Josef Gingold : OBITUARIES

Click to follow
Josef Gingold was one of the last of those eminent violinists who had their roots in the great 19th-century traditions of violin-playing, but with teaching methods combining all the essentials of 20th-century development. As a pupil of the legenda ry Belgian Eugene Ysae, he could trace his ancestry in a direct line through Henri Vieuxtemps to Viotti in the 18th century.

Gingold was born in Brest-Litovsk on the Polish-Russian border into a musical family, and showed early talent. He was due for some lessons when the First World War intervened and his family became refugees, shunting from one place to another, caught between the Russians and the Germans. Josef was lucky in that one of the Germans who occupied their town was a musician who took an interest in him, teaching him to play the tango, the two-step and the waltz all without music. This then was the extent of his musical education. In 1920 when Gingold was 11 his family emigrated to the United States, where he had lessons with Vladimir Graffman, a pupil of Leopold Auer.

At 17 Gingold made his solo recital debut at the Old Aeolian Hall in New York and received excellent reviews, but the following year he decided to return to Europe to study with Ysae in Belgium for two and a half years. He confessed that during this time he never once had the violin out of his hands, but the benefit of his studies with the great man remained with him his entire life.

On his return to the US in the Depression of 1930, there were few possibilities for concert work, but his first break came with a job in the orchestra pit in the highly successful musical The Cat and the Fiddle, where he earned $80 a week for just over ayear and felt like a millionaire. It was here that he met his future wife Gladys Anderson, also a violinist, who died in 1978.

He worked for some time as a freelance and then in 1937 when Arturo Toscanini was organising the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra, he successfully auditioned for the first violin section. He played with them until 1943 when he was offered the leadership of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where he stayed for three years.

Gingold was also a fine chamber music player, and during his time in Detroit he was a member of the Detroit Trio with the pianist Mischa Kottler and cellist Georges Miquelle. They performed together for four years giving many concerts and broadcasts and in so doing covered the entire trio repertoire. He was also a member of the Primrose Quartet from 1939 to 1942 and the NBC String Quartet from 1941 to 1943. This experience proved invaluable when in 1944 he was invited by Ivan Galamian to be Professor ofChamber Music at his famous Meadowmount School held each summer in the Adirondack Mountains at Westport, New York.

That same year George Szell asked him to join the Cleveland Orchestra as leader, where he remained for 13 years and often performed as soloist. He considered Szell one of the greatest musicians he had ever known, and he felt he had learnt a great deal from him - especially about teaching. Szell was also a fine pianist and they often played sonatas together.

Teaching had always been an integral part of Gingold's activities and he had taught at the Case Western Reserve University since 1950, but in 1960 moved on to join the faculty of the Music School at Indiana University in Bloomington, where five years later he was appointed "Distinguished Professor of Violin".

It was while he was at Bloomington that Gingold became known for his outstanding abilities as a teacher. Many of his students rose to the top of their profession, Jaime Laredo, Joseph Silverstein, Ulf Hoelscher and Miriam Fried are but a few. Laredo, soloist, chamber musician and conductor, says: "Gingold truly initiated in me the love for music and the violin. He showed me - from my very first lesson when I was 12 - how every scale, every etude could be conceived musically. I'm a richer person for havi ng known him and shall always be grateful for all that he has given me."

I recall my own experience when visiting Bloomington in 1983, when Gingold invited me into his classroom to hear a particularly talented 16-year-old student play Farasate's Zigeunerweisen. It was indeed a phenomenal talent and he now enjoys an international reputation as a soloist. His name is Joshua Bell.

Gingold gave masterclasses in universities and conservatories the world over. He was an annual visitor to the Paris Conservatoire for many years and a guest teacher at the Toho School in Japan. He also held the Mischa Elman Chair at the Manhattan School of Music from 1980 to 1981.

As a juror, Gingold represented the United States in many international competitions, notably the Queen Elisabeth in Brussels and the Wieniawski in Poland. More recently he was the first Honorary Chairman and President of the Indianapolis Violin Competition from its foundation in 1982 until 1984 when just approaching his 85th birthday, he relinquished the presidency and the enormous responsibilities it incurred. He chose Laredo as his successor, the first student of his to win a major competition and togo on to carve out an international career. On accepting this invitation Laredo said: "I cannot refuse anything that Josef Gingold asks of me. To serve as his successor is a great honour because the Indianapolis competition so exactly reflects the valueof the man who helped create it. Its reputation in the world of music is unique because of the loving care it extends to the young talents who come to compete."

Gingold's playing was always stylish and elegant and his pupils radiate this quality. He made a number of recordings, some of which have recently been reissued on CD by the Strad as an 85th birthday tribute.

As a man he was probably one of the best-loved in the entire music profession. He was gentle, kind, and emanated an all-enveloping warmth that made one happier to be in his presence. He loved playing and he loved teaching, and once said to me: "I've had a wonderful musical life - a marvellous family - good health and a Stradivarius violin. What more could anyone wish for?"

Josef Gingold, violinist: born Brest-Litovsk 28 October 1909; married Gladys Anderson (died 1978; one son); died Bloomington, Indiana 11 January 1995.