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Nathan Milstein

By March 8, 2018March 25th, 2023No Comments

This is my favorite violinist.  Besides the fact that he was a virtuoso, his tone was exquisite.  I don’t think that there is anyone alive today who can play like Milstein.

This posting is going to be longer than most because I am going to put up two lengthy works.  Listen to one, listen to part of one, listen to both.  They will be here.

Nathan Milstein

Nathan Mironovich Milstein (January 13, 1904– December 21, 1992) was a Ukrainian-born American virtuoso violinist.

Widely considered one of the finest violinists of the 20th century, Milstein was known for his interpretations of Bach’s solo violin works and for works from the Romantic period. He was also known for his long career: he performed at a high level into his mid 80s, retiring only after suffering a broken hand.


Milstein was born in Odessa, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire), the fourth child of seven, to a middle-class Jewish family with virtually no musical background. It was a concert by the 11-year-old Jascha Heifetz that inspired his parents to make a violinist out of Milstein. As a child of seven, he started violin studies (as suggested by his parents, to keep him out of mischief) with the eminent violin pedagogue Pyotr Stolyarsky, also the teacher of renowned violinist David Oistrakh.

When Milstein was 11, Leopold Auer (see separate section on Auer below – he is very important) invited him to become one of his students at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.  Milstein reminisced:   Every little boy who had the dream of playing better than the other boy wanted to go to Auer. He was a very gifted man and a good teacher. I used to go to the Conservatory twice a week for classes. I played every lesson with forty or fifty people sitting and listening. Two pianos were in the classroom and a pianist accompanied us. When Auer was sick, he would ask me to come to his home

Milstein met Vladimir Horowitz and his pianist sister Regina in 1921 when he played a recital in Kiev. They invited him for tea at their parents’ home. Milstein later said, “I came for tea and stayed three years.” Milstein and Horowitz performed together, as “children of the revolution”, throughout the Soviet Union and struck up a lifelong friendship. In 1925, they went on a concert tour of Western Europe together.

He made his American debut in 1929 with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He eventually settled in New York and became an American citizen. He toured repeatedly throughout Europe, maintaining residences in London and Paris.

A recital he gave in Stockholm in July 1986 proved to be his final performance. This recital was recorded in its in entirety and shows the remarkable condition of his technique at age 82. A fall shortly afterwards in which he severely broke his left hand ended his career.

Milstein was married twice, remaining married to his second wife, Therese, until his death. He died of a heart attack in London on December 21, 1992, 23 days before his 89th birthday.  Therese died in 1999 aged 83.

Leopold Auer

Leopold Auer (Hungarian: Auer Lipót’; June 7, 1845 – July 15, 1930) was a Hungarian violinist, academic, conductor and composer, best known as an outstanding violin teacher.

Early life and career

Auer was born in Veszprém, Hungary, June 7, 1845. He first studied violin with a local concertmaster. He later wrote that the violin was a “logical instrument” for any (musically inclined) Hungarian boy to take up because it “didn’t cost much.” Auer later continued his violin studies with Ridley Kohné, who also came from Veszprém, at the Budapest Conservatory. Kohné was concertmaster of the orchestra of the National Opera. A performance by Auer as soloist in the Mendelssohn violin concerto attracted the interest of some wealthy music lovers, who gave him a scholarship to go to Vienna for further study. He lived at the home of his teacher, Jakob Dont. Auer wrote that it was Dont who taught him the foundation for his violin technique.

Auer spent the summer of 1864 at the spa village of Wiesbaden, where he had been hired to perform. There he met violinist Henryk Wieniawski and pianist brothers Anton Rubinstein and Nicholas Rubinstein, later founder and director of the Moscow Conservatory and conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Auer got some informal instruction from Wieniawski. In the summer of 1865 Auer was in another spa village, Baden-Baden, where he met Clara Schumann, Brahms, and Johann Strauss Jr.


Rubinstein was in search of a violin professor for the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which he had founded in 1862, and he proposed Auer.  Auer agreed to a three-year contract, and was also soloist at the court of Grand Duchess Helena. At first, music critics in St. Petersburg harshly criticized Auer’s playing and compared it unfavorably with that of his predecessor, Wieniawski. But Tchaikovsky’s admiration for Auer’s playing led to its acceptance. Auer would stay for 49 years (1868-1917). During that time, he held the position of first violinist to the orchestra of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. This included the principal venue of the Imperial Ballet and Opera, the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre (until 1886), and later the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, as well as the Imperial Theatres of Peterhof and the Hermitage. Until 1906, Auer played almost all of the violin solos in the ballets performed by the Imperial Ballet, the majority of which were choreographed by Marius Petipa. Before Auer, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski had played the ballet solos.


Up through 1917, Auer did not perform in the United States. “But in 1918…work in Russia became impossible because of the” Russian Revolution.” He then moved to the United States, although because of his age, he did not undertake a wide concert tour. He played at Carnegie Hall on March 23, 1918 and also performed in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. He taught some private students at his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In 1926 he joined the Institute of Musical Art (later to become the Juilliard School). In 1928 he joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He died in 1930 in Loschwitz, a suburb of Dresden, Germany, and was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was especially taken with Auer’s playing. Reviewing an 1874 appearance in Moscow, Tchaikovsky praised Auer’s “great expressivity, the thoughtful finesse and poetry of the interpretation.” This finesse and poetry came at a tremendous price. Auer suffered as a performer from poorly formed hands. He had to work incessantly, with an iron determination, just to keep his technique in shape.

Auer achieved much through constant work. His tone was small but ingratiating, his technique polished and elegant. His playing lacked fire, but he made up for it with a classic nobility. After he arrived in the United States, he made some recordings which bear this out. They show the violinist in excellent shape technically, with impeccable intonation, incisive rhythm and tasteful playing.


Auer is remembered as one of the most important pedagogues of the violin and was one of the most sought-after teachers for gifted students.  Auer’s position in the history of violin playing is based on his teaching.  Many notable virtuoso violinists were among his students.  Among these were some of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century.

Like pianist Franz Liszt, in his teaching, Auer did not focus on technical matters with his students. Instead, he guided their interpretations and concepts of music. If a student ran into a technical problem, Auer did not offer any suggestions. Neither was he inclined to pick up a bow to demonstrate a passage. Nevertheless, he was a stickler for technical accuracy. Fearing to ask Auer themselves, many students turned to each other for help.

While Auer valued talent, he considered it no excuse for lack of discipline, sloppiness or absenteeism. He demanded punctual attendance. He expected intelligent work habits and attention to detail. Lessons were as grueling, and required as much preparation, as recital performances.

Admission to Auer’s class was a privilege won by talent. Remaining there was a test of endurance and hard work. Auer could be stern, severe, harsh. One unfortunate student was ejected regularly, with the music thrown after him. Auer valued musical vitality and enthusiasm. He hated lifeless, anemic playing and was not above poking a bow into a student’s ribs, demanding more “krov.” (The word literally means “blood” but can also be used to mean fire or vivacity.)

While Auer pushed his students to their limits, he also remained devoted to them. He remained solicitous of their material needs. He helped them obtain scholarships, patrons and better instruments. He used his influence in high government offices to obtain residence permits for his Jewish students.

Auer shaped his students’ personalities. He gave them style, taste, musical breeding. He also broadened their horizons. He made them read books, guided their behavior and career choices and polished their social graces. He also insisted that his students learn a foreign language if an international career was expected.