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Mischa Elman

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Mikhail Saulovich 'Mischa' Elman (January 20, 1891 – April 5, 1967) was a Ukrainian-born Jewish violinist, famed for his passionate style and beautiful tone.

Early life

Elman was born in the small town of Talnoye near Kiev. His grandfather was a klezmer, a Jewish folk musician, who also played the violin. It became apparent when Mischa was very young that he had perfect pitch, but his father hesitated about a career as a musician, since musicians were not very high on the social scale. He finally gave in, and gave Mischa a miniature violin, on which he soon learned several tunes by himself. Soon thereafter, he was taken to Odessa, where he studied at the Imperial Academy of Music. Pablo de Sarasate gave him a recommendation, stating that he could become one of the great talents of Europe. He auditioned for Leopold Auer at the age of 11, playing the Wieniawski Concerto No. 2 and 24th Caprice by Paganini. Auer was so impressed that he had Elman admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

Elman was still only a boy when Auer arranged for him to play with the famous Colonne Orchestra during their visit to Pavlovsk. Knowing Édouard Colonne's hatred of child prodigies, Auer did not tell him Elman's age when making the arrangements, and not until the famous conductor saw young Mischa waiting to go on the platform did he realize that he had engaged a child. He was furious, and flatly refused to continue with the programme. Frantic attempts were made to assure him that Elman had the recommendation of Auer himself and was well capable of doing justice to the music, but Colonne was adamant, " I have never yet played with a child, and I refuse to start now," he retorted. So Elman had to play with piano accompaniment while conductor and orchestra sat listening.[1]

Career as musician

In 1903, Elman began to play concerts in the homes of wealthy patrons of the arts, and he made his Berlin debut in 1904, creating a great sensation. His London debut in 1905 included the British premiere of Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A minor. He played in Carnegie Hall in 1908, making a great impression on his American audience.

The Elman family moved to the United States, and Mischa became a citizen in 1923. In 1917, he was elected to honorary membership in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity. He sometimes performed in as many as 107 concerts in a 29-week season. In 1943, he gave the premiere of Bohuslav Martinů's second concerto, which was written for him. Sales of his records exceeded two million.

A frequent accompanist in chamber works during Elman's early American career was Emmanuel Bay, who was born on exactly the same day as he was, January 20, 1891. But Elman also performed and recorded with Josef Bonime, Carroll Hollister and others, and from 1950, his steady accompanist and recital partner was Joseph Seiger. He also briefly performed and made recordings with the Mischa Elman String Quartet.

Elman's recorded legacy spanned just over sixty years: his first 78 rpm discs were made for Pathe, in Paris, in 1906; his final LP sessions were for Vanguard, in New York, shortly before his death. The greatest part of his discography was recorded for HMV and Victor, with whom he had an exclusive relationship through 1950. Thereafter, he recorded for Decca/London and later the Vanguard recording group. Unlike his contemporary, Jascha Heifetz, Elman's work has never been re-issued in a systematic manner. Highlights of his recording career are listed below.


Mono era

  • Bach - Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 - with John Barbirolli
  • Bach - Prelude from the Partita for Solo Violin, BWV 1006
  • Beethoven - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 - with Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Beethoven - Romance in F major for violin and Orchestra (HMV DB 1847)
  • Massenet - Élégie Mélodie, with Enrico Caruso (HMV DK 103)
  • Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 - with Désiré Defauw and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Raff - Cavatina, with Josef Bonime (HMV DB 1354)
  • Sarasate - Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20, No. 1.
  • Schubert - Valse Sentimentale, with Carroll Hollister (HMV DA 1144)
  • Schumann - Träumerei from Kinderszenen, Op. 15, with Marcel Van Gool (HMV DA 1144)
  • Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 - with John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra
  • Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 - with Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Vivaldi - Concerto in G minor, RV 317 - with Lawrance Collingwood and the New Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Wieniawski - Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 22 - with the "Robin Hood Dell" (aka Philadelphia) Orchestra
  • Wieniawski - Legend, Op. 17

Stereo era

  • Bach - Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 - with Vladimir Golschmann, and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra
  • Dvořák - Slavonic Fantasy in B minor
  • Kreisler - La Précieuse
  • Nardini - Violin Concerto in E minor - with Vladimir Golschmann, and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra
  • Smetana - Má vlast, No. 2.
  • Vivaldi - Violin Concerto in G minor, RV 317 - with Vladimir Golschmann, and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra

Elman's interpretations are in stark contrast with contemporary performance practice. Tempi are taken quite slowly; with significant use of both rubato and portamento. The most striking performances are those of the baroque repertoire. The Vivaldi G minor concerto, particularly in the collaboration with Collingwood, has a soulful, almost klezmer, feel to it. For example, simple arpeggio and scale passagework in the outer movements are performed with a remarkable lyrical quality; the 'motor driven' tempo characteristic of a Vivaldi allegro is completely absent. The adagio of the Vivaldi concerto becomes reminiscent of the Fritz Kreisler performance of the Bruch concerto. Though Elman may have been an anachronism in his day (his active period overlaps with the early recordings of Nikolaus Harnoncourt), his interpretations are still worthy of attention and admiration.


  • Biography A. Kozinn, Mischa Elman and the Romantic Style (Chur and New York, 1990).
  • "Mischa Elman", Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Centennial Edition. Nicolas Slonimsky, Editor Emeritus. Schirmer, 2001.
  • Violin Virtuosos (from Paganini to 21st century) - Henry Roth 1997 ISBN 1-8879395-15-0


External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Mischa Elman. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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