CARL FLESCH ( 9 OCTOBER 1873 - 14 NOVEMBER 1944)
I remember the day my violin teacher told me: Bibi, tell your parents to buy the Scales System by Carl Flesch. I will also never forget the moment I held it for the first time in my hands and opened the book, it looked so difficult! Little did I know, that this book will become my lifetime companion.
Carl Flesch is best known today as one of the most successful and influential teachers of his time. His pupils include: Max Rostal, Henryk Szeryng, Szymon Goldberg, Ida Haendel, Yfrah Neaman, Ginette Neveu, Henri Temianka, Alma Moodie ...and the list of eminent violinists and pedagogues goes on and on. Flesch's analytical approach to teaching is set down in his principal works: Die Kunst des Violin-Spiels (The Art of Violin Playing) and his Scale System remain standard works of violin pedagogy today.
Carl Flesch was born in the small Hungarian town of Mosonmagyarovar and began playing the violin at a young age, soon leaving for Vienna and later studying at the Paris Conservatoire, where he graduated with Grand Prix. Although his brilliant debuts in Vienna and Berlin established him as one of the leading young violinists, Flesch chose to teach at Bucharest Conservatoire, Rumania. He remained there from 1897- 1902, studying and perfecting the methodology of violin playing. His teaching career took him further to seats of higher education in Amsterdam, Berlin, Philadelphia, London, and finally, Lucerne. He also taught masterclasses in Baden-Baden and other European cities. Flesch continued his concert activities, however, performing with the celebrated pianist Artur Schnabel and distinguished conductors (among others, F.Weingartner, A. Nikisch,W.Furtwangler,Sir A.Boult). He toured in many European cities, Russia and the US. We are lucky to be able to hear Flesch's playing in recordings which span from 1905- 1936.
The Art of Violin Playing
Carl Flesch possessed a virtuoso technique but he insisted on the violinist as an artist, not merely a virtuoso. He instilled in his pupils the higher purpose of artistic interpretation, to understand the character of a work, different musical styles and the deeper meaning of a work, its emotional and spiritual content.
In his book ‘The Art of Violin Playing’ he goes into detail on how to practice general violin technique as well as ‘applied’ technique - how to master technical passages in a certain composition.
What I found very interesting and helpful was his advice on how much to practice. He advised a 45 minute practicing session followed by a 15 minute break. As a student practicing a huge repertoire this helped me a lot and I have ever since followed this principle.
Flesch's personal life was highly eventful, especially during the two World Wars. In 1928 he had to sell his Brancaccio Stradivarius, having lost all his money on the New York Stock Exchange. He became a German citizen in 1930, but was forced to leave Germany in 1934 by the Nazis and moved to London. In 1939, he happened to be in the Netherlands with his wife when they were arrested by the Gestapo, released and made it to Switzerland. Flesch died in Lucerne in 1944. His memoirs make interesting reading, as Flesch shares his thoughts on great musicians of his era.
The great violinist Joseph Szigety, with whom Flesch performed the Bach Double Concerto in 1937, said of his instructional works: ‘they opened a new era in teaching the art of violin playing’. Szigety himself an influential teacher, wrote to Flesch:
With your work you have given the violinists a Bible, in which teachers and players will study as long as the violin is played on this earth.