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"At that time, I did not really like violin playing"

This quote is taken from the biography of N. Milstein. A similar comment appears in his Interview on Video.(Quellenverweis).
Nathan needs to be occupied, otherwise he would thrash the children of our neighbors..."
"I still did not like the Violin..."
"More and more I became interested in the Violin...(1915)

These quotes should not be put in doubt, being direct statements by the master. However they were made at a time, when N. Milstein already had developed considerable skills which must have been by far above any average of other violinists of same age. In 1915, his teacher, Pjotr Stoljarsky requested him to play the concerto of Glazunov at a time of strong competition among the attendants of Stoljarskys masterclass.

In the light of these facts, the quotes can only be interpreted in such way, that learning to play was not a real challenge for Milstein. Many great masters of this instrument did not mention that they had difficulties; in the contrary, one gets the impression that becoming a master is not a difficult task...


Comparison of concerts with studio recordings:

All people who heard Milstein play on stage are of the same opinion: Extraordinary were the impressions to his audience. It started when he came on stage, like the "King without crown".    In spite of this there appeared to be no distance between him and the audience, he played with "Selbverständlichkeit" which caught the full attention of all listener from the very first minute.

When comparing the few live-recordings which are known (Milstein hated live recordings) one can easily find out what inspiration Milstein must have obtained from the direct contact with his audience. The same piece of music sounds much more extroverted, much more brilliant and shows more virtuosity than any studio recording.

In the earliest recording of the "Paganiniana" dated 1946, which is a live-recording, Milstein demonstrated his virtuosity in his utmost manner . Not only did he produce a rich and strong sound, forcing his instrument to the very limit (did he already play his STRAD?) but he also added peak notes and musical passages to his own composition or arrangement, which no later recording contains.


The interpretation of Bachs works

Milstein is still today, 2001, almost 10 years after his death considered the most authentic interpret of the works by Bach, his sonatas and partitas BWV 1001 to 1006.

As he mentioned in his biography, these works were practically unknown at the time of Milstein's childhood.
Already during his early years he started and continued to play these very difficult works and he went on all the rest of his life.

There are two remarkable complete recordings::
1. The recording for "Capitol Records", dated 1954 and 1956.
BWV1001: march 1954; BWV1002: February 1956; BWV 1003: December 1956; BWV 1004: March 1954; BWV 1005: March 1956;BWV 1006: December 1955)
This recording is today considered the referential recording of the 20th century.

2. The recording for "Deutsche Grammophon", issued 1975

There is no point in discussing, which recording is better. Both represent the most valid interpretation of Bach, There are no extra or unnecessary accents, no strong vibrato or no vibrato, but an especially elaborated "Terassendynamik", which is rarely found today. ("Terrassendynamik" means that continuous crescendo or decrescendo is divided into several levels with no grades in between)

The incomparable sound
of Nathan Milstein is heard in all his recordings. Weakness in sound production of whatever kind is rarely found.

The sound is often described by a "silver shade".Many recordings give witness of this extraordinary multicolored sound.

All pupils from Leopold Auers masterclasses equal in their even sound production, the purity, non exaggerated use of vibrato and their great tone.

Milsteins sound was enriched by brilliance and enabled him to play practically all styles. Besides Bach he played and recorded a wide repertory. Special emphasis was put on one hand on the works of the early Baroque, works by Geminiani and Vivaldi
on the other hand the Classic period up to the rich romantic repertory. He always kept Noblesse, never sounded anything too exaggerated. His interpretations were developed directly from the composition without adding highlights or "polish", such as Heifetz did in some of his recordings, including Bach.
Observers of Nathan Milstein could not discover secrets or special techniques of his play. Besides the grip of the bow in the "St. Petesburg" manner which however was not as emphasized as with Heifetz, he could produce his gorgeous sound virtually on every point of his bow. This may confirm the comment of Hartnack who noted that Milstein changed the contact point between strings and bow apparently without any system.
Anyhow, this incomparable sound of his play.....

On stage with the age of 82 years

It is considered common sense that the decline of physical forces, paired with the diminishing Eros of a man of high age also entails the loss of ability to produce a strong and vibrant violin tone

Not so for Nathan Milstein! In the contrary, the late recordings exhibit intimacy and maturity which are in definite disagreement with the above statement.

Milstein kept his impeccable intonation and the richness of sound until the very end of his career. The late recordings are in no way minor to the early ones.
His art enabled him to be perfect in any respect during all of his career.
While a degradation due to age cannot be overheard in the late recordings of Szigeti or Elman, nothing of that kind with Milstein.

I myself remember of one of Milsteins last concerts in Vienna, where he played the complete program of works by Bach in the upper half of the bow, (problems with the elbow?). Incredible but true, his sound could still fill up the concert hall back to the last rows. His wonderful sound was not deteriorated.

Thema 6

"Live or Studio..." Continued

The greatest event was to hear Milstein paying from a very short distance.
In the 1950th, there was a habit to walk near to stage in the aisle at the end of a concert. (To the dislike of those sitting in the front rows.) Thus a few enthusiasts who were first could stand in a distance of say 5 meters to the soloist and listen to the encores or the extra pieces from that near distance. I can only describe this impression as if Milstein would play especially for every single listener there. There were no secrets to be discovered, in was just completely natural. In no other way could one imagine a violin being played. His sound was not loud but very rich in colors and seamless as ever. His famous encore, "Sicilienne" by Maria Theresia Paradis, played con sordino, could be eared pianissimo until the very last rows of the concert hall.

I remember of another encore, the moto perpetuo by Paganini, in incredible speed when Milstein took single peak-notes with full bow ( ! ) in order to obtain the desired accent,

Milstein demonstrated his "extroverted" attitude in the same way when playing Bach or other works. He disliked to have recordings of his concerts, as I was told by the director of the "Konzerthaus" of Vienna.

Unforgettable remain the personality of Milstein standing steadily on his place on stage and his seamless sound production which every time anew caused breathless astonishment among his audience which in turn expressed the enthusiasm by applauding half an hour or more.

All Milstein fans who have access to live-recordings may convince themselves.

Back to the first part....

Thema 8
Thema 9
Thema 0
The beginning  
"As a young boy I did not like playing the violin.."
(Quote from the biography)
Live or studio-recording
How did he perform on stage? more...
Pure Bach?
Was he the specialist for Bach ? more...
The incomparable sound  
The famous "silver-shaded" sound more..
Concerts at 82 ?  
fascinating the audience with more than 80 years more...
Thema 6  




I did not like playing the Violin...
  How could he fascinate his audience in his concerts?
  Which recordings did he make and what can we learn?
  Only Bach and nothing else?
  How to play the Bach Sonatas?
  The silver-shaded sound of N. Milstein
  Unbelievable, such a play aged over 80...