Mischa Elman

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Mischa Elman
Mischa Elman with violin in 1916.jpg
Elman with his violin in 1916
Born(1891-01-20)January 20, 1891
DiedApril 5, 1967(1967-04-05) (aged 76)

Mischa (Mikhail Saulovich) Elman (Russian: Михаил Саулович Эльман; January 20, 1891 – April 5, 1967) was a Russian-born[1][2][3] American violinist famed for his passionate style, beautiful tone, and impeccable artistry and musicality.[4]

Early life[edit]

Moses or Moishe Elman[5] was born to a Jewish family in Talnoye, Umansky Uyezd, Kiev Governorate, Russian Empire (today Talne, Ukraine).[4]

His grandfather was a klezmer, or Jewish folk musician who also played the violin. It became apparent when Mischa was very young that he had perfect pitch[citation needed], but his father hesitated about a career as a musician, since musicians were not very high on the social scale. He finally gave in, and gave Mischa a miniature violin, on which he soon learned several tunes by himself. Soon thereafter, he was taken to Odessa, where he studied at the Imperial Academy of Music. Pablo de Sarasate gave him a recommendation, stating that he could become one of the great talents of Europe. He auditioned for Leopold Auer at the age of 11, playing the Wieniawski Concerto No. 2 and 24th Caprice by Paganini. Auer was so impressed that he had Elman admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

Elman was still only a boy when Auer arranged for him to play with the famous Colonne Orchestra during their visit to Pavlovsk. Knowing Édouard Colonne's hatred of child prodigies, Auer did not tell him Elman's age when making the arrangements, and not until the famous conductor saw young Mischa waiting to go on the platform did he realize that he had engaged a child. He was furious, and flatly refused to continue with the programme. Frantic attempts were made to assure him that Elman had the recommendation of Auer himself and was well capable of doing justice to the music, but Colonne was adamant, "I have never yet played with a child, and I refuse to start now", he retorted. So Elman had to play with piano accompaniment while conductor and orchestra sat listening." According to Elman: "I was eleven at the time. When Colonne saw me, violin in hand, ready to step on the stage, he drew himself up and said with emphasis: 'I play with a prodigy! Never!' Nothing could move him, and I had to play to a piano accompaniment. After he had heard me play, though, he came over to me and said: 'The best apology I can make for what I said is to ask you to do me the honor of playing with the Orchestre Colonne in Paris.' He was as good as his word. Four months later I went to Paris and played the Mendelssohn concerto for him with great success."[6]


In 1903, Elman began to play concerts in the homes of wealthy patrons of the arts, and he made his Berlin debut in 1904, creating a great sensation. His London debut in 1905 included the British premiere of Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A minor. He played in Carnegie Hall in 1908, making a great impression on his American audience. He toured Australia in the summer of 1914. After the outbreak of World War I in Europe, Elman returned to the United States and was joined by his family in October 1914.[7]

Portrait photograph of Mischa Elman, 1915

In 1917, he was elected to honorary membership in the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity. Mischa became a U.S. citizen in 1923.

He sometimes performed in as many as 107 concerts in a 29-week season.

In 1943, he gave the premiere of Bohuslav Martinů's second concerto, which was written for him.

Sales of Mischa's records exceeded two million.

A frequent accompanist in chamber works during Elman's early American career was Emmanuel Bay, who was born on exactly the same day as Elman, January 20, 1891. But Elman also performed and recorded with Josef Bonime, Carroll Hollister, Wolfgang Rosé and others, and from 1950, his steady accompanist and recital partner was Joseph Seiger.

He also briefly performed and made recordings with the Mischa Elman String Quartet.

The headstone of Mischa Elman in Westchester Hills Cemetery

Elman died in his apartment on April 5, 1967, in Manhattan, New York City, a few hours after completing a rehearsal with Seiger.[4] He is buried in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.


Elman's recorded legacy spanned more than six decades. His first 78 rpm discs were made for Pathé, in Paris, in 1906; his final LP sessions were for Vanguard, in New York, in 1967.

The greater part of his discography was recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company/RCA Victor, with whom he had an exclusive relationship through 1950. Thereafter, he recorded for Decca/London and later the Vanguard label. Regrettably, Elman's discs have never been reissued on CD in a systematic manner (whereas almost every recording which his contemporary Jascha Heifetz made has been readily available on CD for years).

Partial discography[edit]

Mono era[edit]

Stereo era[edit]


  1. ^ "Famous Violinist Mischa Elman Dies". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. April 6, 1967. Archived from the original on November 9, 2022. Retrieved November 9, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Elman, reputed to have played more concerts than any other instrumentalist, began his long career at the age of 5 in his native Russia...
  2. ^ "Mischa Elman, Concert Violinist, Dies at Age 76". Philadelphia Daily News. United Press International. April 6, 1967. Archived from the original on November 9, 2022. Retrieved November 9, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Mischa Elman, the Russian-born violinist...
  3. ^ Schonberg, Harold C. (April 9, 1967). "Mischa Elman: Fiddler in a Class by Himself". Louisville Courier Journal. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 9, 2022. Retrieved November 9, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. He was a Jewish boy from Russia who had made good.
  4. ^ a b c "Mischa Elman Dies at 76". New York Times. April 6, 1967. Retrieved 2015-01-14. Mischa Elman, the Russianborn violin virtuoso who was the idol of concert audiences for more than 60 years, died yesterday afternoon of a heart attack in his duplex apartment at 101 Central Park West. He was 76 years old.
  5. ^ "Miecio. Letters and postcards of Janina Roza Horszowska 1900-1904", Edited by Bice Horszowski Costa, Erga edizioni 2008
  6. ^ Donald Brook: Violinists of Today
  7. ^ Kozinn, Allan (1990). Mischa Elman and the Romantic Style. Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers. p. 82. ISBN 3718604973.

The studio photograph is shown reversed. Elman was not left-handed


  • Kozinn, Allan (1990). Mischa Elman and the Romantic Style. Chur, Switzerland; New York: Harwood Academic Publishers. ISBN 3-7186-0497-3
  • Kuhn, Laura Diane; Slonimsky, Nicolas, eds. "Mischa Elman". Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Centennial [8th] ed.). New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-872415-1.
  • Molkhou, Jean-Michel (2011). "Mischa Elman", in Les grands violonistes du XXe siècle. Tome 1- De Kreisler à Kremer, 1875-1947. Paris: Buchet Chastel. pp. 75–80. ISBN 978-2-283-02508-6
  • Roth, Henry (1997). Violin Virtuosos: From Paganini to the 21st Century. Los Angeles, CA: California Classics Books. pp. 82–90. ISBN 1-879395-15-0
  • Frederick H. Martens project Gutenberg Ebook 2005
  • Violin Mastery "Talks with Master Violinists and Teachers"

External links[edit]

Media related to Mischa Elman at Wikimedia Commons