Nathan Milstein (1904-1992)

Milstein was a Ukrainian-born American virtuoso violinist.
Being a contemporary of the great Heifetz might have seemed an undue burden to some violinists, but Milstein rose to the challenge.
In his early days, he toured Russia with Horowitz, and toward the end of his life he recorded some of the best solo violin I have heard. The recordings of Bach Sonatas and Partitas are especially astounding in my opinion.
One reviewer said of his Bach recordings, “His style is a lethal combination of technical accuracy with emotional depth.”
There is also a very good two-part documentary on YouTube called “Master of Invention.” It was this film and seeing and hearing Milstein, quite late in life, perform these solo pieces that led me to this wonderful discovery of recorded gold. The journey of his long and storied life is also well essayed in this two part documentary.
I am always on the lookout for new inspiration and seeing a man in his eighties play with such élan is nothing short of inspirational.
My new passion.

Conditions of the Tournament

Music history is replete with stories of artists meeting an early demise: Chopin, Django, Dinu Lipatti, William Kapell, and even Scriabin all passed on young.
Perhaps Lipatti and Kapell are less well known, but they are very important musicians in my estimation. Lipatti (1917-1950) was a fantastic composer and pianist who thankfully left us some recordings, though precious few, and many are of poor sound quality. Thanks to someone like Mark Ainley, who manages the Lipatti website, he is not forgotten.
Kapell (1922-1953) was considered by many to be the greatest of all young American pianists at the time of his untimely death in a plane crash. His legacy is also preserved, thankfully, on record.
While it is hard to reckon with the unfortunate nature of these circumstances, it is, none the less, a reminder that life is full of contradictions–like tragedy and success and the noble fight in the face of adversity.
Lipatti, in particular, who fought lymphoma in the late 1940’s when a cure was not yet possible comes to mind. His last recital which is preserved on a memorable concert recording was practically a “cavalry” experience for him. Short of breath and weak, he still persevered and made memorable, strong music. His death at 33 also lends itself to the Christ-like comparison, but perhaps that’s going too far.
This all puts me in mind of how writer Shelby Foote put these kinds of things into some perspective. Foote said that even though these harsh turns of nature were hard to negotiate, they were still “conditions of the tournament.”

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