Roman Totenberg died peacefully at 101 years old last night surrounded by family and friends. Many public tributes in the past few years have been held in Boston to honor him, and yesterday, several of his students individually played Bach sonatas and partitas at his bed side for several hours in a very touching and fitting homage to the Maestro according to Jacques Cohen.
On his 100th birthday celebration at Symphony Hall, he still displayed, according to conductor David Hoose, “…the personal qualities that made him such an endearing presence in our musical and educational community — mischievously twinkling, irrepressibly generous, and brilliantly noble.”
“I am a little self-conscious about it,” Totenberg told the Intelligencer [here]. But he was also delighted at those who attended, including one of his former violin students in Krakow, composer and violinist Marcin Markowicz, now with the Krakow Symphony and Krakow String Quartet.
Born in Poland in 1911, Totenberg was a child prodigy, appearing as soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic when he was 11. He spent his early years in Russia, Poland, and France before emigrating to New York City just before the start of World War II. “Musical life there was very active there,” he said. Most memorable were chamber concerts with the New Friends of Music. He toured South America with Arthur Rubinstein and gave joint recitals with Szymanowski. Acclaimed for interpretations of both classical and contemporary music, he has introduced audiences to the Darius Milhaud Violin Concerto No. 2, the William Schuman Violin Concerto, and the Penderecki Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra. Totenberg also premiered the Hindemith Violin Sonata in E, the Barber Violin Concerto (new version), and a Martinů Sonata, as well as giving the American premiere of the Honegger Sonata for Solo Violin. Among his awards are the Wieniawski and Ysaÿe Medals of Poland and Belgium, the Mendelssohn Prize (Berlin Academy), and BU’s prestigious Metcalf Cup and Prize in 1996; and in 1981 he was named Artist Teacher of the Year by the American String Teachers Association.
Robert K. Dodson, recently named Director of the BU School of Music, recounted that soon after he arrived, a young man stopped by his office. He had been a student at Lawrence University when Dean Dodson was there. “He was so excited,” Dodson recalled, “because he had just had a lesson with Mr. Totenberg.” And Totenberg was 98 at the time.
Roman Totenberg’s family is planning a memorial in September.