Friday, August 12, 2011

Nathan Milstein: Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata

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Nathan Milstein plays Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 ("Kreutzer Sonata"): First Movement. The pianist is Georges Pludermacher.

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Front page of the Kreutzer Sonata, Ludwig van Beethoven, 1805.
There is an interesting story behind this sonata. Beethoven initially dedicated the sonata to George Bridgetower, a violinist of Polish and West Indian origins, who played the piece brilliantly at its first performance at the Augarten Theatre in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 1803, at the early hour at 8 o'clock in the morning. Later on, the composer and violinist were having a drink, and they had a falling out after the violinist made a crude remark of a woman whom Beethoven admired. The composer, taking offense, demanded the original manuscript be returned. Thus, before publication in 1805 Beethoven switched the dedication to Adolphe Kreutzer, a Parisian violinist of some fame. Although the sonata bears his name, Kreutzer never performed it, declaring it impossible to play.
Source: Wikipedia
Nathan Milstein [1903-1992] was among the cadre of famous pupils of Leopold Auer [1845-1930], who included Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist and Jascha Heifetz. Auer, a Hungarian Jew, left Russia in 1917 and settled in the United States in February 1918, where soon after landing played at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Auer was 73. After a solo career, he joined the Institute of Musical Art (the forerunner of the Juilliard School) in 1926. A couple of years later, in 1928, he joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

In a review by David Foil, we find out the following about Milstein's early and formative years as a violinist in Russia:
If Milstein's lighthearted, sometimes, even flippant memoirs are to be believed, his first violin lessons (at the age of 4) were intended primarily to keep him out of trouble in the neighborhood. He was born into a bourgeois Jewish family in Odessa on December 31, 1903, and his swiftly emerging talent was encouraged by his family, particularly his mother. Perhaps his most important early influence was Pyotr Stolyarsky, the Odessa teacher whose students included Leonid Kogan and David Oistrakh. Through Stolyarsky, Milstein made his first big impression, at the age of 10, playing the Glazunov Violin Concerto under the composer's direction. Within two years, the boy had won a place in Auer's studio at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he remained until Auer departed for Norway.

Milstein reached manhood and the first crest of maturity just as the Russian Empire collapsed in the face of the Communist revolution. His career flourished in the new Soviet Union, where he was considered "a child of the Soviet revolution" and —with the blithe good will and good fortune that seem to have been motifs in his life — escaped serious deprivation or suffering. He was playing in Kiev when he first encountered Vladimir Horowitz, who was to become a lifelong friend. Horowitz and his sister heard all of Milstein's Kiev concerts and invited him to tea, which went so well that he stayed for dinner. The next day, he came to tea again and when the young Horowitzes suggested he just move in, he did so, staying for three years.
Milstein left Russia in 1925, never to return (unlike Horowitz's famous return in 1986). Milstein eventually settled in New York City, becoming an American citizen during the Second World War. Nathan Milstein died of a heart attack in London, England, on December 21, 1992. He was 88.

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