(b. 31 December 1903 in Odessa, Russia; d. 21 December 1992 in London, England), violin virtuoso whose elegant musicality influenced twentieth-century violin playing.
Milstein was one of the seven children of Maria Bluestein and Miron Milstein. His father was a successful importer of woolens and English and Scottish tweeds, as well as an enthusiastic Tolstoyan who followed the moral teachings of the great Russian novelist. Nathan Milstein, who was Jewish, recalled that the family spoke only Russian while he was growing up; he regretted that he never learned Yiddish. Milstein’s mother was a homemaker who hired and supervised her children’s tutors and governesses. She recognized Nathan’s early interest in music and gave him his first violin hoping it would keep him out of mischief. Milstein admitted that he was an unruly child and was continually getting into trouble. Once he saw that he could garner praise from adults and his childhood friends by playing the violin, he began to practice in earnest. He was further motivated to take his musical studies seriously when he went to hear some of the world’s greatest violinists, including Jan Kubelik, Bronislaw Huberman, and Eugène-Auguste Ysaye, who performed regularly in Odessa.
In 1909 Milstein began to study with Odessa’s most prestigious violin teacher, Pyotr Stoliarsky, who was his teacher for six years. The ten-year-old Milstein was prokected
into the limelight with his performance of Aleksandr Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, as a last-minute replacement for the soloist who became ill. Glazunov himself, director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, was guest conducting the Odessa Orchestra at the time and was deeply impressed by the boy’s intelligence, virtuosity, and interpretive genius.
In 1916 having heard Milstein perform in Odessa, Leopold Auer, the renowned Hungarian violinist and teacher, invited the eleven-year-old to come to St. Petersburg (then Petrograd) to study with him. Auer had trained such notable performers as Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Toscha Seidel, and Efrem Zimbalist. After a year with Auer, Milstein began to give concerts throughout Russia with his sister Sara as his accompanist. They gave their first concert together in 1919 in Kiev, where he met the young pianist Vladimir Horowitz. He and Horowitz not only became fast friends, but Milstein moved in with Horowitz’s family and lived with them for three years. The two musicians began to tour Russia to rave reviews. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Soviet authorities decided to send the duo to Europe to show the world the beneficent effects of the revolution on Russian cultural life. Although Milstein was allowed to move to Paris in 1926, he insisted on working informally with his greatest musical influence, Ysaye, at Ysaye’s seaside estate on the Belgian coast. After a few months Ysaye declared that he had nothing more to teach Milstein, who was already a fully-formed artist at the age of twenty-two.
During his three years in Paris, Milstein gave many concerts with Horowitz and met a variety of other musicians. He became friendly with the great Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin, claiming that after he heard Chaliapin’s performance Of Boris Godunov as a youth in Odessa he had chills for ten days. He made his American debut in October of 1929 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Critics immediately recognized his virtuosity and remarked on the unique way in which he combined a flawless technique with an endearing warmth and keen intelligence. A commentator in the New York Herald Tribune described him as “an artist of sensitive perception and adaptability.”
Although Milstein lived in a variety of countries throughout his life, it was while he was living in Burgenstock, Switzerland, on Lake Lucerne, that he was introduced by Horowitz to the great Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Milstein and Rachmaninoff frequently played together informally. Milstein credited Rachmaninoff with teaching him how to discover the presence of cultural elements and detect the influence of other composers in a particular musical text.
In the early 1930s Milstein also became close friends with Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev and, as a result of these friendships, he championed Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto and both of Prokofiev’s violin concerti. He later recorded the Prokofiev Second Concerto for EMI twice— once with Vladimir Golschmann and once with Carlo Maria Giulini.
Because of World War II Milstein moved to the United States, where he became a citizen in 1942. In 1945 he met and married Therese Kauffman, with whom he would have one daughter, Maria Bernadette. At the end of World War II Milstein acquired the famous ’Goldman Stradivar-ius’(so named for its previous owner, the New York City collector Henry Goldman), one of a small number of extant instruments crafted by shopkeeper Antonio Stradivari in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century. He renamed the prized acquisition Maria-Theresa after his wife and daughter. While giving over 100 concerts worldwide a year, Milstein maintained homes in New York City (a triplex on Park Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street); Gstaad, Switzerland; Paris (on Cours Albert 1st), and London. One of his closest friendships in New York City was with the violinist he most admired and loved, Fritz Kreisler.
Milstein left behind a legacy of recordings, sometimes rerecording pieces two and even three times. He began recording many classic concerti beginning in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His first recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Frederick Stock for Columbia Records rivaled Jascha Hei-fetz’s best-selling RCA recording. Milstein’s early 1950s Capitol recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sonatas and partitas established him as the definitive interpreter of those masterpieces. He rerecorded all of them with Deutsche Grammophon in 1976, earning him a Grammy from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the Diplome d’Honneur at the Montreux International Awards.
As successful as his Columbia recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto was with Stock, he recorded it again in the early 1950s with conductor William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony to great critical acclaim. Critics and the public grew to cherish his impeccable technique and brilliant burnished tone. He recorded the Tchaikovsky concerto yet again in the 1970s with the Vienna Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado for Deutsche Grammophon. Capital-EMI asked him to record both the Brahms and Beethoven concerti with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Steinberg and, several years later, to rerecord the Brahms concerto with first the Philharmonic Orchestra and then the Vienna Philharmonic. Milstein also recorded such staples of the violin repertoire as Edouard Lalo’s Symphonie spagnole and the Mendelssohn concerto (twice), along with both concerti of Prokofiev, and two of Mozart’s concerti. His three recordings of the Glazunov concerto are unrivaled even by Heifetz. Though he did not make as many recordings as Isaac Stern or Jascha Heifetz, he is one of the most recorded major violin virtuosi in the history of recorded music.
Not only was Milstein a consummate musician, he was also a talented painter. In fact, he confessed that on the days he was giving concerts he spent most of his time painting rather than practicing. He also told record producer Dorle J. Soria that his philosophical approach to life in general was to treat every activity as a form of recreation: “If I write a letter to my wife—I write on only one side— I draw a picture on the back. That is recreation. But if the drawing is not good, I must write the letter over.” Soria reported that when he was relaxing with friends Milstein was “a brilliant, amusing and non-stop talker.” His conversation was stimulating because he was an avid reader, who quoted from the works of his revered favorite writers: Anton Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Boris Pasternak.
Milstein brought to violin playing an elegance and warmth that few musicians have achieved. As prodigiously gifted a technician as Jascha Heifetz or Zino Francescatti, he also combined the genial grace of Fritz Kreisler with the flawless pyrotechnics of Heifetz. Although he always favored emotional expression over virtuoso display, he nevertheless avoided sentimentality in his pristine but ardent playing. He died in London.
The only book-length treatment of Nathan Milstein in English is From Russia to the West: The Musical Memoirs and Reminiscences of Nathan Milstein (1990) by Milstein and Solomon Volkov. Though not entirely reliable with respect to dates and places (Milstein was eighty when writing it), the book demonstrates the range of Milstein’s intelligence, the energy of his imagination, and his marvelous wit. His description of prerevolutionary life in Odessa, Kiev, and Saint Petersburg is informative and highly entertaining. An obituary is in the New York Times (22 Dec. 1992).
Milstein, Nathan (Mironovich)
Milstein, Nathan (Mironovich)
Milstein, Nathan (Mironovich), celebrated Russian-born American violinist; b. Odessa, Dec. 31, 1903; d. London, Dec. 21, 1992. His father was a well-to-do merchant in woolen goods, and his mother was an amateur violinist who gave him his first lessons. He then began to study with Stoliarsky in Odessa, remaining under his tutelage until 1914. He then went to St. Petersburg, where he entered Auer’s class at the St. Petersburg Cons. (1915–17). He began his concert career in 1919, with his sister as piano accompanist. In Kiev he met Horowitz, and they began giving duo recitals in 1921; later they were joined by Piatigorsky, and organized a trio. In 1925 Milstein went to Berlin and then to Brussels, where he met Ysaÿe, who encouraged him in his career. He gave several recitals in Paris, then proceeded to South America. On Oct. 28, 1929, he made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orch. conducted by Stokowski. In 1942 he became a naturalized American citizen. After the end of World War II in 1945, Milstein appeared regularly in all of the principal music centers of the world. He performed with most of the great orchs. and gave numerous recitals. He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his American debut in 1979 by giving a number of solo recitals and appearing as soloist with American orchs. As an avocation, he began painting and drawing, arts in which he achieved a certain degree of self- satisfaction. He also engaged in teaching; held master classes at the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y., and also in Zürich. Milstein was renowned for his technical virtuosity and musical integrity. He composed a number of violin pieces, including Paganiniana (1954); also prepared cadenzas for the violin concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. His autobiography was publ. as From Russia to the West (N.Y., 1990).
B. Gavoty, N. M. (Geneva, 1956).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
MILSTEIN, NATHAN (1904–1992), U.S. violinist. Born in Odessa, Russia, he was a child prodigy and studied with L. *Auer and E. Ysaye, making his debut in 1914. He toured Russia after the revolution with Vladimir *Horovitz and Gregor *Piatigorsky but left for Paris in 1925 where he soon became famous as a soloist. He went to the United States in 1929 and first appeared there with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under Stokowski. He made his home in the United States but toured widely and gained a reputation as one of the great virtuosos of his time. He wrote arrangements and cadenzas for the violin.
B. Gavoty, Nathan Milstein (Fr., 1956, Eng. tr., 1956); The International Who Is Who in Music (1951).
[Uri (Erich) Toeplitz]
Nathan Milstein, 1904–92, Russian violinist, b. Odessa. Milstein attended the music school in Odessa before entering the St. Petersburg conservatory, where he studied under Leopold Auer. He toured Russia from 1920 to 1926. Milstein left Russia (1926) for Paris, where his reputation brought him engagements throughout Europe. Moving to the United States in 1928, he made his debut (1929) with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He made numerous world tours and was known for the precision of his technique and the discriminating taste of his interpretation.