Virtuoso violinist, conductor, educator, and author Henri Temianka was born on this day, 115 years ago.
Born in Greenock, Scotland, he began studying violin in 1915 with Carol Blitz, and in the following ten years, he studied with Willy Hess in Berlin and Jules Boucherit in Paris. He came to the United States to study with Carl Flesch at the Curtis Institute of Music — becoming one of the school’s earliest students and its first graduate in 1930.
“His violinistic personality is, for the moment, still above his human one,” Flesch said about Temianka. “Life shall be his best teacher in this regard.”
Temianka made his New York City debut in 1928, before returning to Europe, where he quickly became one of the era’s foremost concert violinists. He had extensive concert tours throughout Europe and performed with the major orchestras across Europe and the United States.
He received third prize in the 1935 inaugural Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition — with Ginette Neveu taking first and Temianka’s close friend David Oistrakh taking second. In the same year, Temianka gave the premiere of the then little-known Benjamin Britten’s Suite for Violin and Piano alongside Betty Humby, as well as performing the music of Sergei Prokofiev — with Prokofiev himself at the piano. Temianka also performed Ralph Vaughan Willliam’s Violin Concerto in 1935, with the composer conducting.
He founded the Temianka Chamber Orchestra in London in 1936, and went on to be concertmaster of the Scottish Orchestra for the 1937/38 season, and was concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony for the 1941/42 season under the baton of the great Fritz Reiner.
Temianka’s career as a violinist and conductor came to a halt due to World War II. He served as a senior editor in the United States Office of War Information, where his fluency in four languages — English, French, German, and Dutch — allowed him to translate and edit sensitive documents.
In 1945, Temianka returned to performing, with pianist Artur Balsam at Carnegie Hall, and in 1946, he performed with pianist Leonard Shure at the Library of Congress. In the same year, Temianka became one of the original members of the Paganini Quartet — named as such because each member performed on an instrument that was once owned by Niccolò Paganini himself.
Temianka frequently hosted many of the world’s greatest musicians in his own home to perform chamber music. “I have vivid memories of hearing the greatest musicians of all time in my own home, Piatigorsky, Stern, Oistrakh, Szeryng, Primrose, and more — all performing right in my own living room,” Henri Temianka’s son, Daniel Temianka, told us at The Violin Channel.
Temianka founded the California Chamber Symphony in 1960 and served as conductor for the symphony’s 23-year long existence. The symphony gave more than 100 concerts and performed the premieres of major works by Copland, Shostakovich, Ginastera, and more.
An innovator, Temianka was one of the first to break tradition by speaking to his audiences from the stage, educating them about the music and the composers. “Connectedness between the musical artist and the audience, that was the heart of his career,” Daniel Temianka told VC. It was this belief of education that later inspired his book, "Facing the Music," released in 1973, about what the classical music experience was from the other side of the stage.
Temianka spent his later years as a guest lecturer and visiting professor at universities across the United States and abroad, as well as teaching masterclasses, writing, and producing music education films. He died at 85 in Los Angeles, California.
HENRI TEMIANKA & JOANNA GRAUDAN | WIENIAWSKI | POLONAISE BRILLIANTE NO. 2 IN A MAJOR | 1935