The Music Treasury for 1 July 2018 — Violinist Michael Rabin, Part 2

by | Jul 1, 2018 | Streams and Podcasts

The Music Treasury for 1 July 2018 — Violinist Michael Rabin, Part 2

This week’s show can be heard between 19:00 and 21:00 PDT from its host station KZSU at Stanford University in the Bay Area on 1 July 2018, concurrently streamed at  As always, Dr Gary Lemco host the show.

Michael Rabin, American Violinist

We continue our tribute to Michael Rabin (1935-1972), whose stellar career became marred by bouts of mental illness (anxiety disorder) and possible drug abuse. His return to the active stage and concert work lasted only seven years, 1965-1972.  From public broadcasts and various tour appearances, we present some of the rare moments in his performance history not exemplified by his commercial recordings.

Paganini: Caprice No. 17 in E-flat (NBC, Voohees, 1950)
Paganini: Caprice No. 9 (NYC 1970, WQXR)
Wieniawski: Polonaise Brillante in D Major, Op. 4 (Sydney, 1952)
Ravel: Tzigane (Sydney, 1952)
Faure: Violin Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 13 (Berlin, 1961)
Falla (arr. Kreisler): Danse espagnole from La vida breve (BTH, Voorhees)
Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20, No. 1 (1952, BTH, Voorhees)
Massenet: Elegie (w/B. Sullivan, 1955)
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218 (w/S. Caston, Denver
Sarasate: Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25 (Berlin, 1969)
Glazunov: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82 (w/D. Mitropouos)

Michael Rabin (May 2, 1936 – January 19, 1972) has been described as “one of the most talented and tragic violin virtuosi of his generation.” His complete Paganini “24 Caprices” for solo violin are available as a single CD, and an additional six-CD set contains most of his concerto recordings. Despite his brief career—he died at 35—they remain seminal recordings of each of the recorded pieces.

Michael Rabin was of Romanian-Jewish descent. His mother, Jeanne, was a Juilliard-trained pianist, and his father, George, was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic. Michael, the younger of the two Rabin children, could beat time perfectly with his feeding spoon by the time he was a year old. As soon as he could crawl, he would position himself under the piano, listening intently for hours while his parents played sonatas and, with their friends, trios and quartets. At 3 he gave evidence of perfect pitch. He was able to pick out on the piano the note corresponding to the sound of any grunt, steam whistle or automobile horn. He astonished his mother by memorizing when to turn the pages for a César Franck sonata after hearing it only once.

Mrs. Rabin began giving the boy piano lessons when he was 5. Soon afterward, while visiting a doctor who was an amateur violinist, Michael espied a tiny violin, began tuning it and playing it on his own and burst into tears when an effort was made to separate him from it. The doctor allowed him to take it home. Mr. Rabin began giving the boy lessons, and by the fourth lesson he  concluded that Michael’s talent was far bigger than his own and sought outside advice and guidance.

After a lesson with Jascha Heifetz, the master advised him to study with Ivan Galamian, a renowned violin teacher, who said he had “no weaknesses, never.” He began studies with Galamian and at the Juilliard School. His Carnegie Hall debut took place in January 1950, at the age of 13, as soloist with the National Orchestral Association, playing Vieuxtemps’ Concerto No. 5 under the direction of Léon Barzin. Subsequently, he appeared with a number of American orchestras, before his Carnegie Hall debut on 29 November 1951, at age 15, in the Paganini D major Concerto, with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic. Mitropoulos called him on that occasion, “the genius violinist of tomorrow, already equipped with all that is necessary to be a great artist.” His 1958 recording of this concerto is considered by many to be this work’s most impressive, and the recording itself is notable for the full tone captured by the audio engineers.

His first London appearance took place in December 1954, at age 18, playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Rabin recorded concertos by Mendelssohn, Glazunov, Paganini (No. 1 in D major; 2 recordings), Wieniawski (No. 1 in F-sharp minor, No. 2 in D minor), and Tchaikovsky, as well as Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, and the Paganini Caprices for solo violin. He recorded the Bach Sonata in C major for solo violin and the Third and Fourth sonatas for solo violin by Eugène Ysaÿe, and other virtuoso pieces,  along with an album with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Rabin played in a bel canto style. For many years, he played the “Kubelik” Guarnerius del Gesù of 1735. He toured widely, playing in all major cities in the U.S., Europe, South America, Southern Africa, and Australia. He even appeared on a 1951 episode of the variety television series “Texaco Star Theatre.”

During a recital in Carnegie Hall, he suddenly lost his balance and fell forward. This was an early sign of a neurological condition, epilepsy, which was to affect his career adversely. His death in his apartment in New York City, at the age of 35, resulted from a fall thought to have been due to an epileptic convulsion.


Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure