Musical Observer 1921

This short interview was published in the American magazine The Musical Observer, November 1921.

Huberman played on Paganini’s violin twice; once in 1903, and then in 1909 (after the Messina earthquake of 28 December 1908). His first visit to America was in 1896 and not 1904 as stated in this article.

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Bronislaw Hubermann Talks of Audiences Versus Exchange Rates, New Violin Masterworks and Paganini’s Violin

In an Interview by Frederick H. Martens

Bronislaw Hubermann, born December 19, 1882, at Czeustochowa, near Warsaw, is one of the small but select band of the greater violin virtuosos. As an artist he is an eclectic and independent, with interpretative gifts of a rare order, and a depth of emotional expression which is illuminating in the performance of the great concertos and solos of the violin repertory. His first public appearance was at the age of seven, when he played Spohr’s Second Violin Concerto in Warsaw.

Naturally, no one likes to wait. The wanting of what we want when we want is one of the fundamental traits of human nature. Yet Bronislaw Hubermann is worth waiting for to talk to, even when his train is half an hour late. If one has to wait for him the fact is forgotten once he begins to talk—or play. For Hubermann is one of those violinists who have scaled the heights without attaching themselves to any particular school or group. He has been the architect of his own musical salvation. And this no artist can be unless he is a thinker and observer. Take the matter of audiences.


“Of course I am only just beginning my present tour,” declared Mr. Hubermann, “and my reactions to this country, given the fact that I am older, cannot be the same as those I felt when I played here in 1904. Yet I can see that your audiences of concertgoers here are larger than those in the European capitals—and I have been playing in Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, London, and, most recently, in Paris, before coming here. In Paris, where the franc has sunk to only one-half its former value, the audiences are of a good size. But the exchange rate in the Central European countries generally is the sign in which the artist must conquer. And the exchange rate affects the size and character of his audiences. I think that in practically any country the music-loving are, as a rule, most largely represented among the well-to-do bourgeoisie, the professional, official and artist classes. It is these classes whose incomes have suffered most—in proportion—in the Central European countries, not the working classes. It seems to be the level of exchange which establishes the level of the public. The Central European audiences of today are new, and the artist is conscious of the fact when playing for them. I often feel in Vienna, or in Berlin, that I am playing for an audience for whom concert-going was the acquired habit of a year or so past, while here in America I feel that my audience has been going to concerts for decades. In Vienna, which I regard in many ways as the most musical city in Europe, the ‘new’ audiences predominate. At the same time, if it be a question of playing for an audience of nouveaux riches, I would rather play for the nouveaux riches of Vienna in preference to those of any other city.


“New works? Yes, I try to keep in touch with them. Every summer I spend at least six weeks in going over all the new things, often a hundred or more, which are sent to me by the publishers. And I like to give time to this, for often I discover works which are of the greatest beauty and value.

“For one thing, I hope to play the English composer, John Ireland’s ‘Sonata for Violin in A Minor.’ It is one of the best works, one of the most violinistic, which can be imagined, modern in thought and in idiom. Then there is a Sonata in A, by the Italian Ottorino Resphigi, quite a wonderful work. I have the advantage of knowing the interpretative ideas of the composers of both works, since I met them both—during a tour of thirty concerts in Italy and England—and, privately, of course, played their sonatas with them.


“With Bodanzky, perhaps, I hope to play what I regard as one of the greatest works, after the Beethoven and Brahms violin concertos, ever written for violin and orchestra. It is the ‘Suite de Concert,’ by Sergei Ivanovitch Tanaïeff. It is in five movements, modern in the best sense, though its musical beauties are strictly of the permanent kind, and written on a contrapuntal foundation. But it is a most inspiring work for the artist to play. It is so Russian in color and feeling that I am convinced that no violinist who is not a Russian himself, or a Russian Pole, as I am, can do justice to it in interpretation. Imagination, fancy, invention—Tanaïeff has given of his best in the writing of this ‘Suite de Concert,’ and the development of its rich folk-wise color. I may also play the Sonata for violin by Vincent d’Indy, which, I believe, is not known here, though I am not altogether sure.

“It seems to me, speaking of Sergei Tanaïeff, that his ‘Suite de Concert’ is entitled to a little extra consideration, perhaps, aside from its own great beauty and interest, because of the composer’s misfortune in being constantly confused with another, contemporary Tanaïeff, an amateur musician. This lesser Tanaïeff was a high dignitary of state in the Russian empire—at the time there was an empire, of course—the chief of the Department of Decorations. As an amateur he was not without merit, but any further comparison between himself and Sergei Tanaïeff would have been ridiculous. His social and official influence made it possible for him to have his music played and produced everywhere, and the constant confusion resulting from mistakes in the identity of the two men, and his interference with Sergei Tanaïeff’s own greater and more deserved musical recognition was one of the latter’s greatest crosses in life.


“Oh, that was long ago, in 1909! The city of Genoa had invited me to play for the benefit of the sufferers from the great earthquake there, and I played on Paganini’s violin twice; the first time in the Municipal Building, and the second time in the Teatro Carlo Felice. The Genoese look on Paganini’s Guanerius almost in the light of a holy relic, and in order for me to be able to play it at the Carlo Felice, the Municipal Council was obliged to meet and pass a special ordinance allowing it to be removed from the Museum, where it is preserved.

“Theoretically I was the second violinist to play the instrument in public since Paganini’s death, actually I was the first. It was to have been played for the first time by Sivori, Paganini’s pupil, on the occasion of a great celebration of the establishment of the independence of the Kingdom of Italy, at which the old King Victor Emmanuel, the grandfather of the present ruler, was present. Sivori was given a magnificent reception when he arrived in Genoa, and everyone was full of enthusiasm and, then it turned out, unfortunately, that the violin was not suited to his hands, he actually could not play it—for Sivori had the smallest hands of any violinist and Paganini the largest.

“In order that no false note might mar the occasion, Sivori simply played on another instrument; while everyone was under the impression that he was playing Paganini’s famous Guarnerius.

“So I was really the first to play the instrument in public since the death of its owner, Paganini. Yet, I must confess, the instrument itself was a disappointment. A great violin should not be kept in a museum. If it is not played upon it loses its soul, its beauty of tone, and the greatest master cannot make it speak as it should. When I played it, I played on it only the Paganini numbers of my program, and used my own Stradivarius for the others.”

Mr. Hubermann at this point was obliged to take his departure in order to perpetuate some masterpieces of violin literature in record form.

It seemed a pity, for there were still many questions that might have been asked him; regarding his studies with Joachim, his playing together with Adelina Patti in Vienna; his reminiscences of that interesting Parisian violinist and teacher, Isidor Lotto; the ideas in his own book “Aus der Werkstatt des Virtuosen” (“From a Virtuoso’s Workshop”); but then, Mr. Hubermann is amiable and accessible, as well as an artist who can talk interestingly and to the point, and a pleasure deferred is not necessarily one lost.

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