Mischa Elman was one of the great violin virtuosos of all time.
Elman, Mischa (actually, Mikhail Saulovich), remarkable Russian-born American violinist; b. Talnoy, Jan. 20, 1891; d. N.Y., April 5, 1967.
"At the age of 6, he was taken by his father to Odessa, where he became a violin student of Fidelmann and a pupil of Brodsky. His progress was extraordinary, and when Leopold Auer heard him play in 1902, he immediately accepted him in his class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory In 1904 he made his debut in St. Petersburg with sensational acclaim; on Oct. 14, 1904, he made a brilliant Berlin debut; on March 21, 1905, he made his first appearance in London to great acclaim. On Dec. 10, 1908, he made his U.S. debut as soloist in an extraordinary performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto with Altschuler and the Russian Symphony Orchestra in N.Y., and was hailed as one of the greatest virtuosos of the time; he played with every important symphony orchestra in the U.S. In the following years, he played all over the world, and, with Jascha Heifetz, became a synonym for violinistic prowess. His playing was the quintessence of Romantic interpretation; his tone was mellifluous but resonant; he excelled particularly in the concertos of Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Wieniawski; but he could also give impressive performances of Beethoven and Mozart. He published several violin arrangements of Classical and Romantic pieces, and he also composed some playable short compositions for his instrument. His father published a sentimental book, MEMOIRS OF MISCHA ELMAN'S FATHER (N.Y., 1933). In 1923 Elman became a naturalized American citizen.'
Why this short bio of Mischa Elman? When I was a student of Bernard Greenhouse he told me a story about this beloved artist. Greenhouse attended one of his final concerts, actually a concert in his honor. He was famous for his tone, as is mentioned in the bio above. Greenhouse once said to me that if a cellist has a beautiful tone, he or she is 90%
But back to our story. At this final concert Mr. Elman was on stage performing. He was taking one of his long luscious bows and looking the picture of naturalness and freedom. What many people didn't know was that Mr. Elman battled tension in his playing all his life. He developed a way of playing that mimicked relaxation. Not an easy feat. Well, at the end of a glorious long down bow, just for an instant, his control of this underlying tension slipped and the bow flipped out of his hand making circles in the air across the stage. You can imagine everyone's confusion and shock given that he looked and sounded so free. He ended up having to crawl around on stage looking for his bow while his glasses fell off. It was a sad moment for such a great musician and artist. I tell this not to mock Elman but to say that relaxation is crucial in order to really be free in one's playing. No one wants to play with the risk of things like this happening.
However. a few incidents like this cannot truly tarnish a great player like Mischa Elman or all the beauty he created.
He apparently had a tone that was otherworldly. Suzanne