Morini, Erica (1904–1995)

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Morini, Erica (1904–1995)

Austrian-born American violinist who played with major orchestras throughout the world. Born in Vienna, Austria, on January 5, 1904; died of heart failure in New York City on November 1, 1995; daughter of a music teacher; married Felice Siracusano (a Sicilian diamond broker who died in 1985).

When Erica Morini was three, she had perfect pitch. Hiding behind the large stove in her father's music studio, she would call out "wrong" when one of his students played or sang off key; he would then sit her at the piano, to pick out the correct note. By age five, she was performing in public. At a surprise party for the Austrian emperor Franz Josef, Erica was placed behind a screen until she finished playing; she then emerged before a dumbfounded emperor who thought he had been listening to a performance by a mature artist. Lifting her onto his lap, he asked what she would like for a reward. "A doll with eyes that move," she replied, a request he graciously granted.

Morini studied with her father before entering the Vienna Conservatory at age seven. In 1916, she debuted in Vienna, and over the years performed with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1924, when Morini was 20, her father gave

her a cherished gift, a 198-year-old Stradivarius violin he had managed to obtain for $10,000 in Paris. Named the Davidoff Stradivarius after the Russian cellist who had previously owned it, the instrument was known for its rich tones.

Morini spent three years in the United States after her New York debut at Carnegie Hall with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and her playing was considered brilliant. She then returned to Europe to concertize until 1938, when she became one of the many Jewish musicians to flee Central Europe with the advent of the Nazis. Taking refuge in America, Morini settled in New York, married Felice Siracusano, a Sicilian diamond broker, and became an American citizen in 1943. During her career she toured America, South America, Australia, and the Far East, before retiring in 1976, a victim of arthritis in her fingers.

As Morini lay dying at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City in 1995, at age 90, someone stole her beloved Stradivarius, now 268 years old and worth over $3.5 million, which had been locked away in her bedroom closet. She returned home, still gravely ill, and died on November 1, 1995, unaware of the theft. She had willed profits from the sale of her violin to charities for the blind, elderly, and handicapped. Often called the world's greatest female violinist, Morini once griped in response, "Either I am a great violinist, or I am not."

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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Morini, Erica (1904–1995)

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