Death of a great British leader

Death of a great British leader


norman lebrecht

August 09, 2020

We have been informed that Erich Gruenberg died yesterday at his home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, aged 95.

A Hitler refugee from Vienna, he studied at the Jerusalem conservatory and won the 1947 Carl Flesch competition in London, where he settled.

He was successively leader (concertmaster) of the Stockholm Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but he was also a renowned soloist who made many recordings, including the ten Beethoven sonatas (with David Wilde) and quite a few contemporary composers, incuding the premiere of the Berthold Goldschmidt violin concerto. He was also a wonderful teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.

He is survived by his wife, Korshed Madan, and by two daughters, the pianist Joanna and violinist Tina, a member of the London Philharmonic. His passing marks the end of a momentous era for British music.



  • Tully Potter says:

    Gruenberg and his brother Eli Goren were among the children rescued from the Nazis by the great Emil Hauser, former member of the Busch Quartet and the original leader of the Budapest Quartet. In 1932, fed up with the intriguing of the second violin Roisman, Hauser quit the Budapest ensemble and, although offered the leadership of the Dresden Quartet, opted to settle in Jerusalem. With Thelma Yellin he founded the Palestine Conservatoire and the Hauser Quartet: all four members volunteered to play in the inaugural Palestine Orchestra concerts under Toscanini. In the late 1930s, at considerable personal risk – and armed with certificates of immigration, originally earmarked for non-Jews, which he had wheedled out of the British High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Wauchope – Hauser travelled through Germany and Austria, auditioning talented Jewish music students and making it possible for them to go to Jerusalem. In that way he saved the lives of many who would have perished in the Holocaust. ‘Hauser was not only a great musician but also a great humanitarian who fearlessly went into the Nazi hell to rescue us without any thought of his own safety’, wrote the pianist Walter Hautzig, who was sixteen when Hauser plucked him from the Vienna Academy just after the Anschluss. In 1940 Hauser emigrated to the United States, teaching in New York – at Bard College and then the Juilliard School – but keeping his connection with Palestine/Israel. Afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, he returned in 1960 to Jerusalem, where he died on 27 January 1978. Gruenberg and Goren both became quartet leaders in their turn.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you, Tully.

      • christopher storey says:

        I remember him as a wonderful player and mentor to so many of the Leeds Piano competitors in the 1980s when for several years a violin/piano duo round was an integral part of the competition. His playing ( and the stamina required ) were a tour de force . RIP Erich Gruenberg

    • Larry W says:

      “In 1932, fed up with the intriguing of second violin Roisman, Hauser quit the Budapest ensemble.” Really, Tully?

      Hauser and violist István Ipolyi could not play spiccato, using instead a staccato bow stroke at the tip called Spitzen. Roisman spent hours trying to adapt to this self-limiting bowstroke but was unhappy with the result. Hauser and Budapest Quartet cellist Harry Son constantly argued, with both soliciting Roisman’s vote. Son got fed up with the arguments and left in 1931. In 1932, Hauser wanted to play some outside concerts, a deviation from the quartet’s rules. The quartet refused, they argued, and he left. Roisman had to be persuaded to take over first violin.

      Emil Hauser may have done great musical and humanitarian things, but you do not honor one great musician by slamming another.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Thank you Tully Potter for that fascinating back-story about Hauser. By what small chances and tiny twists of fate did Gruenberg and others survive.

      Other Gruenberg recordings worth seeking out: to my knowledge he remains the only artist to record the David Morgan violin concerto, unaccountably neglected (indeed the program notes to that LP are just about the only way to learn much about this British composer). How odd that this piece could just languish unheard.

      Another worthy recording was on DG, Miklós Rózsa conducts Miklós Rózsa, and a suite from the score for the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. According to the notes, Billy Wilder crafted that film explicitly to make use of Rózsa’s violin concerto, as he felt certain elements to the piece portrayed such aspects as Holmes’s drug use/addiction in very appropriate ways, and of course the original Conan Doyle stories relate that Holmes would play stream-of-consciousness solos on his violin (Watson describing them as “exasperating solos) and then apologize by playing pieces Watson liked.

      Evidently no actual source-soundtrack recording was ever released.

      The recording features Gruenberg beautifully playing the selected and adapted portions of the Concerto chosen for the film soundtrack. Of course the entire Concerto was memorably recorded by Heifetz. What a pity that Gruenberg was never asked to record the entire Concerto as it would have created an interesting alternative view to Heifetz’s.

  • Lena says:

    The greatest teacher and mentor. He had an invaluable impact on my life, both as a violinist and as a human. RIP.

    • Frannie says:

      We were so lucky to have his experience and influence guiding us!violinists from all over the world were supported and shaped so thoughtfully by Mr.Gruenberg.
      He rests in peace

  • Una says:

    Wonderful man and someone I met as a music student in Colchester when I was a second study violinist. May he rest in piece.

  • Stereo says:

    Great leader.RIP

    • Edgar Self says:

      Valuable history, Tully and Norman. Bronislaw Hubermann also recruited players for the Palestine Symphony and its inaugural concert with Yoscanini, as I believe did Carl Flesch, very likely with recommendations from Adolf Busch and his familiars. Hubermann then was soloist for another of their first concerts.

      Norman’s reference to Gruenberg’s recording with David Wilde of the five Beethoven sonatas isn’t clear to me unless they were a selection of the ten Beethoven wrote. There are the five cello sonatas.

  • Robin Del Mar says:

    I’m very sad. Erich was the leader of the RPO when I joined in 1974. He was an inspiration. When he walked onto the stage at the beginning of a concert you really sat up. The famous video of the 1974 Proms Ein Helenleben will be a lasting testament. My love to Korshed and Tina.

  • Misha says:

    I’ve just uploaded this rare recording to YouTube. This is a live performance, not the commercial recording with the New Philharmonia.

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    For an example of his wonderful playing, hear the violin solo in Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben with the RPO conducted by Kempe in 1974, now available on DVD (ICAD5009) with Dvorak’s New World Symphony and the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Gruenberg’s brother, Eli Goren. I was at both concerts and this is a wonderful souvenir of two great occasions.

  • Sophie says:

    The best grandad and human ever. Love and miss you forever xxx

  • Orchestral player says:

    One of the great British Leaders. Alas, those days are gone. Nowadays, we have wonderful players but definitely not Leaders! An art form which has disappeared. Leaders are born, not made…

    RIP Erich.

  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    ‘The five Beethoven violin sonatas’? Has one hand been amputated?

  • Bill says:

    The five Beethoven sonatas? Beethoven wrote five sonatas for the cello, ten for the violin.

  • Antonia Azoitei (Beattie) says:

    My much loved teacher at the Academy. So grateful to him. He transformed my playing and my mindset. Thank you, Erich for everything. I will miss you terribly.