occasion to feature the Suite for violin and piano by the Russian, Sergei Taneiev (1856-1915). He prefaced his playing by the following remarks to a crowded concert-hall: “The composition of Taneiev that you are now about to hear is, in my opinion, truly significant music – powerful, original, romantic. It is quite a different sort of romanticism from that of Tchaikovsky, though a certain Russian romanticism is present both here and in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The Taneiev Suite is built upon the mighty up-beat chord with which the work begins. The marvelous thing is that each movement if emotionally an independent composition and yet fits into the whole with wondrous consonance. It is as if the powerful, reconciling, transcendental spirit of music, in this case the spirit of Taneiev, hovered over the emotional connection of the individual parts.” Then Huberman smiled and made a broad, unifying gesture. “It is,” he continued, “as if a lofty, reconciling spirit were seeking to unite all the listeners; the work you are about to hear is therefore like Pan-Europa.”

There followed applause, thunderous, incessant. Huberman was surprised. Hungary was never before known to be favourable to the Pan-European idea. Was this merely a tribute to a great artist, a smiling indulgence of his “hobby” in devoting himself heart and soul to the ideal of Pan-Europa? Or were the Hungarians becoming receptive to the thought itself? Huberman did not seem to know, though he said he would be happy if only a part of the applause was intended for the movement for a European Union, because this Union meant “the salvation of our culture, of our souls, of all the things that really matter.”

It is impossible to doubt the sincerity of Huberman’s consecration to the concept of Pan-Europa. In recent years, he has given generously of his time, his means and his spirit to a furtherance of the movement. What has he to gain by a pretence of devotion? His place as an artist and his firm hold upon the masses have been assured for decades; no more glamour is to be won by a false assumption of idealism. It would be unworthy to look for frivolous or questionable motives in conduct so deeply thought out and felt, conduct so utterly consistent with whatever we know of his intellectual and spiritual life in the past. It should be clear now why Beethoven is the sublime object of his veneration, that Beethoven whose music rarely left off proclaiming with poignant ecstasy: “Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!” . . . If Huberman has given to Pan-Europa, he has also received from it. No man can offer himself selflessly to a humanitarian ideal without drawing from it a more grandiose vision of life, a heightening of his spiritual processes.

In a letter to Madame Von Meck, Tchaikovsky once had this to say about the meaning of music: “Music is indeed the most beautiful of all Heaven’s gifts to humanity wandering in the darkness. Alone it calms, enlightens, and stills our souls. It is not the straw to which the drowning man clings; but a true friend, refuge and comforter, for whose sake life is worth living.” Bronislav Huberman, whose violin sings the lonely and tormented accents of the Russian master as few in our time, would find in these words his own approach to his art. Humanity wandering in the darkness. He, like Tchaikovsky, views in such terms the drama of mankind. “There is,” he has said, “nothing higher, more conclusive, more interesting, more gripping and more profound than man with his tragic destiny.” It is because his playing is charged with this awareness that Huberman has been able to make so universal an appeal.

The readers of THE STRAD will be interested to know that Huberman possesses an outstanding Stradivari (1713), an arresting Joseph (1734), and five Tourte bows. He purchased the Joseph a year ago and now plays upon it exclusively. That violins, too, have their destinies is shown by the fact that Huberman’s two instruments belonged, years ago, to the same possessor and lay in the same case. After differing vicissitudes, they are now reunited and rest once more side by side.

Unlike most violinists who look upon their violins as mere “instruments” for self-expression, Huberman is searchingly and humbly interested in the art of the great Italian violin creators. “In my marriage of over forty years to the violin,” he said, “I am still the lover, still capable of uncovering the new and the unexpected in my beloved.” These are wise, modest words. He knows he will never probe the ultimate “secrets” of his Stradivari and his Joseph.

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Bronislaw Huberman
photo Lipnitzki, Paris