1921 Recording: Rachmaninov Plays Kreisler

The legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninov performed frequently together, luckily leaving behind a few recordings of their collaboration. On one occasion, as the story goes, Kreisler had a memory slip during a performance. Fumbling around the fingerboard and attempting to improvise his way out of the predicament, he inched his way towards the piano, whispering helplessly, “Where are we?” Rachmaninov answered, “In Carnegie Hall.” As a tribute to their friendship, …

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Siegfried Idyll: Wagner’s Musical Love Letter

(above: Richard Wagner’s villa at Tribschen, near Lucerne, Switzerland.) On Christmas morning, 1870 Cosima Wagner, the wife of Richard Wagner and daughter of Franz Liszt, awoke to the sound of music: “As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered …

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Heifetz Plays "White Christmas"

  If you’ve never heard Jascha Heifetz’s 1944 recording of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, take a moment and listen. White Christmas was first performed by Bing Crosby on Christmas Day, 1941. Crosby’s single sold 50 million copies and stands as the best-selling single of all time. The song resonated with soldiers stationed abroad during the Second World War. Around the time this recording was made, Heifetz assisted the war effort by performing USO-organized concerts for troops …

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Happy Birthday, Carl Flesch

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the birth of influential Hungarian-born violinist and pedagogue Carl Flesch (1873-1944). As a teacher, Flesch produced some of the twentieth century’s most notable violinists, including Henryk Szeryng, Ginette Neveu, Josef Hassid, Ivry Gitlis, and Ida Haendel. His book, Art of Violin Playing and his Scale System are still used today. Boris Schwartz, a student of Flesch and the author of Great Masters of the Violin, writes: His dominant quality seemed …

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The Artistry of Nathan Milstein

Let’s finish out the week with a few recordings of Nathan Milstein (1904-1992), one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary violinists. Infused with elegance, style and thoughtful musicianship, Milstein’s playing never sounds dated. These recordings demonstrate his ability to draw out the most ringing tone from the violin, using the speed and energy of the bow. The purity of his intonation and subtle, well controlled vibrato remain impressive. Milstein, who was born …

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Waves at Play

I spent part of the afternoon yesterday experiencing the power and endless, hypnotic rhythm of waves crashing on the beach. I was killing time between a morning rehearsal and an outdoor evening performance with the Virginia Symphony on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. Watching the waves, I was reminded of Edwin Grasse’s slightly obscure violin showpiece, Wellenspiel (Waves at Play), written in 1914. Grasse (1884-1954) was an American violinist, organist and composer. Joshua Bell included …

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Adolf Busch: The Violinist Who Stood Up to Fascism

Tully Potter’s collection of books and CD’s, Adolf Busch- The Life of an Honest Musician, published in 2010, tells the remarkable story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists. In the years leading up to the Second World War, Adolf Busch (1891-1952) toured Europe as an exponent of the classic German style of violin playing, which had been associated with Joseph Joachim. The leader of the Busch Quartet, as well as a chamber …

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