Roman Totenberg

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Roman Totenberg
Totenberg Roman przy Atmie.jpg
Background information
Born (1911-01-01)1 January 1911
Lodz, Poland
Died 8 May 2012(2012-05-08) (aged 101)
Newton, Massachusetts
Genres Classical music
Instruments Violin
Years active 1923–2012
Notable instruments
Ames Stradivarius

Roman Totenberg (1 January 1911 – 8 May 2012) was a Polish-American violinist and educator.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Warsaw[3] in a Jewish family, the son of Adam (an architect) [4] and Slanislava (Vinaver) Totenberg, he spent his early childhood years (1914-1921) in Moscow, where the family relocated with the outset of the World War I.

Totenberg was a child prodigy, studied with Michalowicz in Warsaw, 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 Chopin Conservatory/Warsaw and continued his studies with Carl Flesch in Berlin, where he won the International Mendelssohn Prize in 1931,[5] and later with George Enescu and Pierre Monteux in Paris. In 1935, he made his British debut in London and his American debut in Washington, D. C. At age 25, he played for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At age 27 he formally immigrated to the U.S. under the distinguished artist visa program.

Professional life[edit]

Totenberg toured South America with Artur Rubinstein, and gave joint recitals with Karol Szymanowski. He gave many concerts comprising the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas and all Bach Brandenburg concertos. His diversified repertoire included more than thirty concerti. Among the many contemporary works he introduced are the Darius Milhaud Violin Concerto No. 2, the William Schuman Concerto, and the Krzysztof Penderecki Capriccio. He also premiered Paul Hindemith's Sonata in E (1935), the Samuel Barber Concerto (new version) and the Bohuslav Martinů Sonata, as well as giving the American premiere of Arthur Honegger's Sonate for violin solo. 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.

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 Berlin Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. He played under eminent conductors including Stokowski, Kubelik, Szell, Rodzinski, Fitelberg, Jochum, Rowicki, Krenz, Monteux, Wit, Steinberg and Golschmann. In recital he appeared at the White House, Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 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, the Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, where he was appointed chairman of the string department in 1947.


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 School of Music, 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,[6] Mira Wang,[7] Daniel Han,[8] Rachel Vetter Huang, Na Sun,[9] Ikuko Mizuno[10] and Elizabeth Chang

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


In 1983, he was named Artist Teacher of the Year by the American String Teachers Association, 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.

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


Roman Totenberg was the father of National Public Radio journalist Nina Totenberg, judge Amy Totenberg and businesswoman Jill Totenberg. His wife, Melanie (Shroder) Totenberg (1917–1996), was his business manager for 50 years.[11] Nina told the story of the theft and belated recovery of her father's Stradivarius in a piece for NPR.[12]

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 $205,000 in 2015).[13] 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.[12][14]

The recovered instrument was returned to Totenberg's daughters on August 6, 2015, after which it was to be restored to playing condition.[14] The family stated that they planned to sell the instrument after it had been restored. According to Nina Totenberg, "we’re going to make sure that it’s in the hands of another great artist who will play it in concert halls all over the world."[15]


  1. ^ Eichler, Jeremy (8 May 2012). "Roman Totenberg, renowned violinist, dies at 101". Boston Globe. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  2. ^ Weber, Bruce (8 May 2012) '"Roman Totenberg, Violinist and Teacher, Dies at 101". 'New York Times Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  3. ^ Roman Totenberg Interview: I was born in Warsaw. The date is very easy to remember – 1-1-11.
  4. ^ "Who's who in Entertainment". 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ "Yevgeny Kutik – Russian-American Violinist Yevgeny Kutik". Yevgeny Kutik. 
  7. ^ José Sánchez-Penzo. "Mira Wang's". 
  8. ^ "6 Minutes To Shine". 
  9. ^ "New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center". 
  10. ^ "School of Music". 
  11. ^ "Melanie Totenberg, 79, Violinist's Wife and Manager". The New York Times. 5 September 1996. 
  12. ^ a b Totenberg, Nina (August 6, 2015). "A Rarity Reclaimed: Stolen Stradivarius Recovered After 35 Years". WNYC Radio. Retrieved August 6, 2015. 
  13. ^ Geoff Edgers (6 August 2015). "Missing for 35 years, the stunning discovery of a stolen Stradivarius". Washington Post. 
  14. ^ a b "Stolen 'Ames' Stradivarius violin is recovered after 35 years - The Strad". The Strad. 
  15. ^ Roman Totenberg’s Stolen Stradivarius Is Found After 35 Years

External links[edit]