Edmondo De Amicis

Huberman was interviewed by the Italian writer Edmondo De Amicis in Torino, who wrote about Huberman's visit in an article, that appeared on 28 August 1904 in 'Illustrazione Italiana' and was later included and published in 'Ultime Pagine', a collection of biographical writings of de Amicis.

You can read it in either the original Italian or an English translation.

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The violinist Bronislaw Huberman

After not having been to the theatre for many years, I went one evening to the Carignano to hear the celebrated Polish violinist, Bronislaw Huberman, 22 years old, who delighted for the tenth time the Torino public, enamoured of him. And I was profoundly moved by his music, which told me of a thousand sweet things in which I do not believe any more, but which I still cherish, which remembered me of hopes and lost values, of dear voices of departed ones, and let me see on a far-away horizon a row of beautiful and painful images sending me a last farewell. And at night I still felt confusedly those harmonies in one of these sweet and sad dreams from which one awakens with the mind full of sorrow and pity for ourselves.
The next morning I was given a visiting card on which was written: Bronislaw Huberman

I went to meet the unexpected visitor, and the surprise kept me for a moment speechless and in an interrogative attitude before this beardless youth, with full hair and a pale face, whom I did not immediately recognise; so much seemed he changed by the kindly smile which beamed in his bright eyes; because the night before I had never seen him smiling, even not when he thanked the audience for the storm of applause which followed each of his pieces. He anticipated my question. A remembrance of childhood led him to me, the translation into Polish of one of my books for the young ‘Il Cuore’. It had been one of his first readings as a child and for this he came to express his gratitude.

I thanked him and said that this impression could have been small in comparison with the sweetest emotion which he had given me the night before. And I added that – since he had been so kind to come to my house – I would love to know him well, that he should tell me about himself, about his family and about his art, from what beginnings and by what ways he, still so young, could arrive at that wonderful height, where only the fewest could stand near him.
And, suddenly, he started to talk, in a somewhat broken strange French, in which he tried to express exactly the notions and forms of his own native language; and thus, even haltingly and often interrupted, his way of speaking revealed clearly the youthful simplicity of his mind, and poured forth all the warmth of his feeling.

“I am twenty-one years old. My father was in Warsaw a modest advocate who earned scarcely enough to support his family. He had a passion for music. For some time he had played the violin, then he gave it up because he did not advance. But he comforted himself by one hope which became a fixed idea: that one of his sons would succeed in becoming a musician. It seems that fate has selected me, the eldest of three brothers. Already as a small child I showed a certain facility to remember music, and the first gift I wished for my birthday was an accordion. One evening, in a house-concert in the family, a violinist watched my hand and exclaimed: ‘This boy’s hand is made for the violin!’ – My hand, indeed, had an extraordinary stretch for a kid of my age. – So, a violin was bought and I was given a teacher. – I was six years old. At seven I played for the first time in a concert for the benefit of the poor. In one year I had made a long way; but I could not have continued in the same pace because there were no great teachers in Warsaw. So friends advised my father to send me to Berlin, to the great violinist Joachim. Alright! But how to make it?! There were no means. My father hesitated. It was my mother, by nature filled with enthusiasm, not playing music herself, but endowed with a very lively musical feeling, who gave my father the stimulus. For one year they made in the household all possible savings, we lived on short commons, and then part of the furniture was sold. I remember that the sale yielded four hundred rubles; I often feel the memory of those four hundred rubles on our poor table. Finally we left for Berlin. It was a bold step, for, if we stayed longer than a year from the homeland, my father would have lost his position as an advocate; and if I would not succeed, we all would be in the street. The future of the family depended upon my poor violin.” –
- Did you understand it? – I asked.
“No, fortunately I was not conscious of it. For me it was like travelling into the world of dreams. Also my father and my mother were full of the brightest hopes. But, scarcely arrived in Berlin, we encountered a grave difficulty. Joachim should hear me. But Joachim, sick of ‘enfants prodiges’, of whom it abounded at that time, refused to hear any more of them. To be received by him, my father resorted to a trick: he asked for an interview in his capacity as advocate without mentioning the purpose for his visit. The Maestro, believing that he wanted to talk to him about some judicial matter, received him …”
– Here he stopped for a moment, nodding his head with one of those smiles which express a remembrance comical and moving at the same time.

“My father entered, and I behind him, making myself as small as possible. The maestro welcomed him politely, but as soon as he saw me, with the violin under the arm, as if sprung up out of the floor, he jumped up, furious: – Another ‘enfant prodige’, ah non, ah non!! I had more than enough from them, I do not want to know any more about it. Go away, go away! – It was a terrible moment. My father insisted, implored: he had come all the way from Warsaw, with the whole family, making a great sacrifice; on the judgement of the maestro depended the fate of all; the refusal of him would be his ruin; and many other things, expressed with the warmth and accent one can imagine. – The maestro gave in, unwillingly, and he told me, harshly: Play! – I began to play: a Nocturne by Chopin. With the first strokes of the bow, the wrinkles of his forehead got a bit smoother, then he became more attentive, and then, by and by, he looked benevolent and showed signs of emotion. When I had finished, he ran towards me, embraced me, kissed me on the forehead and said to my father – I’ll have to repeat his words – : I have never heard a more promising boy. He will be one of my dearest pupils. I thank you that you have brought him to me. – To my father it sounded like to words of a God.”
The maestro immediately wrote an attestation, thanks to which the little Huberman could give a series of concerts in health-resorts in Germany and Austria and thus earn the living for his family during the summer before returning to Berlin to begin with his studies. –
In one of these resorts he was heard by the celebrated Austrian portrait-painter Angeli, who took interest in him, and who induced his father to bring him to Vienna. Here, thanks to him, the little Huberman was introduced to the Emperor, who bestowed great praise on him and presented him with a violin. That was in 1892.

Then he returned to Berlin, and in Joachim’s school began his true and proper musical education of classical character. But he remained there only six months; which, in his opinion, was good for him, because that time was sufficient to “tame the exuberance of his Slavic temperament” without making him lose his natural originality, which he might have lost as others who completed in that school the regular two years’ course of studies. And again he took up the course of his concerts “because you had to eat every day.” –
“I made a tour in Holland and in Belgium which was very successful. The public was my best teacher. But, nevertheless, wherever I went, I took lessons with the most distinguished teachers; and to this twofold school, the permanent change, of teachers and of the public, I believe to owe my best proficiencies. My father and my mother were travelling with me. We went to Paris. In Paris, besides the fine success of the concerts, I met with a great fortune. A Polish nobleman, the Count Zamoyski, rich, alone, music-loving, and grieved with a deep melancholy after the loss of his only daughter, took a fancy to me, because of the consolation which he said to feel when he heard my playing; and he became my maecenas, my guide, a second father to me, to whom I shall feel bound by the most affectionate gratitude as long as I live. He persuaded my parents to bring me to London. We went there. But it was a disappointment. It is so difficult to attract public attention in that immense city! I gave four concerts, but with little profit. We all lost courage. The count had a good idea. He knew Adelina Patti who, at that time, was in London; he told her about me; she wanted to hear me. We went to her house. I shall never forget that visit. She received us like a queen, surrounded by a large suite of gentlemen and ladies, who, really, gave a royal aspect to the splendid hall, where nothing but a throne was missing. In the beginning, I played a little trembling; then, it seems, somewhat better than usually. The signora Adelina seemed as though she was beside herself with emotion, she embraced me, she almost took me on her knees, called me: - Angel, - and with tears in her eyes, I remember it well, she promised my father that she would call for me for her forthcoming concert-tour which she was to make in Austria and in Germany. This would be a great fortune; in the meantime it was a great joy. But it meant waiting several months. An we returned to Berlin.” –

At this point a shadow of sadness passed over the face of the youth. –
“In Berlin – he resumed – it was worse than in London. The public was surfeited with violinists. I had a good success of applause, but no money; and money was badly needed, because the travellings were extremely expensive, also the piano-accompanist, the living in hotels. Moreover, my health began to suffer from the fatigues, which became more and more serious for me, not being so strong by nature, and it influenced my mind so that I put a major effort into the executions of art. I myself was not aware of it, because at that age, in that continued change of places and things, and a succession of new people and emotions, I lived almost like a somnambulist. But my poor mother noticed it, so that after every concert when she saw me so pale and exhausted, she spent the night sleepless, cried in despair, and repeated every moment that she would ‘casser le violon’ and take me back to Warsaw. To remove the danger that she might shatter the violin to pieces, Count Zamoyski presented me in those days with a Stradivarius, in the value of twenty thousand Lire; that is the one which I am still playing. – But that did not change our conditions. – The uncertainties and the sorrows ruined also the health of my father, who in those days contracted a slow illness which caused his death a few years later. – It was the most dismal period of my artistic life.” –
“At that time we thought of applying to Adelina Patti and to remind her of the promise she gave us in London, that she would let me appear in her concerts in Austria and Germany. But she answered that she had already engaged other artists. Then we appealed directly to the organiser of her concert tours, who was in Vienna, where the great singer was due to sing. And he firstly accepted my participation, but later withdrew his acceptance, repeating the customary refrain that one did not want to see and hear any more of prodigees. In despair, we went to Vienna, in spite of the refusal. The applications were repeated, one turned to recommendation, one said and did many things, and finally, I was accepted. And now, really, began my fortune.” –

He was then twelve years old. As the first number for him to play in the concert, a very well-known piece had been chosen: then first part of the Concerto of Mendelssohn. The choice of this simple music, which everybody knew by heart, seemed to be an act of audacity. The public, not remembering to have applauded him only two years ago, was ill-disposed. When he appeared on the podium, in short trousers, so small and so slim, with his little sickly face, he almost stirred up a feeling of compassion, which manifested itself in a long murmur, the meaning of which he did not understand. But the success (x) was great, clamorous, by far superior to anything he himself or his parents could have hoped for. And it went on, increasing in the consecutive twelve concerts which he then gave alone. He became the vogue, it was the fortune, it was the secure future. His mother seemed to become mad with joy. – Well – said Count Zamoyski to her – do you still want to ‘casser le violion’, to shatter the violin to pieces? – The noted music critic Hanslick wrote: - We bade farewell to a descending star (Patti) and we greeted a rising star. – From all parts of Europe it rained offers of concerts on the little Huberman. And the poor father repeated again and again: - Now I can die with my soul in peace. Here he interrupted his account to say me in all simplicity: “You wanted me to tell you about my life. So I had to boast a little. Will you pardon me? What do you want! The fine successes which I had as a boy, are still for me the most cherished, because I think they were more merited than the present ones. And they seem to me so far back! I travelled the world so much, have seen so many people, have experienced so many emotions, that sometimes, turning my thoughts back to the past, I have the illusion to live already since fifty years!” –

He resumed the account. After the success in Vienna, he made a tour in Austria and in Roumania. The Queen of Roumania gave him a grand reception, dedicated him a poem; and several times she had him stand as model in the attitude of an ‘Angel playing the Violin’, which she painted in miniature in a Bible. “I can boast – said he smiling – to have a portrait with wings.” –
Then he went to the United States of America … where he played before enormous audiences … And a still greater luck had he with his touring in Russia and especially in Riga, inhabited by a numerous and culture German colony, great experts in matters of art. Here, he would say to have reached the summit of success in his childhood.

– You have the glory – I said to him – dear Huberman – but what about your health? – Good Lord – he answered with a smile – my health leaves to desire as the glory. But it is all the fault of the violin, I assure you. Unlike many others, who are excited before appearing before the public and quiet down as soon as they are there, I myself am quiet up to the last moment, and I become agitated when I begin to play. One would not believe it, don’t you think so? It seems to everybody that I am impassive, because I do not move when I am playing, except when necessary. But this relative immobility is the effect of a great effort, and the effort I am making to suppress my emotion reacts on my stomach and ruins it. All my suffering is restrained passion. But it is only just that I pay in some way for the inexpressible joy which my art gives me.” – Well – I said to him – I have guessed it.

Your quiet attitude could not mislead me. I watched you intensely when you played. I saw when your eyes sparkled and when they grew moist, and I saw the shiver running through the muscles of your pale face. Sometimes, when you pressed the violin, you seemed to press a living and adored thing, which inebriated and tormented you; and when you took it from the shoulder, you made a movement as if you were tearing off a vampire sucking your blood; and then you put it back to your breast and reembraced it with even more passionate love and pressed it under your chin with the tenderness of a mother who presses her face against the face of her creature. Oh, I was not misled. I understood, I felt when from the depths of the soul welled up the lamentations, the sighs of love, of joy and sorrow, the sound of the nightingale and the voices of angels, which you poured forth into the theatre; and which out of your two thousand listeners made one single soul; a soul which palpitated, throbbed with you and which loved you.
To these words he responded with a kindly smile, a bit astounded, which flashed through my mind the face of the boy Huberman, when – in his first concerts – he wondered about the thunderous applause of the public and felt happy with the thought of the joy his mother would feel.

He took leave from me and promised to return soon to Turin; and with a vivid gesture he gave me his long, tender, white hands … and for a few moments I was holding in mine those wonderful hands which out of the violin drew forth streams of enchanting harmonies and made and will go on to make millions of hearts in the whole world throbbing and weeping.
“Remember me” - he said kindly and left me.

An unnecessary request, as his picture will remain with me in remembrance of one of the profoundest emotions which my heart received by that instrument which speaks most humanly about the most divine art.

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The violinist Bronislaw Huberman