Gregor Piatigorsky(Russian: Григо́рий Па́влович Пятиго́рский, Grigoriy Pavlovich Pyatigorskiy; April 17 [O.S.April 4] 1903 – August 6, 1976) was a Ukrainian-born American cellist.
Gregor Piatigorsky was born in Ekaterinoslav(now Dniproin Ukraine) into a Jewishfamily. As a child, he was taught violinand pianoby his father. After seeing and hearing the cello, he was determined to become a cellist and was given his first cello when he was seven.
He won a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatory, studying with Alfred von Glehn, Anatoliy Brandukov, and a certain Gubariov. At the same time he was earning money for his family by playing in local cafés.
He was 13 when the Russian Revolutiontook place. Shortly afterwards he started playing in the Lenin Quartet. At 15, he was hired as the principal cellist for the Bolshoi Theater.
The Sovietauthorities, specifically Anatoly Lunacharsky, would not allow him to travel abroad to further his studies, so he smuggled himself and his cello into Polandon a cattle train with a group of artists. One of the women was a heavy-set soprano who, when the border guards started shooting at them, grabbed Piatigorsky and his cello. The cello did not survive intact, but it was the only casualty.
Now 18, he studied briefly in Berlinand Leipzig, with Hugo Beckerand Julius Klengel, playing in a trio in a Russian café to earn money for food. Among the patrons of the café were Emanuel Feuermannand Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler heard him and hired him as the principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic.
In 1929, he first visited the United States, playing with the Philadelphia Orchestraunder Leopold Stokowskiand the New York Philharmonicunder Willem Mengelberg. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, in January 1937 he married Jacqueline de Rothschild, daughter of Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschildof the wealthy Rothschild banking family of France. That fall, after returning to France, they had their first child, Jephta. Following the Nazioccupation in World War II, the family fled the country back to the States and settled in Elizabethtown, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. Their son, Joram, was born in Elizabethtown in 1940.
From 1941 to 1949, he was head of the cello department at the Curtis Institute of Musicin Philadelphia, and he also taught at Tanglewood, Boston University, and the University of Southern California, where he remained until his death. The USC established the Piatigorsky Chair of Violoncelloin 1974 to honor Piatigorsky.
Piatigorsky participated in a chambergroup with Arthur Rubinstein(piano), William Primrose(viola) and Jascha Heifetz(violin). Referred to in some circles as the "Million Dollar Trio", Rubinstein, Heifetz, and Piatigorsky made several recordings for RCA Victor.
He played chamber music privately with Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Pennario, and Nathan Milstein.Piatigorsky also performed at Carnegie Hallwith Horowitz and Milstein in the 1930s.
In 1965 his popular autobiography Cellistwas published.
Gregor Piatigorsky died of lung cancerat his home in Los Angeles, California, in 1976. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemeteryin Los Angeles.
It has been reported that the great violin pedagogue Ivan Galamianonce described Piatigorsky as the greatest string player of all time. He was an extraordinarily dramatic player. His orientation as a performer was to convey the maximum expression embodied in a piece. He brought a great authenticity to his understanding of this expression. He was able to communicate this authenticity because he had had extensive personal and professional contact with many of the great composers of the day.
Many of those composers wrote pieces for him, including Sergei Prokofiev(Cello Concerto), Paul Hindemith(Cello Concerto), Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco(Cello Concerto), William Walton(Cello Concerto), Vernon Duke(Cello Concerto), and Igor Stravinsky(Piatigorsky and Stravinsky collaborated on the arrangement of Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne", which was extracted from Pulcinella, for cello and piano; Stravinsky demonstrated an extraordinary method of calculating fifty-fifty royalties). At a rehearsal of Richard Strauss's Don Quixote, which Piatigorsky performed with the composer conducting, after the dramatic slow variation in D minor, Strauss announced to the orchestra, "Now I've heard my Don Quixote as I imagined him."
Piatigorsky had a magnificent sound characterized by a distinctive fast and intense vibratoand he was able to execute with consummate articulation all manner of extremely difficult bowings, including a downbow staccatothat other string players could not help but be in awe of. He often attributed his penchant for drama to his student days when he accepted an engagement playing during the intermissions in recitals by the great Russian basso, Feodor Chaliapin. Chaliapin, when portraying his dramatic roles, such as the title role in Boris Godunov, would not only sing, but declaim, almost shouting. On encountering him one day, the young Piatigorsky told him, "You talk too much and don't sing enough." Chaliapin responded, "You sing too much and don't talk enough." Piatigorsky thought about this and from that point on, tried to incorporate the kind of drama and expression he heard in Chaliapin's singing into his own artistic expression.
He owned two Stradivariuscellos, the "Batta" and the "Baudiot." According to Cozio.com, Piatigorsky also owned the famous Montagnana cello known as the Sleeping Beauty from 1939 to 1951.
Piatigorsky was also a composer. His Variations on a Paganini Theme(based on Caprice No. 24) was composed in 1946 for cello and orchestra and was orchestrated by his longtime accompanist Ralph Berkowitz; it was later transcribed for cello and piano.Each of the fifteen variations whimsically portrays one of Piatigorsky’s musician colleagues. Denis Brott, a student of Piatigorsky, identified them as:Casals,Hindemith,Garbousova,Morini,Salmond,Szigeti,Menuhin,Milstein,Kreisler, a self-portrait of Piatigorsky himself,Cassadó,Elman,Bolognini,Heifetz, andHorowitz.