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Bronislaw Huberman and the Orchestra of Exiles April 15 2022

A SON IS BORN

On December 19, 1882, in the small city of Czestochowa, Silesia, Poland, Alexandra Huberman births her first child, Bronislaw. Jacob barely showed any interest in his child but was content to know that he had long, strong fingers with which he can play the violin with ease. Over the next few years, Jacob becomes the father of two more sons. Within minutes of each boys' birth, Jacob checks their fingers. However, he was never satisfied with their shape and thought that Bronislaw was the only one with violinists fingers.

With the exception of their Polish upbringing and Jewish heritage, Alexandra and Jacob have little in common. She married him to have financial stability and legitimate children. However, Jacob barely made enough money to put food on their table and provide them with shelter.

Jacob also had a quick temper. Alexandra's fear of him grew with each passing year, and by the time she conceived, any feelings of love for Jacob had died. Bronislaw, he too had to learn how to tiptoe around his father's temper from early on. He feared him but loved his mother.

 

A CHILDHOOD DENIED

On Bronislaw's fourth birthday, Jacob gave him a violin, and made him practice violin for hours despite the tired boy's pleads to let him rest. The child showed a mysterious gift in making music and playing the violin from early on. His innate talents coupled with his father's constant demands to practice made him advance far beyond what Jacob can teach him.

Bronislav Huberman as a young boy 1895

Jacob soon realizes his child's remarkable musical abilities and takes him to Warsaw, where he auditioned for two exceptional professors; professor Mieczyslaw Michalowisz and professor Maurycy Rosen. The two teachers were bewildered by the child’s talents and agreed to his enrollment at the Warsaw conservatory.

[IMAGE] Bronislav Huberman as a young boy (ca.1895)

Over the next several months, Jacob escorts his son daily to the conservatory. Bronislaw studied music with Michalowisz and Rosen, along with Isidor Lotto. However, after only a few months, Jacob takes Bronislaw out of the Warsaw Conservatory.

Bronislaw's first public performance was in 1892. This performance was very well received by the audience and Jacob wasted no time arranging for his son to play more concerts on European stages. He also continued to pressure him to practice no matter how tired the small boy was.

The father eventually quits his job and takes Bronislaw back to Czestochowa. At Czestochowa. The child continued to play concerts. At one performance, he meets Arthur Rubinstein. Arthur shared Bronislaw's passion for music. He, too, was taking violin lessons. The two boys bond and continue to meet several times after their initial encounter. However, Jacob thought the boys wasted too much time playing and that they should practice more. Arthur's mother disapproved, and the boys stopped meeting for a while.

In 1892, Jacob and his son travel to Berlin, the German capital where Bronislaw auditions for Joseph Joachim. Maestro Joseph was impressed by the boy's remarkable musical talents and agreed to teaching him. However, He was often away. Instead, Bronislaw often took lessons by Joachim's assistant, Karl Markees. Papa also arranges for him to study with Charles Gregorovitch.

The father and his son eventually decided to leave Berlin, as Bronislaw learned very little there. they traveled to Frankfurt where he studied with German violinist Hugo Heerman for six weeks.

During these years, the Huberman family's financial distress escalated and they eventually ran out of money. Bronislaw's brief formal education comes to an abrupt halt.

During 1893, out of sheer determination, Jacob is able to arrange concerts in Holland, Belgium, Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin, Austria, Romania, and the United States. The family’s financial welfare now depended on the cash Bronislaw earned from his performances.

Here below a 1923 recording of Bronislaw Huberman playing Paganini's "La Campanella" with pianist Paul Frenkel:

 

A CAREER IGNITED

World-famous opera singer Adelina Patti attends one of Bronislaw's concerts. She was astounded by his performance and asked him to play at her farewell concert in January in Vienna.

Upon performing in the concert, the boy receives loud, long applause, and gets repeatedly asked for encores. Patti gets upset as she believes that she is the one that should’ve been receiving that attention and reaction from the audience. This concert ignited the now twelve-year-old child's career. Invitations began to pour in from maestros and presenters who attended the concert. Jacob accepted each request.

Young Bronislav Huberman

In 1895, thirteen-year-old child prodigy performed in front of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his wife, Elisabeth, the Duchess of Bavaria, in a Paris concert hall. The duchess then gifted Bronislaw an impressive violin, made by the most famous craftsman of all time, Antonio Stradivari. This violin has since become one of Bronislaw’s proudest possessions.

[IMAGE] A young Bronislav Huberman

Meanwhile, Telegrams continued to pour in with invitations to perform in Europe, Russia, South America, England, and the United States. Jacob eagerly accepts them all. Jacob received all the money that the teenager earned from his performances. He constantly coaxed him to play better and to practice more. Bronislaw became physically and emotionally drained, growing increasingly frustrated and resentful as Jacob's demands intensifies. Bronislaw ends up falling ill. The father allows him to take a brief break. Bronislaw went back home where he rested and studied music until his health was restored. 

 

THE BEGINNING OF CHANGE

On August 29 of 1897, Theodor Herzl holds the first Zionist Congress, in Basel, Switzerland. He urged the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine so that Jews can be safe and free from the world's ever-growing anti-Semitism.

 

THE LIFE CHANGING DEATH

ln 1902, the husband falls ill and ends up dying in his sleep in his home in Czestochowa. Alexandra doesn't feel sad. Instead, she experiences a sense of deep and satisfying relief.

Upon vising his father’s bank, Bronislaw discovered that Jacob has saved little of his son's hard-earned money, and the money he has deposited is listed under his own name, not Bronislaw. Jacob stipulates in his will that this money is to support Alexandra and the two brothers. Subsequently, Bronislaw is left without any money. He is forced to give up his study of music and step back into crowded concert halls.

Since his father's death, Bronislaw travels alone. He appreciated the newfound solitude and freedom, as well as the respite from his father's criticism. He now controlled his own concert schedule, declining some invitations but accepting most. With each performance, Bronislaw's reputation grew and by the time he was twenty-one years of age, he had already risen to international fame, becoming one of the world's greatest violinists.

Music had become Bronislaw’s life focus. He kept a frantic schedule and had increasingly become absorbed in his art. Meanwhile, Herzl continues his hard work encouraging others toward his Zionist goal. More and more Jews are leaving Eastern Europe and settling as pioneers in Palestine. They revived the Hebrew language and started publishing Hebrew literature and newspapers.

 

THE BEAUTIFUL ACTRESS

Bronislav Huberman signed photo

In Vienna, in 1909, the beautiful and renowned actress and singer Elsa Galards, and her hostess, Mrs. Keller, wife of the director of concerts attend one of Bronislaw's concerts. Elsa was spellbound by the violinist's performance. Mrs. Keller had then arranged a private dinner for her, Elsa, and Bronislaw at the Hotel Imperial. At this dinner, Bronislaw barely acknowledged their presence before leaving abruptly. Elsa was very appalled by his behavior.

[IMAGE] Bronislav Huberman in his youth - signed photograph, dated 1904

Several weeks later, Elsa checks into a sanatorium in Dresden, Germany, to rest from a busy theater season. She is surprised to see Bronislaw Huberman approaching her. Unlike their first encounter, Bronislaw is being warm, attentive, and talkative. Elsa can hardly believe he is the same man she met only weeks before.

The two eventually become lovers. At Bronislaw's invitation, she moves into his rented two-story villa on the outskirts of Vienna. Elsa thrills in the excitement of new romance, dreaming and hinting about becoming Mrs. Bronislaw Huberman. However, Bronislaw didn't want to get married.

  

THE COMPLICATION

Elsa became pregnant in the summer of 1910. Broni agreed to marry her to avoid a scandal. On July 19, Elsa and Bronislaw arrive in London, marrying between concert performances, by the clerk of the district court in a quick civil service ceremony.

During the pregnancy, Bronislaw seemed emotionally detached, showing little interest in his child and wife. However, Bronislaw adored his child. He named him Johannes Brahms and played the Concerto penned long ago by the child's namesake. Within days of Johannes’s birth, Bronislaw jumps into a chaotic Christmas concert season, and Elsa returns to the stage, so Elsa's mother,Oma, moved into the villa to take care of the baby.

When together at home, Bronislaw and Elsa argued constantly. As arguments between them grow more bitter, Bronislaw stopped asking Elsa to accompany him on his frequent concert tours, as he found welcome relief when traveling alone for extended periods of time. Elsa felt lonely. She started an affair with the married Hungarian conductor Ernst Dohnanyi.

Bronislaw Huberman at home

 

Elsa eventually filed for divorce, but Broni refused for his son’s sake. Elisabeth, Ernst’s wife refused to grant her husband a divorce either. Elsa and Ernst found a home together in Vienna, and invited Elsa's mother, Oma, to live with them, to care for Johannes. They waited impatiently for their respective spouses to grant them divorces so they can get married. In the meantime, Elsa gives birth to Ernst child, Matthew.

 

[IMAGE] Bronislaw Huberman rehearsing at home

 

To ease his pain, Bronislaw buries himself in his music, Bronislaw stays busy performing back-to-back concerts around the world. He finally decides to grant her the divorce. Elisabeth has also granted Ernst his freedom, allowing Elsa and Ernst to finally marry.

 

THE END OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SAFETY

Bronislaw Huberman traveled the world in 1913. He kept himself busy in attempt to put aside his sadness, loneliness, and anger over losing his wife and son to Ernst. He then settled in Europe where he earned more money than he could possibly spent and lived in luxury.

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian crown got assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the secret Black Hand Society-a nationalist movement favoring a Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia union. Subsequently, Franz Joseph declared war on Serbia. Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Serbia, all lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany. With this, the Great war began and Europe's golden age of security has shattered.

Bronislaw was a Russian citizen and was therefore considered an enemy of the state of Germany. He got arrested during one of his Berlin concerts in 1941. However, he had soon been released by princess Cecilie, the wife of the oldest son of Germany’s emperor, and one of Huberman's most loyal fans. She also arranged for him to leave Germany safely.

 

NEW LOVE

The year 1916 was an extremely hard year for Bronislaw. He felt tired, depressed, and alone and was constantly missing his now six-year-old son Johannes. seeking rest and relief from his last vestiges of physical and emotional strength, Huberman reserved a suite at a Viennese health clinic.

Huberman playbill 1942

During his time at the clinic, Huberman spent most of his time with the twenty-two-year-old German nurse, Ida Ibbeken. He felt unusually comfortable and natural in her presence, experiencing an ease he has never known with a woman before. A deep and mutual closeness started developing between the two and they fell in love.

[IMAGE] Playbill for a concert by Huberman in 1942 

His health was finally restored, and he left the clinic. He didn't want to leave Ida behind but retrained himself from asking her to come with him. He loved her, but he has already tried marriage, and for him it didn´t work.

The war went on and on April 6, 1917, President Wilson has declared war on Germany, bringing the United States into the battle. During long days of waiting for the war to end, and for his concerts to resume, Bronislaw had to constantly refrain himself from calling Ida. Meanwhile, having not heard from him for months, Ida comes to believe her love for him was one-sided and not mutual.

Fall of 1917, Bronislaw eventually telephoned lda at the clinic and invited her to visit him. Ida accepted his invitation, traveled to his home, and at Bronislaw's heartfelt insistence, she remained there with him as his companion, secretary, and friend.

 

NEW ERA

The Great war lasted till 1918, and by 1919; 37-year-old Bronislaw had begun to receive concert invitations again in parts of Europe. Upon arriving in Europe, Bronislaw’s heart sunk as he realized the devastating impact of the war on Europeans, especially his fellow Germans. This has caused a major shift in his attitude. He was no longer cold and showed more compassion to his admirers.

Bronislaw decided to cancel all his upcoming concerts and become a full-time university student. During the next two years, he refused to give concerts, immersing himself instead in deep studies of social and political sciences at the Sorbonne University.

Very sicky of war and weary of watching people suffer, Huberman deeply ponders the importance of peace. He decides to use his music and his worldwide fame, to promote his politics of world peace. He also joins the Pan-Europa movement, an organization promoting a politically, economically, and militarily united Europe.

Huberman with Bruno Walter

Germany's humiliating war defeat, and forced signing of the Treaty of Versailles enraged Adolf Hitler, leader of the ever-expanding National Socialist German Party, or Nazis for short. He vowed that his first and foremost task when he comes into real power will be the total annihilation of the Jews. Hearing Hitler's pledges compels Bronislaw to get more involved in politics and to take a strong public stand for peace, to try to stop this madman’s plans.

[IMAGE] Huberman with German conductor Bruno Walter

Bronislaw graduated in 1922. Over the next few years, he became even more involved in his struggle for a United States of Europe, working actively with the Pan-Europa movement members, giving concerts and speeches, writing books and pamphlets, and traveling throughout the world to promote world peace.

 

A JEWISH STATE

It was during this period that Huberman had become close friends with his colleague in Pan-Europe, Albert Einstein. The two agreed on so many manner but continued to disagree on Zionism. Albert believed that there should be a Jewish colony in Palestine while Huberman was opposed to the jews leaving Europe. 

Meanwhile, Germany unemployment's rate rapidly increased with the settling of the 1929 Depression. The suffering Germans, desperate for a new direction, began to blindly believe Hitler's anti-Semitism politics. Parallelly, Palestinians started rioting against the jews settlement in their homeland.

In the spring of 1921, prior to the riots, Bronislaw and Ida made their first visit to Palestine where he received a tremendous reception. The violinist gave his first concert in Jerusalem. As Bronislaw mingled with the crowd and heard their excited hopes for building a Jewish state, something within him came alive.

Israel Philharmonic Inaugural Concert

His next visit to Palestine was in 1931. While there, Bronislaw and Ida enjoyed dinners in the homes of immigrant jews. In these dinners, Bronislaw has witnessed a deep love of music and a yearning for more European cultural heritage. It was in one of these dinners that he was inspired to make a first-class orchestra, exclusively made of Jewish musicians. 

[IMAGE] Israel Philharmonic Inaugural Concert (1936) conducted by Arturo Toscanini

On January 30, Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg. He immediately suspended the freedom of press speech and assembly and punished everyone opposing his laws. He also called for a boycott of all Jewish shops and businesses and outlawed any music or books written by jews unapproved by the state. These discriminatory measures caused over thirty-seven thousand Jews to emigrate from Germany. More than eight thousands of them were musicians, actors, and other artists.

The Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was outraged by the increasing Jewish persecution in Germany. As a result, he cancels his contract to conduct the famous 1933 Bayreuth Festival in Germany. Huberman admired Arturo for this decision. He, as well, refused to perform for the Berlin Philharmonic’s 1934 opening season.

Bronislaw and Ida then left for Vienna as the violinist was offered a position as a director in Vienna’s Master Violin school , the akademie fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst. During their stay in Vienna, the two settled at the Schloss Herzendorf castle.

President Paul von Hindenburg dies and Adolf Hitler takes his place as president and head of the army. He continues to put cruel discriminatory laws targeting jews and forbids music written by Jewish composers to be performed in German concert halls.

 

NEW ADVENTURE

Bronislaw gets another invitation to play in Palestine in 1934. Huberman received an enthusiastic welcome from the music-loving jews. they stayed for eighteen days where Huberman twelve sold-out concerts 5 in Tel Aviv, 4 in Jerusalem, 2 in Haifa, and the agricultural settlement Kibbutz Ein Harod.

Orchestra of Exiles Book

Bronislaw started progressively forming a newfound love for this country. It was after this visit that he decided to start creating a Jewish orchestra in Palestine. He immediately shared this idea with his friends, fellow musicians, Jewish leaders, and his colleagues in the Pan-Europa movement, asking them for their help to make it a reality.

[IMAGE] Orchestra of Exiles -A book describing his life and struggle founding the Israel Philharmonic

The violinist made several performances across the world in order to raise funds for this new project and managed to recruit highly skilled musicians for his orchestra. Huberman also managed to convince Toscanini to conduct his orchestra’s opening season.

David Ben-Gurion approved his request to grant permanent certificates for the orchestra musicians and their families to immigrate to Palestine and remain as permanent residents. The recruited musicians began selling their properties and possessions in preparation for their move to Palestine.

In April 1937, a few weeks before musicians' departure towards Palestine, the rumbles of Arab discontent over zionist advances in Palestine explode in Nablus and Haifa. This riot evolved into a full-scale revolt leading to many deaths among the Arabs as well as the Jews.

As a result of these events, David ben Gurion announced to Huberman that he can no longer honor his promise to provide permanent certificates for the musicians and their families. Bronislaw, however, was adamant about getting around Ben Gurion’s decision. He contacted Sir Arthur Wauchope asking for help. Huberman's efforts paid off and Sir. Arthur Wauchope decided to bypass Ben Gurion’s decision and to him issue permanent permits for all of the orchestra’s musicians to the British mandatory state of Palestine.

After their arrival to Palestine, the seventy musicians start to rehearse intensively under the baton of Wilhelm Steinberg, in preparation for the arrival of Toscanini. Maestro Toscanini arrived with his wife in Palestine on December 20th and continued rehearsing the orchestra himself.

Hubermann Recording

Bronislav Huberman's recording of Brahms and Tchaikovsky's violin concertos

The inaugural concert was presented 26 December 1936 in the Levant Pavilion and was very well received by the public. After founding the orchestra, Bronislaw Huberman continued to perform concerts throughout the world.

In 1937, on his way back from a tower in Indonesia, Huberman's plane crashed in Palembang, Sumatra, killing four of the nine passengers aboard. As a result, Huberman’s wrist and two fingers of his left hand were broken. He underwent an intensive and painful retaining and eventually resumed performing.

He and Ida eventually took refuge in Switzerland. A few years into his stay in Switzerland, Huberman fell ill from exhaustion and never regained his strength. He died, at the age of 64, on 16 June 1947.

 

SEE ALSO:

- Israel Philharmonic Inaugural Concert Program 1936

- Bronislaw Huberman Concert Programs at Amsterdam

Henryk Wieniawski: Violin Prodigy and Gifted Composer (Blog Article)

- Pablo de Sarasate: The Prodigy from Navarra (Blog Article)

- Michael Rabin – America’s First Teen Violin Sensation (Blog Article)

- Top 15 Famous Violinists of All Time (Blog Article)

- The Violin Prodigy Child of Our Time (Blog Article)

 

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