Vienna 1895 / America 1896 / 1900s / 1920s / 1930s / Australia 1937 / 1940s / Neville Cardus / Alexander Ruppa

Alexander Ruppa

Egyptian correspondent for The Strad Magazine through the 1930s, Ruppa reports on Hubermanís Egyptian tours, and formation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra.

A. S. Ruppa, Strad, Feb, 1934


BRONISLAW HUBERMAN, the world-famous violinist, is again among us in Egypt and played twice to the Alexandria and Cairo public with conspicuous success. It is somewhat hard to find among our international celebrities a violinst whose musicianship and dynamic personality are so striking. To speak in absolute terms, it is a fact that Huberman is more of a musician than a violinst. If you are a violinist yourself, you will be surely amazed at the transcendental technique of Kubelik, Heifetz, and Prihoda, which is in a class by itself – and forget all about it the next morning. While the technical attainments of Huberman cannot certainly bear comparison to those of these three giants, his compelling artistic personality grips your soul from the very moment he sets his bow across the strings and keeps you enthralled right to the last note and for a long time after.

I heard Huberman, for the first time on February 17th, 1910, here, in Alexandria, and it was the very first time he was playing in Egypt. He was accompanied by a very talented pianist, Leopold Spielmann, the latter contributing also solos. The programme included such divergent pieces as the Mendelssohn Concerto, Sarasate’s “Carmen” Fantasy, and Paganini’s “Le Streghe.” Huberman appealed to me then, as he appeals to me now, after the lapse of nearly a quarter of a century, by his warm earnestness and the pathos of his emotional depth which radiate from him. It has often been repeated that the two violinists whose playing of the Finale of the Mendelssohn Concerto was unapproachable by its dazzling brilliancy were Wieniawski and Sarasate, but I feel sure that Huberman could be unhesitatingly added to that famous pair.

It must however, be reluctantly admitted that Huberman’s technique is no longer what it was in 1910. The violinist’s temperament, which has always been a passionate one, has now grown somewhat “nervy,” and this is adversely reflected in his playing. In the present instance he was playing on the well-known Joseph Guarnerius de Gesù, ex Alfred Gibson, dated 1734. This instrument has a lovely one-piece back of beautifully figured maple, the side matching the back. Its tone is “aggressively” Guarnerian, very powerful and incisive, with a metallic shade, which was further stressed by Huberman’s virile and unrestrained playing. In fact, that distinctly metallic tinge was, in my opinion, anything but pleasant to a refined ear, and clearly recalled to my mind a similarity in the tone of the E string of Marteau’s famous Maggini, which formerly belonged to the Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria. An aggravating circumstance in this case was that the G string of the Guarnerius was too low and invariably clattered against the fingerboard whenever it was subjected to a slashing stroke of the bow. It seems to me that such trivial defects could be easily remedied in good time instead of giving rise to criticism and marring the playing of a great artist. When all is said and done, it is obvious that Huberman’s present style of playing would have improved had he used a less pungent and assertive instrument than a Guarnerius de Gesù.

It is well-known that Huberman invariably draws up his programmes with taste. The first recital included Handel’s Sonata in D, Bach’s Adagio and Fugue of the Sonata in C for violin only, Brahms’s Sonata in G, Op. 78, and three short pieces. For the second recital he played his own transcription of Bach’s Prelude for the organ, “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland,” Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2, and the Delius Concerto, which Huberman admires greatly, and which he played in Vienna with conspicuous success. Regarding this Concerto, Huberman expressed himself thus:–

“This most poetical work of Delius will probably cause even more emotion among the British listeners than among others, because, while other nationalities will take some time to discover the golden line of the melody, the English will immediately feel at home with it. It indirectly embodies reminiscently Irish and Scottish folk songs: not so much the dancing rhythmic part of folk song, but that elemental dreaming, lingering, and longing part of the folk-lore which trails around the work, woven into it as a cloud. It is characteristic of Delius that this Concerto presents no definite points of culmination. It can be likened to Nature rather than to human experience: the fragrance of flowers, the glory of sunset, beauty for beauty’s sake, and yet leaving when finished some vibration of longing in the soul and, therefore, showing that it is linked with human emotion. Perhaps this apparent lack of form in the compositions of Delius, speaking in the sense of the more grammatic form, is, in reality, a far higher degree of from in music, transcending that which, after all, was but man-made.”


A. S. Ruppa, Strad, March, 1934


In my preceding contribution, I gave an account of Huberman, the artist. I now propose to write about Huberman, the man. It is not perhaps sufficiently known, even by many violinists, that Huberman is not, as are many musicians, an artist who thinks exclusively in terms of his art. On the contrary, he is extremely interested in what is going on in the world to-day. Nor is he content to sit down and reflect passively on the destinies of mankind. His meditations are a first impetus, a driving force which urges him to action. He is deeply impressed by the vision of a great united family of mankind and he has endeavoured for years to give expression to that vision. It is his firm conviction that the first step to take in the right direction would be to visualise and bring into being a United States of Europe. He has devoted for many long years the major part of his leisure time towards furthering the cause of a Pan European Union and he certainly is one of the leading propagandists of Pan-Europa. He published last year a book the suggestive title of which: “Europa, Vaterland” speaks for itself. This book had a very wide circulation in German speaking countries and was very favourable discussed by Europe’s most important papers which devoted to it leading articles, a distinction, which, according to Huberman, they did not confer as yet upon his violinistic capabilities.

Huberman sincerely deplored the present day chauvinism which is casting its dismal clouds on the political horizon. In spite of the grandiloquent verbosity of the world’s leading politicians, it is a hard fact that nations are far from being the peace devotees they would like the world to believe them to be. But it is equally certain that this high strung situation will prove intolerable and, in accordance with the laws of History, cannot go on indefinitely. A reaction is bound to happen sooner or later and, according to Huberman, there are signs that this reaction has already set in.

A very well known French proverb says that “La musique adoucit les moeurs” which would read in English “Music tempers manners,” but, in the case of Huberman, it goes much farther than that. It is, in fact, a marvellous medium for welding together the different nations which are perforce separated from one another by political frontiers. It is the universal language “par excellence” which, far better than Esperanto, appeals to the Londoner or the Patagonial alike. In this connection, Huberman gives an example in the following words. His subject is Sergei Taneiev’s Suite which he has recently played:–
“This composition, 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 marvellous thing is that each movement is 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. It is as if a lofty, reconciling spirit were seeking to unite all the listeners. The work is, therefore, like Pan-Europa.”

As regards interpretation, Huberman is a firm believer in the powers of inspiration. When studying a new piece for his repertoire, it would often happen that he would play it indifferently because inspiration was not there. This might take days, weeks, months or even years to make itself felt, but if Huberman became convinced that it would never come, he would definitely set the piece aside.
Huberman holds the view that sublimity in music is not a mere accident but bears a direct relation to the musician as a man. That is the reason of the grandeur of Beethoven’s music. It follows that in order to interpret that music satisfactorily, an artist ought to try and attain in his private life some of the loftiness which characterised that of Beethoven’s.
In Huberman’s opinion, the gramophone and the radio are the two enemies of art. People are inclined to-day to give up trying to master a given instrument and prefer going to a recital or hearing a celebrity on the gramophone or over the radio. Further, music is going through a crisis owing to the fact that patrons of art are to-day practically non-existent owing either to the prevailing economic bad times or to other causes, a matter which is greatly to be deplored.
Bronislaw Huberman was recently invited by the Prussian Government to play in Germany, but the great violinist categorically refused to do so, at least, as long as present political conditions continue to prevail in the Reich. It is well known that on June 29th last, the Prussian Minister of Science, Art and Education, announced the appointment of a Commission composed of Wilhelm Furtwangler, Max Von Schillings, Wilhelm Backhaus and Georg Kulenkampf the object of which was the examination of the programmes of all public concert societies and, where necessary, “to advise” the societies on the following principles:–

[Ruppa goes on to quote the decree, Furtwängler's letter to Huberman, and Huberman's reply. Please see Huberman and Nazi Germany to read this correspondence in full]

It is worthy of note that several non-Jewish violin celebrities, among whom is Jacques Thibaud, have likewise refused Furtwangler's invitation to play in the Reich.


The Strad, Feb, 1936

MUSIC IN ALEXANDRIA by Alexander Ruppa

In one of my previous contributions to THE STRAD, under the heading “Huberman in Egypt, the Artist and the Man.” I have commented at length on this violinist who was again lately in Egypt and played to full houses on December 7th and 28th last. In my article above I had somewhat adversely criticised Huberman’s playing, but this time I am happy to say that I have nothing but praise to bestow.
The programmes included Bach’s Chaconne, Brahms’s Sonata in D minor, Op. 108, Bach’s Adagio and Fugue in G minor, Beeethoven’s Sonata in F, Op. 24 (Fruhlingssonate), Respighi’s Sonata in B minor, Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole as well as other items of less importance.

There is not the slightest doubt but that this time Huberman is himself again, with all his pathos, his temperamental fervour and his masterful style of playing. He is endowed with the rare power of portraying the whole gamut of human emotions from the most exquisite tenderness to the most brutal violence. In his handling of that gigantic fresco which is one of the peaks of the literature of the violin, the Bach Chaconne, he has given ample proof of the tremendous driving power and the nobility of his interpretation. Without wishing to be in the least dithyrambic, I a may safely say that he has risen to those heights where only the privileged few of the muses may ever hope to gain admittance. Like certain other masterpieces, such as the Beethoven and Brahms Concertos, the Bach Chaconne is a supreme test of mountainous difficulty and only artists endowed with transcendental powers will enjoy the privilege of going through the ordeal with flying colours.

Bach’s Adagio and Fugue in G minor and Beethoven’s Spring Sonata gave a further proof of Huberman’s interpretative genius. He was playing again on his Guarneri del Gesù, ex-Alfred Gibson, dated 1734, the tone of which, though otherwise satisfying in every respect, is, in my opinion, metallic to a degree and this is most noticeable on the E string. It has always struck me that a very assertive violinist like Huberman should avoid using the most pungent of all violins, namely, the de Gesù and use as his medium of expression the mellowness of a Stradavari.

As regards Huberman’s future plans, a telegram from Belgrade published in the papers last month announces that he has decided to form the Philharmonic Orchestra of Palestine with the help of world-famous musicians who have been compelled to leave Germany following racial or religious persecution. It is also announced that Huberman will himself settle definitely in Palestine and conduct the orchestra, which will broadcast regularly through the Jerusalem station.

With reference to Huberman’s first performance of the Brahms Concerto, it is interesting to recall that this took place in Vienna on January 29th, 1896, in the presence of Brahms himself. Max Kalbeck in his “Biographie de Brahms” recalls the fact as follows:–“Huberman, who was then thirteen years old, was phenomenally successful in his performance of the Brahms Concerto. He began the first of his recitals with it and played it again on March 6th in the course of his third recital.
“On the first occasion, Brahms was present with Fuchs, Richter and de Koch, sitting in the management’s box, and was expecting from ‘the lad’ a pupil’s mediocre performance. His surprise was great from the first stroke of the bow, and when the Adagio was reached his eyes moistened. At the end of the Finale he embraced the young boy whose musical genius had found the exact mode of interpretation of the Concerto. Huberman expressed to Brahms his regret that the reappearance of the first theme after the cadenza had been spoiled, but Brahms replied, ‘You ought not to have played it so well.’
“In deference to the request of the young artist, Brahms brought him his photo at the hotel with the following lines: ‘In cordial remembrance from an enraptured and grateful hearer’.”

On this page: