Alexander Markov is a Russian (some would say American) violinist, composer, and teacher born (in Moscow) on January 24, 1963. Although his repertoire is very extensive, he is best known for his performances (in concert, on CD, and DVD) of the 24 Paganini Caprices. One YouTube video of his performance of the last Caprice has over 6 million views. In fact, Markov’s playing of the pizzicato section of this Caprice sometimes leaves the audience so spellbound they interrupt the performance with rapturous, spontaneous applause – as the New York Times music critic recently explained it: “…the dazzling left-hand pizzicato variation drew a vigorous ovation midway through the work.” Markov also plays a six-string electric violin in a rock band which he co-founded. He co-wrote a unique rock concerto for his own use which he has had great success with. I don’t think a commercial recording of this concerto is yet available. Markov’s violin studies began at age 5. His father (concert violinist Albert Markov) was his first (and most influential) teacher. However, Markov was also enrolled at the famous Central Music School for gifted children, which is part of the Moscow (Tchaikovsky) Conservatory. There, he studied with the well-known violin pedagogue Felix Andrievsky. (Andrievsky is now teaching at the Royal College of Music in London.) By age 8 he had already appeared in public. His family emigrated to the U. S. when he was 12. They arrived in Vienna on September 11, 1975 and spent three months there before heading for the United States. He continued studying with his father for many years. At age 16, he made his Carnegie Hall debut in New York. (Two sources state that he made his Carnegie Hall debut on October 9, 1983, at age 20. He himself has said he made his debut at age 16. The first was his debut with orchestra; the second was as soloist, in recital.) At age 18, he began studying with Juilliard teacher Ivan Galamian. Galamian died a few months afterward. (Emanuel Vardi used to tell a joke that he killed Leopold Auer because Auer died a few months after Vardi began taking lessons with him.) At age 19 (1982) Markov won second prize (most sources say the Gold Medal) at the famous Paganini Competition (Genoa, Italy) and five years later he received the Avery Fisher Career Grant. As a result of his Paganini Competition award, he was granted the use of Paganini’s own 1743 Cannone Guarnerius for a recital performance. (Other violinists who have played this famous violin are Leonid Kogan, Schlomo Mintz, Eugene Fodor, Salvatore Accardo, Maxim Vengerov, Gerard Poulet, Regina Carter, Dmitri Berlinsky, and Ruggiero Ricci.) Markov’s concertizing has taken him to all corners of the world and to most of the world’s great concert halls and orchestras with top conductors on the podium. As do most concert violinists, he also participates in music festivals far and wide. He also frequently gives masterclasses all around the world. He has recorded for the Erato and Warner Classics labels. His recordings are easy to find on the internet. Although he used to play a Guarnerius Del Gesu violin, Markov has been playing a 1970 Sergio Peresson violin for some time. He recorded the 24 caprices on that violin. I have heard it up close - it is indistinguishable from any Strad or Guarneri violin. Here is a YouTube video of the Paganini Caprice number 5 with Markov using the original bowings. The photo is courtesy of the Alexander Markov website.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Johann Peter Salomon was a German violinist, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher, and concert impresario, born (in Bonn) on or about February 20, 1745 – he was christened (baptized) on February 20 so it’s a sure thing he was born a few days before that. Salomon spent more than half of his career in England. To say that he was a well-rounded musician is quite an understatement; nevertheless, nowadays, he is remembered for two things: (1) he was born in the same house as Ludwig Van Beethoven and (2) he persuaded Joseph Haydn to visit London - twice. It has been said that he had a unique style of playing, especially in chamber music with his string quartet. He must have had more than one teacher but I only know of one: Franz Benda, a member of the Benda musical dynasty. By age 13, he was playing violin in the court orchestra, presumably in Bonn since that was where his benefactor (Clement August, a lover of the arts) presided. Salomon also made a brief concert tour as a soloist (begun in August, 1765) which took him to Frankfurt and Berlin. By age 20, he was concertmaster of the orchestra in the court of Prince Heinrich of Prussia (Germany), a brother of Frederick the Great, presumably in Rheinsberg, a town which is about 40 miles north of Berlin. (An interesting thing about Prince Heinrich is that he almost became King of the United States.) While working for Prince Heinrich (a period which lasted about 15 years), Salomon composed many works, among which were a number of operas, all of them now forgotten. Sometime in 1780, after his patron had suddenly disbanded his orchestra, Salomon visited Paris and from there decided to travel to London. He was 35 years old. There, he gave his first concert at Covent Garden, as conductor and violinist, on March 23, 1781. From that day forward, Salomon was very active in English musical life, giving concerts as leader (concertmaster), violin soloist, conductor, composer, organizer, and quartet player. How he became fluent in the English language is unknown to me although it has been reported that he was actually fluent in four languages. He also found time to teach privately. As far as the famous Haydn visits to England, I was able to ascertain, from various sources, everything that follows. After Joseph Haydn had become internationally popular from the dissemination of much of his music, several persons in England tried to persuade him, since the early 1780s, to visit and to present concerts there. These efforts were all unsuccessful because Haydn was still under contract to one of the Esterhazy Princes (for whom he ultimately worked thirty years) and was very loyal to him. Regarding a visit or tour, Salomon had also corresponded with Haydn for a while and had even sent a personal emissary but that trip had not been totally successful. So Haydn remained out of reach. As luck and coincidence always play a part in everybody’s life, so it was with Salomon. After a particular trip that he made to Italy (to secure the services of several opera singers for a London event) – being the well-known and energetic impresario that he was – Salomon stopped in Cologne on his way back to London. While there, he read in the newspapers that the good Prince Nikolaus from Esterhazy (Haydn’s employer) had died (in Vienna, on September 28, 1790.) Salomon immediately seized the opportunity to seek Haydn out and ask him (again) to come to London. This time, Haydn agreed. After signing an agreement and figuring out the logistics, they left Vienna on December 15, 1790. It was a Wednesday. On their way to England, they stopped by Bonn to pay their respects to Beethoven, which they did on December 26, 1790. Salomon had known Beethoven much earlier (in their Bonn days) and by this time he had also programmed some of his works for his London concerts. They were good friends. Haydn had never met Beethoven. In any case, Haydn and Salomon crossed the English Channel (from a point in Calais, France) on or about January 1, 1791 (a Saturday) and shortly thereafter arrived in London. Salomon was 45 years old. The rest is history. Haydn went on to write 12 symphonies for Salomon’s concerts in London and other works as well. Salomon would soon be at work arranging most of these symphonies for small chamber ensembles. One such work is the symphony number 104 which Salomon arranged for string quartet, flute, and double bass. It may be that these arrangements were not artistic endeavors but a purely commercial venture on Salomon’s part. Salomon’s arrangements were available to the public before any orchestral parts were even printed. (In his contract with Salomon, Haydn had given up all rights to those works he composed in London for Salomon’s concerts. However, Haydn was paid very handsomely for his efforts.) In March of 1813, Salomon and a few other English musicians and patrons of the arts founded what was called the Philharmonic Society, which still exists today. It was a de facto sponsor and/or administrator of a professional symphony orchestra and choral society which established concerts which were regularly presented to and for the general public and not associated solely with the aristocracy. The orchestra did not have a name but it could very well have had a name if they had thought of one. Salomon conducted its first concert in March of 1813. He was 68 years old. As far as I know, Salomon was active as a violinist, composer, teacher, impresario, arranger, and conductor until the day he died. As a composer, his most famous work is probably the opera titled Windsor Castle, written in 1795. All of his other compositions (including his many arrangements) have been neglected and forgotten. It has been said that Salomon played a Stradivarius violin which Corelli had played before him but I could not substantiate that from more than one source. It has also been said that Salomon gave the Jupiter nickname to Mozart’s last symphony, number 41. Perhaps it is true. Salomon’s most famous pupils are Franz Anton Ries (Beethoven’s violin teacher and father of pianist Ferdinand Ries) and George Pinto, English violinist, pianist, and composer. Salomon died on November 28, 1815, after a brief illness brought on by an accident. He was 70 years old. Here is a Vimeo file of Salomon’s Romance in D for violin, played by English violinist, Simon Standage. The photo is courtesy of ArtUK and Oxford University.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Igor Ozim is a Slovenian (Yugoslavian) violinist and teacher born (in Ljubljana) on May 9, 1931. (Ljubljana – formerly in Yugoslavia - is now in Slovenia and it is its capital.) He is widely known as a violin pedagogue rather than as a touring concert violinist, although that is how he began his career. He started violin lessons in his native city with Leon Pfeifer (a student of Otakar Sevcik) at the Academy of Music at age 8. However, by that time, he had already been studying violin for three years but with someone I don’t know anything about. When he was 18, after graduating from the academy, he traveled to England to study with Albert Sammons at the Royal College of Music (commonly referred to as the RCM.) He followed that up with two years of study with Max Rostal, either as a private student or at the Guildhall School of Music where Rostal was a teacher. Ozim was now 20 years old. In 1951, he won the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition. After that, Ozim made his formal debut in England – first in a recital at the Wigmore Hall in London and then in Liverpool, playing the Mendelssohn e minor concerto with the Liverpool Philharmonic. In 1953, he won another violin competition (the ARD Competition, in Munich, in its second year of existence. The name ARD in German is a very long name but translates to something like “German Consortium of Public Broadcasters.” Technically, every German household is a member of the ARD since fees charged by and paid to the ARD are not optional; they are mandatory.) He was 22 years old. Ozim then embarked on a concertizing career which eventually took him to the Far East, Australia, the U.S., Europe, and Russia. He has appeared with top orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the Warsaw Philharmonic, and many others. His repertory ranges from early Baroque to contemporary and includes approximately 60 concertos. Understandably, he has premiered many works by Slovenian composers. His recordings are few but cover some of the standard repertoire as well as many contemporary, modern works. He continues to tour as a much-respected violin pedagogue, holding master classes in several countries. Ozim has held teaching posts at the Advanced Music School in Cologne (Germany), the Advanced School of the Arts in Bern (Switzerland), and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. His most famous pupils are probably Richard Tognetti and Lea Birringer. Here is a YouTube audio file of the Mozart Rondo in C with Ozim and the Ljubljana Symphony Orchestra.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Joseph Lendvay (Jozsef Lendvay) is a Hungarian violinist and conductor born (in Budapest) on November 7, 1974. He is best known as a crossover violinist who is very successful as a traditional classical violinist and a gypsy fiddler. He often performs with his own gypsy band – a group of five or six players – two violins, cello, cembalom, bass, and guitar. He (probably) began his violin studies with his father, a very popular gypsy violinist. By age 14, he was already playing some of the most difficult standard works for classical violin. He studied at the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest as well as the famous Franz Liszt Academy, also in Budapest. He has won numerous European-based violin competitions; the Koln International Violin Competition and the Tibor Varga International Violin Competition are among them. In 2002, the President of the Hungarian Republic awarded him the Golden Cross for his artistic contributions to the nation. He was 28 years old. It has been said that due to his classical training, his folkloric interpretations sound lighter and more virtuosic and, because of his folkloric roots, his classical performances are more emotional and powerful. Lendvay was concertmaster of an orchestra called the Philharmonic of Nations (founded by pianist and conductor Justus Frantz in 1995) for a time. Here is a YouTube video of Lendvay and Vadim Repin playing Csardas. Here is another where he is playing Gypsy Airs by Sarasate – the harmonies have been altered in several places and the accompaniment includes some traditional folk instruments. You may likely want to watch it more than once in order to appreciate some of the unusual bowings and fingerings which Lendvay uses. Finally, here is one where Lendvay plays the Tchaikovsky concerto.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Franz Benda was a Czech violinist, teacher, writer, and composer born (in Benatek, Bohemia) on (approximately) November 22, 1709. It has been said that his 1763 autobiography is an excellent source for information regarding the lives of many important musicians of his time, including the great J.S. Bach. Benda was one of many family members who became indistinguishable from the musical arts, down to the present day, in the same vein as the Bach family. This musical tradition (or music dynasty) was started by Franz Benda’s father, Jan Benda. In addition, the family gave rise to at least two female composers, a rarity in those days. Franz Benda spent much of his career working at the court of Frederick the Great, the Prussian (German) King – in fact, Benda died the same year as his benefactor. Benda received his earliest music education from his father. At age nine, he was engaged as a singer at the St Nicholas Monastery in Prague. At age 10 he ran away from home and settled in Dresden where he also found work in the choir of the Royal Chapel. He also began to study the violin while there. At age 12 he returned home and joined the choir of the Jesuit College in Prague. In 1726, at age 17, he began playing violin in orchestras engaged by various members of the nobility situated in or near Vienna – in effect, he was a free-lance violinist since he also played for social events such as weddings and fairs. In Vienna, he continued to study the violin, most notably with a court musician named Johann Gottlieb Graun, a violinist who had studied with the famous Italian violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Two years later, Benda moved to Warsaw with a group of musician friends and was eventually appointed concertmaster of the Chapel orchestra in Warsaw. He remained there until the orchestra was dissolved after their patron died. Benda moved to Dresden after that. He was either 22 or 23 years old by that time. Finally, he entered the service of the Crown Prince Frederick (who later became Frederick the Great) in 1733 – one source says 1732. He was either 23 or 24 years old. Henceforth, he participated in countless concerts with the King, often working alongside C.P.E. Bach who was the King’s harpsichordist for many years. Although he spent most of his time in Potsdam, Benda met J.S. Bach while working in Dresden. (One source states that Benda played 50,000 concertos over the course of forty years – an utterly ridiculous statement on the face of it.) Benda was appointed concertmaster of the orchestra in 1771 – he was 62 years old. Three of his brothers eventually joined him as members of the orchestra. For at least two decades between 1740 and 1760 (approximately), Benda toured Germany as a soloist while in the employ of his patron. He also had many violin pupils, among them being Johann Peter Salomon, the man who became Haydn’s impresario in London. In addition to exercises and study books for the violin, Benda composed many symphonies, concertos, and sonatas, many of them (understandably) for flute. YouTube has some files of his recorded output. His composition style bridged the gap between the Baroque and the Classical epoch. Franz Benda died on March 7, 1786, at age 76, five months before his famous benefactor.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tibor Serly was a Hungarian violinist, violist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Losone, Hungary) on November 25, 1901. He studied with some of the greatest musicians of the late nineteenth century, including Jeno Hubay and Zoltan Kodaly. Although he was an orchestral violinist for many years, he is now mostly remembered as a composer and the arranger of the Bartok viola concerto. Serly’s first teacher was his father who was a composer of theatre works and conductor as well. Interestingly, Serly began his studies in the U.S. since his family brought him here as a very young child. He played in pit orchestras in New York (which his father conducted) until he was 21 years old, at which time he returned to Hungary (in 1922) to study at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. His main teachers there were Jeno Hubay, Zoltan Kodaly, and Leo Weiner (teacher also of Fritz Reiner, Georg Solti, and Janos Starker.) Serly graduated from the academy in 1925. He was 24 years old. He then returned to the U.S. and played in the Cincinnati Symphony (as violist from 1926 to 1927 under Fritz Reiner), in the Philadelphia Orchestra (as violist – one source says violinist - from 1928 to 1937 under Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy), and the NBC Orchestra (as violist from 1937 to 1938 under ill-tempered Arturo Toscanini.) It has been said that Stokowski appointed Serly Assistant Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933 – perhaps it is true. (I made an inquiry of the Philadelphia Orchestra to confirm that but they never responded.) After 1938, Serly mostly devoted his time to composition, conducting, and teaching. He was 37 years old. His friendship and professional association with Bela Bartok began in 1925 (in Hungary) - he met with him sporadically thereafter. However, Serly was in regular and frequent contact with Bartok between 1940 and 1944, after Bartok came to the U.S. Serly completed Bartok’s viola concerto from many sketches which Bartok didn’t have time to assemble himself prior to his death. (The concerto has subsequently been further revised by Bartok’s son Peter Bartok and violist Paul Neubauer as well as by violist Csaba Erdelyi – every edition is quite different so that an orchestra must be careful to use the same edition as the soloist when performing it.) Serly also completed the last 17 bars of the third piano concerto – some say he merely orchestrated the last 17 bars of the piece – others say he orchestrated the entire piece. Serly’s own works are now very seldom played but he remains an important figure in modern music because he promoted atonal and other non-traditional ways of putting notes together to form a whole. He became a professor at the Manhattan School of Music (New York) but taught at other institutions as well. Serly was one of many musicians who became well acquainted with poets and other artists of that period, including the notorious Ezra Pound and his violinist-lover, Olga Rudge. (Few people know that Ezra Pound was also a composer. It has been said that Rudge discovered 300 of Vivaldi’s forgotten concertos in Italy and thus greatly helped the resurgence in interest in Vivaldi’s music.) Serly helped Pound organize concerts in Rapallo, Italy, to which he frequently traveled. As late as 1976, Serly was still publishing books on music theory which are now not widely known. He wrote a viola concerto in 1929 and that work is still sometimes played. He also wrote a violin concerto. His other works remain quite obscure. He died after being struck by a vehicle (some sources say it was a car) while visiting London in 1978. His exact date of death is October 8, 1978. He was 76 years old.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Peter Rybar was a Czech violinist and teacher born (in Vienna, Austria) on August 29, 1913. His playing style was not showy and flashy but he was very well regarded as a soloist and concertmaster - Rybar’s recordings (mostly produced prior to 1960) are now collector’s items. (His recording of the Bach Double Concerto (for two violins) with Henryk Szeryng is probably the best I have ever heard.) Nonetheless, as were so many other artists of the time, he was eclipsed by the likes of Heifetz, Ricci, Oistrakh, Menuhin, Milstein, Francescatti, Kogan, Grumiaux, and a few other soloists who performed in the limelight during the same period. Like Szeryng, he became fluent in seven languages, although (ironically) English was his mother tongue. His first teacher (a pupil of both Otakar Sevcik and Cesar Thomson) was his mother. He then studied in Geneva and Leipzig with teachers whom I don’t know anything about. He eventually (in 1929, at age 16) ended up at the Prague Conservatory where he spent three years (perhaps more.) One of his teachers there was Josef Suk - the elder Josef Suk (1874-1935.) (There are three Josef Suk: the grandfather (composer and son-in-law of Antonin Dvorak); the father (an engineer but also an accomplished amateur violinist); and the son (the well-known concert violinist.) Rybar also later (from 1934 onward) studied with Carl Flesch in Paris. By then, he had already begun his concertizing career (at age 19) and been playing professionally for at least two years. He toured Europe many times and became known for playing the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin to which he had dedicated more than a year of study during a sabbatical in Portugal. Although he did not premiere the piece (Samuel Dushkin did in Berlin), Rybar was the first to play the Stravinsky violin concerto (composed in 1931) in Prague and in Paris. He was also the first to record the Goldmark and the Viotti (number 22 in a minor) concertos. In 1937 (some sources say 1938), he was hired as violin professor at the Winterthur Conservatory (one of the oldest in Europe) and as concertmaster of the Winterthur Symphony in Switzerland. He was 25 years old. (Winterthur can almost be considered a suburb of Zurich.) In 1952, he formed a duo with his wife who was a pianist. He retired from his posts (as well as first violinist in the orchestra’s string quartet) after about 30 years. In 1970, he was persuaded to abandon his retirement to become concertmaster of the Orchestra of the Suisse Romande in Geneva. At the same time, he began teaching at the Geneva Conservatory. He was 57 years old by then. In 1980, he left the orchestra but I don’t know if he left the conservatory as well. He often gave recitals with pianists Wilhelm Backhaus, Edwin Fischer, and Helene Boschi. He also sometimes partnered with Clara Haskil as well (who often accompanied Arthur Grumiaux) in recitals and recordings. Rybar last played in public in 1986. His discography is not extensive but it fills at least two dozen CDs and includes the standard concertos as well as some not-often-heard works like the Tartini d minor concerto and the Schumann concerto. A few of his hard-to-find recordings are priced at over one thousand dollars. Here is a YouTube audio file of the Tartini concerto. Rybar died in Lugano, Switzerland, on October 4, 2002 at age 89.