Leopold von Auer (Hungarian: 'Auer Lipót'; June 7, 1845 – July 15, 1930) was a Hungarian violinist, academic, conductor and composer, best known as an outstanding violin teacher.
Early life and career
Auer was born in Veszprém, Hungary, 7 June 1845. He first studied violin with a local concertmaster. He later wrote that the violin was a "logical instrument" for any (musically inclined) Hungarian boy to take up because it "didn't cost much." Auer later continued his violin studies with Ridley Kohné, who also came from Veszprém, at the Budapest Conservatory. Kohné was concertmaster of the orchestra of the National Opera. A performance by Auer as soloist in the Mendelssohn violin concerto attracted the interest of some wealthy music lovers, who gave him a scholarship to go to Vienna for further study. He lived at the home of his teacher, Jakob Dont. Auer wrote that it was Dont who taught him the foundation for his violin technique. In Vienna he also attended quartet classes with Joseph Hellmesberger, Sr.
By the time Auer was 13, the scholarship money had run out. His father decided to launch his career. The income from provincial concerts was barely enough to keep father and son, and a pianist who formed a duo with Leopold, out of poverty. An audition with Henri Vieuxtemps in Graz was a failure, partly because Vieuxtemps' wife thought so. A visit to Paris proved equally unsuccessful. Auer decided to seek the advice of Joseph Joachim, then royal concertmaster at Hanover. The then king of Hanover was blind and very fond of music. He paid Joachim very well, and on those occasions when Auer also performed for the king, he was also paid enough to support him for a few weeks. The two years Auer spent with Joachim (1861–63, or 1863-1865 according to Auer, 1980, p. 9) proved a turning point in his career. He was already well prepared as a violinist. What proved revelatory was exposure to the world of German music making—a world that stresses musical values over virtuoso glitter. Auer later wrote,
Joachim was an inspiration to me, and opened before my eyes horizons of that greater art of which until then I had lived in ignorance. With him I worked not only with my hands, but with my head as well, studying the scores of the masters, and endeavoring to penetrate the very heart of their works.... I [also] played a great deal of chamber music with my fellow students.
Auer spent the summer of 1864 at the spa village of Wiesbaden, where he had been hired to perform. There he met violinist Henryk Wieniawski and pianist brothers Anton Rubinstein and Nicholas Rubinstein, later founder and director of the Moscow Conservatory and conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Auer received some informal instruction from Wieniawski. In the summer of 1865 Auer was in another spa village, Baden-Baden, where he met Clara Schumann, Brahms, and Johann Strauss Jr..
There were not so many touring violinists then as there were later, but in Vienna Auer was able to hear Henri Vieuxtemps from Belgium, Antonio Bazzini from Italy, and the Czech Ferdinand Laub; he was especially impressed by Vieuxtemps. Auer gave concerts in 1864 as soloist with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, invited by concertmaster Ferdinand David, conductor Felix "Mendelssohn's friend." At that time, Auer says, Leipzig was "more important, from a musical point of view, than Berlin and even Vienna." Success led to his becoming, at the age of 19, concertmaster in Düsseldorf. In 1866 he got the same position in Hamburg; he also led a string quartet there.
During May and June 1868, Auer was "engaged" to play a series of concerts in London. In one concert, he played Beethoven's Archduke Trio with pianist Anton Rubinstein and cellist Alfredo Piatti.
Rubinstein was in search for a violin professor for the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which he had founded in 1862, and he proposed Auer. Auer agreed to a three-year contract, also as soloist at the court of Grand Duchess Helena. At first, music critics in St. Petersburg harshly criticized Auer's playing and compared it unfavorably with that of his predecessor, Wieniawski. But Tchaikovsky's admiration for Auer's playing led to its acceptance. Auer would stay for 49 years (1868-1917). During that time he held the position of first violinist to the orchestra of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. This included the principal venue of the Imperial Ballet and Opera, the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre (until 1886), and later the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, as well as the Imperial Theatres of Peterhof and the Hermitage. Until 1906, Auer played almost all of the violin solos in the ballets performed by the Imperial Ballet, the majority of which were choreographed by Marius Petipa. Before Auer, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski had played the ballet solos.
Until 1906 Auer was also leader of the string quartet for the Russian Musical Society (RMS). This quartet's concerts were as integral a part of the Saint Petersburg musical scene as their counterparts led by Joachim in Berlin. Criticism arose in later years of less-than-perfect ensemble playing and insufficient attention to contemporary Russian music. Nevertheless, Auer's group performed quartets by Tchaikovsky, Alexander Borodin, Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The group also played music by Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, along with Louis Spohr, Joachim Raff and other lesser known German composers.
Sometime around 1870, Leopold decided to convert to Russian Orthodoxy.
At the Conservatory, the leading piano teacher Theodor Leschetizky introduced Auer to Anna Yesipova, who Leschetizky said was his best student. Auer performed sonatas with many great pianists, but his favorite recital partner was Yesipova, with whom he appeared until her death in 1914. Other partners included Anton Rubinstein, Leschetizky, Raoul Pugno, Sergei Taneyev and Eugen d'Albert. One sonata Auer liked to perform was Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata, written about 1713. In the 1890s, Auer performed cycles of all 10 Beethoven violin sonatas. A particular favorite of Auer's was the 'Kreutzer' sonata, which Auer had first heard performed in Hanover by Joachim and Clara Schumann.
From 1914 to 1917, on concert tours of Russia, Auer was accompanied by the pianist Wanda Bogutska Stein.
Up through 1917, Auer did not perform in the United States. He says there was "one serious deterrent — the great number of concerts exacted of the artist in a brief period of three or four months. My friends, Anton Rubinstein, Hans von Bülow. and Henri Wieniawski told [me] that, although their American tours had been most interesting, they were reluctant to accept new engagements because of the severe strain" their tours had been for them. "But in 1918...work in Russia became impossible because of the" Russian Revolution. He then moved to the United States, although because of his age, he did not undertake a wide concert tour. He played at Carnegie Hall on March 23, 1918 and also performed in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. He taught some private students at his home on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In 1926 he joined the Institute of Musical Art (later to become the Juilliard School). In 1928 he joined the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He died in 1930 in Loschwitz, a suburb of Dresden, Germany, and was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was especially taken with Auer's playing. Reviewing an 1874 appearance in Moscow, Tchaikovsky praised Auer's "great expressivity, the thoughtful finesse and poetry of the interpretation." This finesse and poetry came at a tremendous price. Auer suffered as a performer from poorly formed hands. He had to work incessantly, with an iron determination, just to keep his technique in shape. He wrote, "My hands are so weak and their conformation is so poor that when I have not played the violin for several successive days, and then take up the instrument, I feel as if I had altogether lost the facility of playing."
Despite this handicap, Auer achieved much through constant work. His tone was small but ingratiating, his technique polished and elegant. His playing lacked fire, but he made up for it with a classic nobility. After he arrived in the United States, he made some recordings which bear this out. They show the violinist in excellent shape technically, with impeccable intonation, incisive rhythm and tasteful playing.
His musical tastes were conservative and refined. He liked virtuoso works by Henri Vieuxtemps, such as his three violin concertos, and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, and used those works in his teaching. Once a student objected to playing Ernst's Othello Fantasy, saying it was bad music. Auer did not back down. "You'll play it until it sounds like good music," he thundered at the student, "and you'll play nothing else."
Overall, Auer played little of Bach's music.
Auer never assigned either of Bach's solo violin concertos to a student. The Double Concerto, however, was one of his favorites. Auer calls the Double Concerto "the most important" of the three concertos.
Unaccompanied violin or violin and piano sonatas
Auer wrote that Ferdinand David "earned the undying gratitude of the violinistic world by [re]discovering the 'solo sonatas for violin', BWV 1001-1006, and the "Six sonatas for violin and piano". "David edited and published these works, and Joseph Joachim was the first to introduce them to the musical world at large", making "these compositions ... a fundamental pillar of violin literature." Auer puts special emphasis on the Chaconne from Bach's fourth sonata for unaccompanied violin (depending on editions, later known as Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004) together with 33 variations.
Mozart wrote 5 concertos for violin and orchestra, all in 1775, and a well-appreciated double concerto, the Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364. Auer (2012) does not mention it, but mentions two of the single-violin concertos, one in D major, No. 4, and one in A major, No. 5. For another, in E-flat major, it turned out that Mozart did not actually write it.
Auer was also active as a conductor. He was in charge of the Russian Musical Society orchestral concerts intermittently in the 1880s and 90s. He was always willing to mount the podium to accompany a famous foreign soloist—as he did when Joachim visited Russia—and did the same for his students concertizing abroad.