Early years / Patti’s farewell / Viennese triumph / Brahms listens / America 1896 / Paganini’s violin / Marriage / World War I / America 1921 / Europe 1925 / Political tension / Riots in Vienna / Stolen Strad / Palestine / World War II / Liberation


Huberman had met the singer Elza Galafrés on several occasions, but it was a chance meeting at the Weisser Hirsch sanatorium in Dresden that led to their romance. The sanatorium promoted healthy living, with cold showers, brisk walks, and food which consisted mainly of salads and fruit. Perhaps if the food had been better, Elza and Huberman would have spent less time together? As it was however, they discussed everything under the sun, including Huberman’s invention of a special pneumatic cover for his violin that protected it on voyages. In the close confines of the institution, a relationship soon developed.

When Elza’s mother heard that the pair were involved, she was horrified, and although Huberman was unsympathetic, he reluctantly agreed to a secret engagement with Elza that winter. Back in Vienna they rented a two-storied villa on the outskirts, where they lived with Bronislaw’s secretary and pianist. Gossip and notices began appearing in papers, and although Huberman was still not keen on marriage, to placate Elza’s mother once again, a public engagement was announced.

Life with Bronislaw wasn’t easy. His hyper-sensitive nerves and uptight temperament meant that each night he fought a battle against chronic insomnia. When he was on tour, his secretary and accompanist would sleep in rooms on either side of his to help prevent noise from adjacent rooms. Sometimes Huberman would even book a whole floor in an attempt to gain some peace and quiet.

Elza also didn't share Huberman’s economic viewpoint, and felt that he was mean in the treatment of their domestic staff. Huberman could be extremely generous, but justified his thriftyness by explaining that the point of undergoing endless tours and sleepless nights was to become financially free and independent so as to be able to enjoy life in the future. Years later in 1931 a female admirer wrote to Huberman:

“[…] If Beethoven himself had been in the audience, he would have realised that his concerto had never been performed with the perfection with which you played it that evening. After the concert […] someone alleged that even you don’t make music for its own sake but for purely financial reasons. I was furious […] and […] said that if I were to ask you for a free ticket for your concert on 20 February you would grant me this request. Please give me the opportunity to disprove the offensive opinions of these people.”

Huberman replied:

“If your friends need the supply of a free ticket as proof for a musician’s artistic convictions, if they cannot read sufficient into the artistic accomplishment to rid themselves of such childish ideas, then I am not in the least interested in convincing them of the contrary. […] Apart from this only a dreamer would deny for one moment that even the most precious artistic matters have an economic ingredient, namely at the point in time at which they are being sold. [...] the essential requirement is that an artistic product must be free from such considerations at the moment of its creation.”

Elza became pregnant and the couple decided to marry during their upcoming trip to London. As Huberman was a Polish Jew, and Elza a German Protestant, they could only legally marry in a Protestant church which Huberman was reluctant to do, so they decided on a civil marriage which was performed on 21 July 1910. Their child Johannes was born in December, and 15 days later Elza was back at work at the theatre.

Elza and Bronislaw were both commissioned to write books for the series “In the workshop” by the Viennese publisher Verlag Hugo Heller. Elza wrote Aus Der Eigenen Werkstatt which later became her first published work, and Bronislaw wrote Aus der Werkstatt des Virtuosen (In the workshop of the virtuoso), a book about the role and responsibilities of the virtuoso, which was published in 1912.

For the summer they rented a villa near Vienna, as Elza was commuting into the city each day. Baron Albert Profumo was one of Huberman’s best friends, and during the summer when he visited them as a guest, he asked why Huberman didn’t buy the villa and make it his permanent home. When Huberman replied that he didn’t want to burden his nerves with any more commitments, Profumo offered to buy it for him as a gift. When Huberman refused, Profumo suggested he could pay back some of the money if he preferred, as and when he felt like. Huberman was touched, but still refused.

Elza Galafrés

Bronis & Elza at Sanatorium Lahmann, Dresden

At the summer home, “Rekawinkel”, Austria

Rekawinkel, 1911

Rekawinkel, 1911-1912

Elza and Johannes, 1912

c. 1912

Huberman’s pneumatic case patent, Jul 1910

Top Photo: Date unknown