Nathan Milstein

Nathan Milstein

Nathan Mironovich Milstein

was born on the 31st of December 1903 in Odessa as son of the merchant Miron Milstein. Out of his two sisters and four brothers, Milstein mentioned his sister Sara, who played the piano.
He got his first musical impressions through his mother Marija, who took Nathan to a concert of Jascha Heifetz, in 1911 already a famous violinist and "Wunderkind".
He is widely considered one of the finest violinists of the 20th century, well 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 of excellence in public into his mid-80s, only to retire after suffering a broken hand.

Milstein started violin studies with the eminent violin pedagogue Piotr Stolyarsky. Among Milstein's other teachers were two celebrated violinists, Leopold Auer in St. Petersburg and Eugène Ysaÿe in Belgium. He told film-maker Christopher Nupen, director of Nathan Milstein - A Portrait, that he learned almost nothing from Ysaÿe but enjoyed his company enormously. In a 1977 interview printed in High Fidelity, he said, "I went to Ysaÿe in 1926 but he never paid any attention to me. I think it might have been better this way. I had to think for myself." He was obsessed with articulating each note perfectly and would often spend long periods of time working out fingerings which would make passages sound more articulated.

Milstein may in fact have been the last of the great Russian violinists to have had personal contact with Auer. Auer did not name Milstein in his memoirs but mentions "two boys from Odessa ... both of whom disappeared after I left St. Petersburg in June 1917." Neither is Milstein's name in the registry of the St Petersburg Conservatory.

When Auer went to Norway in 1917, Milstein went back to Odessa. He 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 life-long friendship. In 1925, they went on a concert tour of Western Europe together.

Milstein 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 continuted to tour repeatedly throughout Europe, maintaining residences in London and Paris.

A transcriber and composer, Milstein arranged many works for violin and writing his own cadenzas for many concertos. One of his best known compositions is Paganiniana, a set of variations on various themes from the works of Niccolò Paganini.

In 1948, his recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, with Bruno Walter conducting the New York Philharmonic, had the distinction of being the first catalogue item in Columbia's newly introduced long-playing twelve-inch 33.333 rpm vinyl records, Columbia ML 4001.

He received a Grammy Award in 1975 for his recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, and was awarded the Legion of Honour by France in 1968. He was also awarded Kennedy Center honors by President Ronald Reagan.

A recital he gave in Stockholm in July 1986 proved to be his final performance. An accident shortly afterwards ended his career.

For most of his career he performed on the "Milstein(Maria Teresa), Goldman" Stradivarius of 1716 and for a short period the "Dancla" Stradivarius of 1710.

During the late 1980s, Milstein published his memoirs, From Russia to the West, in which he discussed his life of constant performance and socializing. Milstein discusses the personalities of important composers such as Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky and conductors such as Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski, all of whom he knew personally. He also discusses his best friends, pianist Vladimir Horowitz, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and ballet director George Balanchine, as well as other violinists such as Fritz Kreisler and David Oistrakh. Milstein also expressed his generally right-wing, strongly anti-communist and anti-Soviet political beliefs. Milstein said that President Kennedy was a weak leader, admired President Reagan, and stated that he refused to return to the Soviet Union, even for a tour sponsored by the United States.

Milstein was married twice, remaining married to his second wife, Therese, until his death.
He died in London ten days before his 89th birthday


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