The Kennedy Center

Nathan Milstein


Nathan Milstein
(violinist, born December 31, 1904, Odessa, Russia; died: December 21, 1992)
As a young child in his native Odessa, Russia, he was forced by his mother to take violin lessons "to keep him out of mischief," a route being taken by a neighbor with her equally "wild" little son. By the time he was 11, his playing had been heard by legendary violinist Leopold Auer who invited him to become one of his pupils at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music.

The classic violinist, who ranks among such beloved elder statesmen of music as Rudolf Serkin and the late Arthur Rubinstein and Pablo Casels, was the last active member of the great early crop of Auer pupils, a group that included Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, Jascha Heifetz, and Toscha Seidel, among others.

In 1922 when he was doing joint concerts with Vladmir Horowitz in Kiev, a concert manager described his impression of him: "I saw him first in a rather disheveled way. He wore an overcoat obviously borrowed from someone with a sort of lady-like collar, and his hands were wrapped in some rags." He seemed oddly out of place compared to the elegant Horowitz. Yet their difference did not affect their friendship or their join musicianship.

Nathan Milstein was born in Odessa on December 31, 1904. His fist major teacher in Odessa was Stolyarsky, with whom he studied until the summer of 1914. (One of his fellow students was six-year old David Oistrakh.) Young Milstein arrived in St. Petersburg in 1915 during the first year of World War I to become a pupil of Auer.

"Every little boy who had the dream of playing better than the other boy wanted to go to Auer," he has said. "he was a very gifted man and a good teacher. I used to go the Conservatory twice a week for classes. I played every lesson with 40 or 50 people sitting and listening. Two pianos were in the classroom and a pianist accompanied us. When Auer was sick, he would ask me to come to his home."

This ended when Auer went to Norway in 1917. A few students accompanied him. Nathan was not among them. He returned to Odessa to try to eke out a living as a violinist. It was in 1921 that he went to Kiev and met Horowitz, who attended one of his concerts. Their joint concert tour followed.

Both men became famous in their native land before leaving Russia for a concert tour of western Europe in 1925, a giant step in both careers.

In the three years after his Paris debut before he came to the United States for the first time, Milstein gave performances throughout the Continent in recitals and with leading symphony orchestras.

He made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski on October 17, 1929. It was followed by a concert with the New York Philharmonic on January 23, 1930. Eventually he settled in New York and became an American citizen. Following World War II, he reestablished his concert tours of the principal European music centers where he was greeted by full houses and hailed as "one of the world's greatest musical figures."

In the 1930s, it was generally his "superlative technical skill" or the "sheer beauty" of his violin tone which won him the most praise. During the following decade he began to be hailed as "one of the select few who are profound interpreters as well as dazzling virtuosi." One top critic noted: "To listen to Nathan Milstein. . . is to listen to a musician versed in the manifold aspect of his art, to a poet with his feet in the solid earth while spiritually reaching the clouds."

He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first American performance in 1979 at Carnegie Hall as part of a national tour, displaying again his virtuousity of simplicity.

Milstein was also a composer. His works include violin arrangements of music for other instruments by Liszt, Chopin, and Moussorgski; cadenzas for the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, and Paganini, and a set of variations based on artist's best known recordings are Tchaikovsky's D-Major Violin Concerto, Bruch's G-Minor, and Mendelssohn's E-Minor concertos, Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, and sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.

His many honors include the Legion of Honor from France, the Cross of Honor, Austria, a 1975 Grammy Award for classical-instrumental soloist and the reputation as one of the foremost violinists of his generation.
Image for Nathan Milstein


  • Paganiniana for Solo Violin