Obituary: Sndor Vegh

The death of Sndor Vegh sees the passing of one of the last of the great Hungarian violinists who could trace their traditions back through Hubay and Joachim to the Italian violinist Viotti. Vegh was, throughout his long career, soloist, chamber musician, conductor and teacher, and it would be difficult to say in which of these activities he served best the cause of music. In other words, he was a giant, whose accomplishments are indelibly etched upon every one of his undertakings.

Vegh was born in 1912 in Koloszvr in Transylvania and studied at the Academy of Music in Budapest (1924-30) with Jeno Hubay (violin), Leo Weiner (chamber music) and Zoltn Kodly (composition). He made his debut in 1931 with the Hungarian Trio and thereafter toured with them and as a soloist throughout Europe. He became leader of the Hungarian String Quartet from its foundation in 1935 until 1938, giving the first performance of the Bartk Quartet No 5 with them in Barcelona in 1936. In 1940 he founded the Vegh Quartet which he led for 38 years, touring Europe, North and South America and Asia: they also recorded the complete cycles of the Beethoven and Bartk quartets and in 1978 the quartet's recording of Beeth- oven's Op. 130 was launched by NASA on board Voyager's extra-solar trajectory.

Vegh was professor of violin at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest (1941-45) and emigrated to Switzerland in 1946. He became a French citizen in 1952, holding professorships at the Academy of Music, Basle (1953-63), the Hochschule fur Musik, Freiburg (1956-64), Hochschule fur Musik, Dusseldorf (1964-74) and the Hoch-schule Mozarteum, Salzburg (1970-87). At the same time he continued to give international master-classes, solo performances, play chamber music and make recordings. Outstanding among these are the Beethoven sonatas for Violin and Piano with Andras Schiff, and the complete Mozart piano concertos with Schiff and Vegh conducting the Salzburg Camerata Academica.

Vegh founded the Festival of Music at Cervo in Italy in 1962, and collaborated with Pablo Casals in the Festivals at Prades from 1953 to 1969, as a soloist playing under many famous conductors including Willem Mengelberg, Erno Dohnnyi, Josef Krips, Casals, Rudolf Serkin and Wilhelm Kempff. He was also a guest artist at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, in the United States, under Serkin, from 1974 to 1977.

It was when Vegh was playing the Beethoven Concerto at a concert in Truro Cathedral that, at the invitation of Hilary Behrens, one of his ex-pupils, he took a few days off to absorb the magic of the far west of Cornwall. He was so inspired by the atmosphere that he asked Behrens if a session of Spring Master Classes could be set up there. So came about Vegh's most important impact on the musical life of the UK. In 1972 with Behrens as co-director, they founded the International Musicians' Seminar (IMS) at Prussia Cove in Cornwall.

It was a huge success and attracted young musicians from all over the world to work and learn together in a relaxed, idyllic setting making music often far into the night. The success of the undertakings, further encouraged by Vegh's experiences at the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, prompted the addition in 1975 of the IMS Open Chamber Music Seminar, held each September, which proved equally popular. Since its inception the IMS has become a symbol of ideal musical performance for some 2,000 musicians throughout the world and has a firm place in British musical life. Vegh retired as artistic director in 1996.

Vegh's playing was distinguished by its purity and warmth of tone, and above all, his breadth of musical understanding. He was once asked what was the difference between his generation and the young people of today as regards their approach to music. He replied:

The great difference is that the world of today is permeated by technology and ruled by machines. Our generation was still near to nature and our experience of sensations of every kind was not watered down by mechanical reproduction. We came to our musical education already impregnated by a live and vibrant musical background. The whole atmosphere into which we were born was already, by definition, a musical one.

One had only to watch Vegh giving a master-class to see what he meant. He would pinpoint exactly the fault of a student and by demonstrating, remonstrating and gesticulating like a ten-armed windmill, he would bring about a complete metamorphosis in the most timid young player.

As a man he was small of stature, but gigantic in personality, and his facial expressions, grunts and gurgles were all part of the scenario which drew the most highly criticised students to return year after year to ask for more.

When asked, well into his sixties, if he hoped to remain as active as ever into old age, he replied:

Activity is the expression of an inner rhythm. Energy invested in music is never lost. Rhythm is an expression of life itself. Everything that has to do with music will retard the onset of the process of ageing. To participate in music has a definite therapeutic value from this point of view. Have you ever seen a senile musician? Look at Emile Sauer, Felix Weingartner, Pierre Monteux, Ernst Ansermet, Stokowsky, Artur Rubinstein and many others.

In his own case, true to his words, Sndor Vegh was still making beautiful music on his superb violin, the "Earl of Harrington" Stradivarius, right up to the last.

Margaret Campbell

Sndor Vegh, violinist: born Koloszvr, Transylvania 17 May 1912; Professor of Violin, Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest 1941-45; Professor of Violin, Academy of Music, Basle 1953-63; Professor of Violin, Hochschule fur Musik, Freiburg 1956-64; Professor of Violin, Hochschule fur Musik, Dusseldorf 1964-74; Professor of Violin, Hochschule Mozarteum, Salzburg 1970-87; artistic director, International Musicians' Seminar 1972-96; Honorary CBE 1988; married (one daughter, one son); died Freilassing, Germany 7 January 1997.

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