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

Political tension

Huberman first visited Palestine in 1929 feeling an internationalist, more European than Jewish and rather anti-Zionistic, but the mystical atmosphere he felt permeated the place changed his thinking. He received a tremendous reception – at sold out concerts he saw people climbing waterpipies and barbed wire on to roofs in order to listen, and by the time of his second visit in January 1931 he had formed a vision of creating a Palestine Symphony Orchestra. The rise of Hitler would soon give this project a real focus.

The depression was causing economic instability throughout Europe. Hungary introduced severe restrictions on foreign exchange transactions to keep the value of the pengoë stable, and in November ’31 Budapest musical circles worried what effect this would have upon the scheduled visits of foreign arists. Huberman’s concert manager assured them that he was willing as were other musicians, to accept payment partly in pengoes & partly in the form of time drafts.

Even more serious of course, were the political problems. In May ’32 Huberman addressed a Viennese audience on the subject of Pan-Europa. The lecture was attended by the French, Polish and Bulgarian Ambassadors, as well as prominent Austrian politicians. While admitting that all authentic art in the end had its roots in national soil, he said a Pan-Europe need not signify a leveling of national characteristics, but rather “a freeing of their inexhaustible wellsprings of creative power.”

Huberman did not see his growing Zionism as conflicting with the Pan-Europa movement, as he felt the Jews had given the world monotheism, and in his opinion this was just a step away from the idea of “one humanity of brethren.” Later that year he published Vaterland Europa (Fatherland Europe), in which he wrote prophetically “Those who help us, do not only altruistically … but they protect themselves and their dear ones from the destruction of property, from poverty, from collective murder, and from their own ruin.”

Huberman had played with Schnabel and Piatigorsky for the Beethoven celebrations in 1927, and the same group with the addition of Hindemith now planned to give a Brahms cycle for the next years Brahms centenary. When the violinist and pedagogue Carl Flesch heard that his friend Schnabel was playing again with Huberman, he was so furious that in December he severed relations with him. Schnabel’s musical collaboration with Flesch had virtually ceased since he had left their trio in 1920, but 12 years on, Flesch still felt betrayed by Schnabel’s association with Huberman, a violinist he violently disliked. Flesch wrote accusingly to Schnabel:

“When in 1921 you detached yourself from the Trio, freedom of action on both sides was the logical consequence. Equally, your choice of partner is entirely your own affair, particularly since my innate antipathy towards Huberman might make me appear prejudiced. Nevertheless, I have to say that during the past few years I became more and more puzzled about your sudden sympathy for him … it is not unknown to me that you have been contemplating artistic collaboration with Huberman for some time as well as the fact that you had tried as long as 2 years ago to interest Piaty in this project … what I want is nothing but the termination of our personal relationship.”

Schnabel wrote back “If you don’t want to see me again, I won’t force myself on you. If you do want to see me – I am here, and you will meet a friend.” Carl Flesch discussed Huberman in his Memoirs.

In September Huberman played with the BBC, and in November his assistance at the Brahms centenary in Paris under Weingartner who had come from Vienna to direct, proceeded smoothly enough. The situation in Germany had began to deteriorate though, as more and more Jewish figures were forced to leave their posts. Furtwängler told Yehudi Menuhin that musical life in Germany was “going to the dogs.”

In April 1933 Adolf Busch quit the Brahms celebrations in Hamburg (Brahms’ birthplace) as his Jewish pianist, Rudolf Serkin, was refused permission to participate. In Berlin the Prussian Minister of Culture prohibited a series of Brahms chamber music concerts that were to have been given in May at the Singakademie by Schnabel, Huberman, Piatigorsky and Hindemith. The quartet, with Casals substituting for Piatigorsky, were able to play at the May Vienna celebrations under Furtwängler however. The group gave several trio and quartet performances, and Huberman and Casals played the Brahms double concerto. Both Schnabel and Huberman had played under Furtwängler the previous year, and he was anxious to get them back for future performances in Germany. In April Furtwängler had personally persuaded Goebbels to grant exemptions for certain Jewish figures, and so he took the opportunity at the Vienna Brahms celebrations to ask them to return to Germany for engagements the next season. Schnabel later wrote of these concerts:

“Performances went very well and we had great fun and pleasure at our rehearsals, with plenty of time. After one of our concerts we went to a very popular restaurant in the basement of a hotel. There were about fifty people there besides us. Around midnight, Furtwängler came, with two friends, and his behaviour seemed planned and prepared. In the presence of these fifty or more people, he addressed Huberman and me, asking us once more if we would not change our minds and come back the following winter to play in Berlin with him. We had been asked before and refused, of course, to do so, for reasons you can easily guess. Huberman asked me to answer first. I made it very simple and said that if all the musicians were called back and reinstated in their former positions, then I would agree to come back. But if they were not called back, I would have to stick to my refusal. To my great amazement Furtwängler replied – and this was obviously not prepared – that I was mixing art and politics. And that was that.”

Huberman explained why he couldn’t return to Germany, and then discussed with Furtwängler the possibility of publishing a public reply declining the invitation. On 30 June Furtwängler wrote to Huberman asking him to return to Germany to play with the Berlin Philharmonic and be the first “to break down the barrier.” Huberman replied on 10 July from his summer-home in Italy, giving in writing the reasons he had already given verbally during the Vienna Brahms festival. After complimenting Furtwängler on the stand he had taken, he wrote:

“… no case has come to my attention of the intended reinstatement of those museum directors, orchestra conductors and music teachers who were dismissed on account of their Jewish origin, their differing political views or even their lack of interest in politics … In reality it is not a question of violin concertos nor even merely of the Jews; the issue is the retention of those things that our fathers achieved by blood and sacrifice, of the elementary preconditions of our European culture, the freedom of personality and its unconditional self-responsibility unhampered by fetters of caste or race.”

After further negoitations through the summer months and with the situation in Germany declining, Huberman eventually decided to publish his 10 July letter, and in September it appeared in French, German, and American Newspapers.

Huberman later referred to Furtwängler as “that typical ‘non-Nazi German’, who with millions of other ‘non-Nazis’ made Nazism possible!”

Huberman now had a clearer idea of the orchestra he wanted to form, realising that its creation could help many Central European Jewish orchestral musicians who had been left jobless. What had originally been just a cultural institution for Palestine now also became an emergency rescue for victims of Nazi policy. In January 1934 he visited Palestine for the third time, and discussed his ideas with local representatives. After encountering initial resistance from the governing body of the existing Philharmonic Society, he eventually overcame petty interests and jealousies, and gained acceptance for his proposal. Three local committees were set up in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa to collect donations, to organize subscriptions, and act as an advisory group.

c. 1930


Photo by Lipnitzki, Paris, 1932

Beethoven concert, Jan 1933

Huberman, Casals, Schnabel and Hindemith, rehearsing for the Brahms centenial festival, Vienna, May 1933

Schnabel, Huberman, Casals and Hindemith, May 1933

c. 1933

c. 1933

Top photo: Vienna, 1932

Konzerthaus programme used courtesy of:
Archiv der Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft, Programmarchiv