“I consider Josef Gingold the greatest violin teacher I have ever known,” cellist Janos Starker divulged to David Blum in The New Yorker. “His background is almost unparalleled; he has done practically everything that a string player can do in music—even played in Broadway shows. He’s the only teacher I know who is equally qualified to teach the instrument, solo repertoire, orchestral repertoire, and chamber music. He also happens to be one of the most genuine human beings I’ve ever met.” The eminent and beloved professor Gingold bears a legacy of tonal beauty to his students that Musical America cites “among the last links with the violin tradition of the late nineteenth century.”
Gingold, who has received seven honorary doctorates and the celebrated American String Association’s Teacher of the Year Award, has routinely ignored his official yearly teaching load of eighteen students, choosing instead to instruct as many as forty pupils and give weekly master classes. Teaching at all levels rather than just the advanced, Josef Gingold confessed to Blum, “To use the beautiful Hebrew word, it’s a mitzvah —a blessed service—to be a teacher.”
Gingold was born October 28, 1909, in Brest Litovsk, Russia, the last child of the second marriage for both his parents, Anna (Leiserowitz) and Meyer Gingold. When Josef was three years old, his father gave him his first violin. Gingold smashed the instrument looking for the little man inside whom his father had told him played the music. Two years later, after Gingold had become accomplished on the violin, the five-year-old was about to leave home to study at a conservatory in Warsaw, Poland when World War I interrupted his family’s plan. After the German invasion of Russian border towns, the Gingold family was forced to spend months in refugee camps. At one of the sites, Josef asked a soldier if he could play his violin. That night he was taken from his terrified mother by German soldiers who insisted he play at a party they were giving. Afterward, he was returned to his mother by the soldiers with pay—several bags of food.
To escape the widespread anti-Semitism of their homeland after the war, the Gingold family broke up. One son went to Israel while a daughter stayed in Paris. In 1920 the Gingolds followed another son to New York, with eleven-year-old Josef and his other two sisters. Money was tight at their home on the lower East Side of
For the Record…
Born October 28, 1909, in Brest-Litovsk, Russia (now Brest, BelorussianS.S.R, U.S.S.R.); immigrated to United States, 1920; son of Meyer (a shoe factory owner and insurance salesman) and Anna (Leiserowitz) Gingold; married Gladys Anderson (a violinist and pianist), October 14, 1934 (deceased, 1978); children: George. Education: Studied with Melzar Chaffee, Vladimir Graff man, 1922-1927, and Eugene Ysaye, 1927-1930.
Violinist, artist, and teacher. Toured northern Europe, 1927-1930; first violinist in the NBC orchestra, 1937-1943; member of the Primrose String Quartet, 1939-1942; member of the NBC String Quartet, 1941-1943; concertmaster, Detroit Symphony, 1943-1946; concertmaster and soloist, Cleveland Symphony, 1947-1960. Teacher, Case Western Reserve University, 1950-1960; professor of chamber music, Meadowmount School of Music, 1955-1981; faculty, Indiana University 1960—, distinguished professor of music, 1965—; teacher at various institutions, including Paris Conservatory, 1970-1981, Toho School, Tokyo, 1970, Copenhagen, 1979, and Montreal, 1980. Mischa Elman Chair, Manhattan School of Music, New York City, 1980-1981. U.S. representative on numerous International Competition juries.
Awards: Honorary degrees from Indiana University, Kent State University, Baldwin-Wallace College, Cleveland Institute of Music, and New England Conservatory of Music; named the American String Association’s Teacher of the Year, 1968.
Addresses: Home— Bloomington, IN. Office— Department of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47401.
New York; however, Josef continued his violin instruction under Melzar Chaffee at the Music School Settlement. Chaffee, who recognized Gingold needed exceptional guidance, recommended him to Vladimir Graffman, assistant of the renowned Leopold Auer. Although Josef had no prior formal music education before he met Graffman, he played his new exercises with an intuitive, flawless, left-hand position. Eventually, Graffman introduced Gingold to Heiffetz, regarded as the greatest violinist of the century, who was impressed with his youthful talent. As an adolescent, Gingold sought performances wherever he could, listening to Heiffetz, Casals, Szigeti, Hubermann, and Thibaud. Once, he stood outside Carnegie Hall, rushing in to hear Fritz Kreisler’s encore when he had no money for a ticket. Through family friends, Graffman helped Gingold study in Belgium with Eugene Ysaye. When asked if Ysaye would accept Gingold, Ysaye replied, according to Blum, “But naturally. He is a born violinist.” In 1928, at the age of eighteen, Gingold gave his first public performance in Brussels. He concertized northern Europe for the next three years.
In the next years, Gingold held various jobs, including working as a member of a walking fiddle corporation, playing a stint at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and performing at the Chicago World’s Fair. His first steady job was as an assistant concertmaster for a Jerome Kern production on Broadway in October of 1931. He continued as a concertmaster for Kern on two more shows, and then one by Cole Porter. In 1937 he auditioned for the newly-formed NBC orchestra under Toscanini, where he reigned as first violinist from 1937 to 1943. Simultaneously, Gingold’s reputation grew with his membership in two outstanding chamber groups, the Primrose Quartet and the NBC String Quartet. In 1944 he left Toscanini to become concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony under Karl Krueger. By 1947 he had caught the eye of George Szell, a major European conductor who came to the U.S. in 1939. Gingold became concertmaster under Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra and together, from 1947 to 1959, they built the group into “one of the most polished ensembles in the country,” according to Great Masters of the Violin. The New Yorker declared that the pairing made Cleveland “one of the great orchestras of the world.”
During the Cleveland years Gingold’s reputation as an instructor grew. He taught at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Music School Settlement, and served as the head of chamber music under Ivan Galamian at Meadowmount. He counted thirteen-year-old Itzhak Perlman, fourteen-year-old Pinchas Zuker-man, and twelve-year-old Jaime Laredo among his students, but did not attempt teaching full-time until he became professor of violin at Indiana University in 1960. Contributing to the university’s sterling reputation, Gingold has instructed prestigious, prize-winning soloists and concertmasters of eight major orchestras, including Miriam Fried, Nai Yuan Hu, Joshua Bell, Ulf Hoelscher, Dylana Jenson, Leonidas Kavakos, and William Preucil. He has taught master classes in Paris, Tokyo, Copenhagen, and Montreal, and held the eminent Mischa Elman Chair at the Manhattan School of Music. He has also served as the representative of the United States at international juried competitions, including the Queen Elisabeth in Brussels, the Wieniawski in Poland, and the Tchaikovsky in Moscow. Gingold was also a founder, first chairman and president of the jury of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 1982.
Gingold was married to violinist and pianist Gladys Anderson on October 14, 1934. Since her death in 1978, Gingold has donated all his private teaching fees to a scholarship for gifted violin students set up in his wife’s memory. Though having already celebrated his eightieth birthday at a gala concert given by his former students, Gingold continues to work in his teaching studio. Assessing the artist-teacher Josef Gingold, Pinchas Zuckerman declared to Blum, “I can honestly say he is the kind of man who comes along once in a century.”
Josef Gingold at 75, 1975.
Faure: Violin Sonata in A, 1989.
Kreisler: Shorter Works and Transcriptions, 1989.
Duos: For Violin and Cello, 1990.
Applebaum, Samuel and Sada Applebaum, The Way They Play, Paganiniana, 1972.
Schwarz, Boris, Great Masters of the Violin, Simon & Schuster, 1983.
American Record Guide, September-October 1989.
High Fidelity/Musical America, March 1985.
New Yorker, February 4, 1991.
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