Roman Totenberg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Roman Totenberg
Background information
Born(1911-01-01)1 January 1911
Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Died8 May 2012(2012-05-08) (aged 101)
Newton, Massachusetts, U.S.
GenresClassical music
Occupation(s)Violinist, educator
Years active1923–2012
External videos
video icon ”A Tribute to Roman Totenberg”, Boston University, January 3, 2011
video icon “BU celebrates Professor Emeritus of Music Roman Totenberg's 90th Birthday”, Boston University, July 13, 2011
video icon ”From the archives: A stolen Stradivarius”, CBS Sunday Morning

Roman Totenberg (1 January 1911 – 8 May 2012) was a Polish-American violinist and educator. A child prodigy, he lived in Poland, Moscow, Berlin, and Paris, before formally immigrating to the U.S. in 1938, at age 27. He performed and taught nationally and internationally throughout his life.[1][2]

One of Totenberg's favorite instruments was the Ames Stradivarius, which was stolen from his office in the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts after a concert in May 1980. The instrument was recovered and returned to Totenberg's daughters on August 6, 2015.[3]

Early life[edit]

Roman Totenberg was born in Łódź, Poland to a Jewish family, the son of Adam (an architect) and Stanisława (Winawer) Totenberg. He spent his early childhood years (1914–1921) in Moscow, where the family moved at the beginning of World War I.[4][5]

Totenberg was a child prodigy[3] who made his concert debut at the age of eleven with conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg.[6] Returning to Warsaw in 1921, he studied with Mieczyslaw Michalowicz,[7] and made his debut at the age of eleven as soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also awarded the gold medal at the Warsaw Chopin Conservatory.[8]

By 1929, he had moved to Berlin, where he continued his studies with Carl Flesch.[9] In 1932 he moved to Paris, where he studied with George Enescu and Pierre Monteux.[9] He won the International Mendelssohn Prize.[9][7][10] In 1935, he made his British debut in London and his American debut in Washington, D.C. In 1936, at age 25, he played at the White House[9] for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.[7] In 1938, at age 27, he formally immigrated to the U.S.[9] under the distinguished artist visa program.[11] Many of his family members were murdered in the Holocaust, though he managed to rescue his mother. His sister survived the Warsaw Ghetto, where her own husband had died.[12]

Professional life[edit]

Totenberg toured South America with Franz Reizenstein in 1937,[11] and gave joint recitals with Karol Szymanowski.[11] He gave many concerts comprising the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas and all Bach Brandenburg concertos. His diversified repertoire included more than thirty concerti.[13]

Among the many contemporary works he introduced are the Darius Milhaud Violin Concerto No. 2,[14] the William Schuman Concerto in its final version, 1959,[15] and the Krzysztof Penderecki Capriccio.[16] He also premiered Paul Hindemith's Sonata in E (1935),[17] the Samuel Barber Concerto (new version) and the Bohuslav Martinů Madrigal Sonata,[18] as well as giving the American premiere of Arthur Honegger's Sonata for Solo Violin (1940).[9] Under the patronage of the eminent violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and along with pianist Adolph Baller and cellist Gabor Rejto, Totenberg formed the Alma Trio in 1942–43 at Menuhin's Alma estate in California.[9][19]

Totenberg appeared with numerous American orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Washington Symphonies. In Europe he performed with all major orchestras such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (3 performances of Szymanowsky Vioin Concerto 1), Berlin Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic. and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.[20]

He played under eminent conductors including Leopold Stokowski,[21] Kubelik, Szell, Rodzinski, Grzegorz Fitelberg,[6] Jochum, Rowicki, Krenz, Pierre Monteux,[21] Wit, Steinberg and Vladimir Golschmann.[22] In recital he appeared at the White House,[9][7] Carnegie Hall,[23] the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art,[21] and in every major American and European city. He was featured with the most important music festivals of the world, notably at Salzburg's Mozarteum,[24] the Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Center,[1] Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival[16] and the Music Academy of the West in Montecito, which he helped found[25] and where he was appointed chairman of the string department in 1947.[26][27]


In addition to his concert activities, Totenberg held the position of Professor of Music at Boston University, where he headed the string department from 1961 to 1978. He also taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music; the Music Academy of the West; the Aspen Music Festival and School; the Mannes College of Music and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he directed from 1978 to 1985. Notable pupils of his include Yevgeny Kutik,[28][29] Mira Wang,[3][30] Leon Botstein,[31][32] Daniel Han,[33] Rachel Vetter Huang, Na Sun, Ikuko Mizuno[21] and Elizabeth Chang.


In 2000, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

Roman Totenberg was awarded the Wieniawski Medal of Poland and the Ysaye Medal of Belgium. [11]

In 1983, he was named Artist Teacher of the Year by the American String Teachers Association,[16] and in April 2007, he was honored with the New England String Ensemble's Muses & Mentors Award for his great artistry and significant contributions to string education.[6][34]

In 1988, he was awarded the highest Medal of Merit by the Polish government for lifelong contributions to Polish society.[9]


From left, Jill, Nina, and Amy Totenberg celebrate the return of their father’s Stradivarius violin in 2015.

Roman Totenberg's wife, Melanie Francis (Eisenberg) Totenberg (1917–1996), was his business manager for 50 years.[35][12] Roman and Melanie Totenberg were the parents of National Public Radio journalist Nina Totenberg, judge Amy Totenberg, and businesswoman Jill Totenberg. Nina told the story of the theft and belated recovery of her father's Stradivarius in an article for NPR.[36][3]

Recording career[edit]

Totenberg recorded for many labels, including Deutsche Grammophon, Telefunken, Philips, Vanguard, Musical Heritage Society, Heliodor, Remington, Da Camera, Dover, Titanic and VQR.

Ames Stradivarius[edit]

One of Totenberg's favorite instruments was the Ames Stradivarius, which he purchased for about $15,000 in 1943 (equivalent to $264,000 in 2023).[37] It was stolen from his office after a concert in May 1980. Totenberg suspected aspiring violinist Philip S. Johnson of the theft, but police at the time did not believe there was enough evidence to issue a search warrant. The instrument was recovered thirty-five years later in 2015, four years after Johnson's death, when his former wife discovered it among his effects and sought to have it appraised.[3][36][38]

The recovered instrument was returned to Totenberg's daughters on August 6, 2015, after which it was to be restored to playing condition.[38][39] The family stated that they planned to sell the instrument after it had been restored. According to Nina Totenberg, "We will make sure it is in the hands of another virtuoso violinist. And once again, the beautiful, brilliant and throaty voice of that long-stilled violin will thrill audiences in concert halls around the world."[36] It has since been sold to an unknown buyer,[40] who subsequently lent it to young American violinist Nathan Meltzer.[41]


  1. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (8 May 2012). "Roman Totenberg, Violinist and Teacher, Dies at 101". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  2. ^ "Roman Totenberg in Memoram". Polish Music Newsletter. 18 (6). June 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Roberts, Jacob (2017). "Stradivari and the Search for Brilliance". Distillations. 3 (3): 12–23. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
  4. ^ "Roman Totenberg". Old New York Stories. October 20, 2011. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  5. ^ Who's Who in Entertainment. Marquis Who's Who. 1989. ISBN 9780837918501.
  6. ^ a b c Fitelberg, Gary. "A Special Tribute to Polish Violinist and Virtuoso Roman Totenberg (1 January 1911 – 8 May 2012)". American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d "Roman Totenberg". The Telegraph. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  8. ^ Krzywicki, Paul (March 16, 2016). From Paderewski to Penderecki: The Polish Musician in Philadelphia. Lulu Publishing Services. p. 211. ISBN 9781483442679. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Roman Totenberg Timeline". Roman Totenberg Papers - Library of Congress. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  10. ^ Schenk, Dietmar (2004). Die Hochschule für Musik zu Berlin: Preussens Konservatorium zwischen romantischem Klassizismus und neuer Musik, 1869–1932/33. Pallas Athene. Beitrage zur Universitats- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte (in German). Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 318. ISBN 978-3-515-08328-7. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
  11. ^ a b c d "Roman Totenberg Papers". Library of Congress. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  12. ^ a b Stated on Finding Your Roots, January 27, 2021
  13. ^ The Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Vol. 59. Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. 1961.
  14. ^ "String Player". 1 (1). W. Moennig + Son, Limited. 1948. Darius Milhaud's Violin Concerto No. 2 was received enthusiastically at its first performance in Albuquerque, N. M., on October 6. Roman Totenberg played the solo part, with the Albuquerque Civic Symphony Orchestra {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Simmons, Walter (2017). The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin: Voices of Stone and Steel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 104. ISBN 9781538103838. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  16. ^ a b c Totenberg, Nina (May 8, 2012). "Roman Totenberg's Remarkable Life And Death". NPR. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  17. ^ "The Strad". The Strad. 97–98: 162. 1986. Totenberg opened with Hindemith's Sonata in E (1935) which he had premiered in New York and Paris
  18. ^ Safranek, Milos (2010). Bohuslav Martinu - The Man and His Music. Qureshi Press. p. 147. ISBN 9781446527115. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  19. ^ Mechem, Kirke (July 9, 2015). Believe Your Ears: Life of a Lyric Composer. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 38. ISBN 978-1442250765. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  20. ^ "Brahms & Lipinski Violin Concertos Roman Totenberg, violin". TITANIC RECORDS. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  21. ^ a b c d Seligson, Susan (May 9, 2012). "Roman Totenberg Dies at 101 Violinist, beloved CFA professor, classical music legend". BU Today. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  22. ^ "Bartok". The Gramophone. 40. C. Mackenzie: 465. 1962. Retrieved 8 June 2018. Roman Totenberg (violin), Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Golschmann
  23. ^ Virgil Thomson : music chronicles 1940-1954. [S.l.]: Library Of America. 2014. ISBN 978-1598533095.
  24. ^ "The Mozarteum". The Music Magazine and Musical Courier. 164 (6). Summy-Birchard Publishing Company. 1962. Retrieved 8 June 2018. The Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria — Composer Alexander Tcherepnin, violinist Roman Totenberg, and singer Ellen Repp will represent the United States among instructors assembled for the international summer academy
  25. ^ Greenberg, Robert (26 August 2019). "Music History Monday: Lotte Lehmann". Archived from the original on 7 February 2020. Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  26. ^ Virgil Thomson : music chronicles 1940-1954. [S.l.]: Library Of America. 2014. ISBN 978-1598533095.
  27. ^ "Roman Totenberg". Violins and Violinists' Magazine. 8–10: 238. 1947. Retrieved 8 June 2018. Roman Totenberg made a short stay in Chicago on his way to California where he officiates as head of the violin department at Santa Barbara's Music Academy of the West
  28. ^ Lebovic, Matt (18 February 2017). "'Refugee' violinist blends Russian-Jewish roots with modern tones". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Yevgeny Kutik – Violin". Yevgeny Kutik.
  30. ^ Totenberg, Nina (March 14, 2017). "A Stolen, Then Recovered, Stradivarius Returns To The Stage". NPR. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  31. ^ "BIOGRAPHY". LEON BOTSTEIN. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  32. ^ College, Bard. "Leon Botstein". Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  33. ^ Totenberg, Nina (May 8, 2012). "World-renowned violinist, teacher Roman Totenberg dies at 101". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  34. ^ "Roman Totenberg] awarded with Muses and Mentors Award". PRLog. April 2, 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  35. ^ "Melanie Totenberg, 79, Violinist's Wife and Manager". The New York Times. 5 September 1996.
  36. ^ a b c Totenberg, Nina (August 6, 2015). "A Rarity Reclaimed: Stolen Stradivarius Recovered After 35 Years". WNYC Radio. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
  37. ^ Edgers, Geoff (6 August 2015). "Missing for 35 years, the stunning discovery of a stolen Stradivarius". Washington Post.
  38. ^ a b "Stolen 'Ames' Stradivarius violin is recovered after 35 years - The Strad". The Strad. Archived from the original on 2015-08-08.
  39. ^ Cooper, Michael (August 6, 2015). "Roman Totenberg's Stolen Stradivarius Is Found After 35 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  40. ^ Totenburg, Nina (October 9, 2018). "The Tale Of The Stolen Totenberg Stradivarius Ends With A New Legacy". NPR.
  41. ^ "Roman Totenberg's Once-Stolen Stradivari Violin Loaned to Juilliard Student Nathan Meltzer".

External links[edit]