Gimpel Music Archives

Jakob & Bronislaw Gimpel Archives

by Peter Gimpel

Copyright © 2004 by Peter Gimpel

The story of Bronislaw Gimpel is one of the most remarkable in the annals of the violin. Born (1911) into the founding family of the famous Yiddish Theatre of Lemberg (Lwow), he started piano and violin lessons with his father at age five. The violin soon occupied his principal attention. At eight, he was accepted by the Lwow Conservatory, where he studied with Moritz Wolfstahl, and where, that same year, he made his public debut with the Mendelssohn Concerto. The impression he made on that occasion was such that, barely had he reached the end of the first cadenza, when the audience broke out in cheers. At the age of eleven he joined his brother Jakob in Vienna, where he continued his studies with Robert Pollack at the Vienna Conservatory, under a full scholarship. His first important appearance was at age fourteen, playing the Goldmark Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic. The critics hailed him as "Bronislaw II," alluding to Bronislaw Huberman. A year later, an extended concert tour with his brother Karol in Italy in 1926 resulted in a succession of triumphs of historic proportion, with command performances before the King Vittorio Emmanuele III and Pope Pius XI, and invitations to play on the famous Guarneri of Paganini and to perform at the grave of the legendary virtuoso. Tours of South America and Europe followed.

It is noteworthy that these phenomenal successes of the virtuoso did not distract the musician from seeking further perfection. Determined to subordinate the irrepressible spontaneity of his talent to the most refined demands of musical expression, he attended the Berlin Hochschule für Musik under the guidance of Prof. Karl Flesch, and with the aid of a personal scholarship from the great master. Thereafter he continued his solo career while holding the lead posts in Könisgberg and Göteborg.

The outbreak of the War and an invitation from Klemperer brought Gimpel to Los Angeles, and to the concertmastership of the L.A. Philharmonic. Joined a year later by his brother Jakob, whose pianistic career had been similarly interrupted, Bronislaw assumed an active role in the musical life of the city as founder and director of the Hollywood Youth Orchestra, leader of the Philharmonic Quartet, and also frequently conducting the L.A. Philharmonic and the WPA Orchestra.

After enlisting and serving in the U.S. Army from 1942 to the end of the War, Gimpel visited New York. He was immediately offered, and he accepted, the position of Concertmaster of the ABC Radio Symphony, where he also frequently appeared as soloist and as guest conductor. While holding that position, and leading the American Artist String Quartet, he also joined the New Friends of Music Quartet, with Hortense Monath.

Two years after the War's end, Gimpel resumed his solo career in Europe, where he was received, once again, with great acclaim. Though he abandoned his post at ABC in 1950 in order to devote himself entirely to concertizing, Gimpel never lost interest in chamber music. The Mannes-Gimpel-Silva Piano Trio, formed that same year, quickly acquired an outstanding reputation, but dissolved in 1956, when Gimpel decided to transfer his domicile to Europe. Indeed, with as many as a hundred solo appearances a year in Germany alone, Gimpel's European commitments now required his constant presence. There followed eleven years of intense and exhausting concert and recording activity on both sides of the "Iron Curtain."

In 1962, during the first timid breezes of the Polish "Springtime," there was held in Warsaw a private chamber music soirée in which Gimpel performed together with a close friend from childhood: Wladyslaw Szpilman, "The Pianist" of the award-winning book and film. Among the guests was Szymon Zakrzewski, director of the Polish Concert Agency. That chance encounter inspired Zakrzewski to propose forming a "Warsaw Quintet" around the two musicians, who were, respectively, of American and Polish citizenship. The idea won the approval of the U.S. State Department, via Wallace Littel, First Secretary for Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. Thus was born the Warsaw Quintet.

During the five years of Gimpel's association with the ensemble, they made repeated tours of Europe, Japan, India, and Hong Kong. Their first American tour, in 1967, led to an offer to Gimpel of a professorship at the University of Connecticut. Physically and emotionally depleted from years of ceaseless and intense concert activity, he accepted.

But Gimpel was unfit for the staid life of professor at an American college campus. Despite the notable successes of the New England String Quartet which he founded and twice brought to Europe to great critical acclaim, and despite his resumption of the solo concert circuit (albeit at a more relaxed pace), he found life in rural Connecticut to be insufferable. He resigned in 1973, only to accept soon afterwards another professorship-this time at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England. There followed a period of relative content, his tenure enlivened by frequent contact with close friends, a few select concerts and occasional visits to his seaside home at Terracina. Yet, a growing nostalgia for his sole surviving family in Los Angeles induced him to move there in 1978.

Hardly had he "settled" in Los Angeles, however, when he flew back to Europe for more soloing, and then, with hardly a stopover in L.A., on to Venezuela, to supervise the instruction of three new youth symphonies in Caracas. There he made his last public appearance, playing the Tchaikowsky Concerto in a performance he himself described as one of the finest of his life. He died (1979) in his sleep shortly after his return to Los Angeles, only a few days before a scheduled recital with his brother Jakob. His passing, at age 68, ended a concert career of 60 years. Fortunately, he left behind a musical legacy of a great many recordings and radio broadcasts, covering virtually all the important works in the literature. Despite his fame, he remained an unassuming, generous, loyal and delightfully amusing man. Though he disparaged his abilities as a teacher, he was adored by his pupils. His playing was characterized by a beautiful and distinctly recognizable tone of kaleidoscopic timbre, a superior musical intellect, and by an innate sense of the poetic and dramatic potential of musical expression that is today all but forgotten.

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