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Music: New Fiddler

2 minute read

Most of today’s famous fiddlers are Russian. By rights they should have been Hungarian. For most of them were pupils of a great Hungarian fiddle teacher who happened to do most of his teaching in Russia: the late Leopold Auer. For many generations Hungary’s lazy Danubian capital, Budapest, has been as noted for fine fiddling as for goulash and Tokay. Hardly less famed than expatriate Pedagogue Auer was the late Jenö de Szalatna Hubay, who stayed at home to teach other Hungarian fiddlers how to fiddle. Through aristocratic, white-bearded Hubay’s studio passed many of the finest violinists in the world, among them Hungarian Joseph Szigeti.

Four years ago aging Pedagogue Hubay was delighted by the playing of a 13-year-old, mop-headed youngster fresh from the Budapest Conservatory, and decided to take him as a pupil. The youngster, a Yugoslav of Hungarian parentage, named Robert Virovai, soon had all Budapest talking. Last year, just before he died, crotchety 78-year-old Hubay, who in his time had heard his share of fiddling, shook his head feelingly and said, “Young Virovai plays so beautifully as to astonish even me.”

Last week Violinist Virovai made his first bow to a U. S. audience. Few of the Philharmonic-Symphony concertgoers in Manhattan’s weather-beaten Carnegie Hall had ever heard of him. But before he was even half way through Vieuxtemps’ rhetorical D Minor Concerto, the Philharmonic’s audience was shouting and stamping fit to bust the buttons off its stuffed shirts. When it was over, self-possessed little Violinist Virovai was given a terrific hand. Critics straightway placed him in the front rank of present-day fiddlers, acclaimed his appearance as one of the most exciting debuts ever heard in Carnegie Hall.

Violinist Virovai, whose playing is remarkable not only for speed, accuracy and beautiful tone, but for masterly restraint and timing, was born in 1921 in the little Yugoslav mountain resort of Daruvar. When he was six his family moved to Belgrade so that he could study the violin with a local teacher. Four years later he moved on to Budapest.

Though no longer an infant prodigy, Virovai arrived in Manhattan wearing short pants, immediately changed them for more dignified trousers, of which he is proud as Punch. The thing that completely floored him in Manhattan was automats. He spent hours in one, stuffing slots with nickels and himself with the food that popped out.

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