Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician

Article excerpt

Adolf Busch: The Life of an Honest Musician. By Tully Potter. London: Toccata Press, 2010. 2 vols, 1423pp. $145

These two hefty volumes constitute one of the most important musical biographies to appear in recent years. Its subject is a violinist who became one of the most renowned of German violinists as both soloist and chamber musician. In the latter role, he founded an eponymous quartet in 1919 that over the next two decades would become the most celebrated in Europe. In 1950, before declining health ended his life at 60 in 1952, Busch founded, with his son-in-law, the pianist Rudolf Serkin, the Marlboro School of Music in Vermont.

Potter, a colleague of mine at The Strad, spent twenty-five years researching and writing the book. (I'll disclose here that I offered some assistance with discographic details.) Its breadth of documentation is prodigious. It seems as if no detail that could be discovered about the subject has been omitted. And what a subject! Born in 1891 into poverty in Wilhelmine, Germany Busch's musical talents and those of his siblings were too obvious to be ignored. How they were nurtured in the cultural environment of pre-World War I Germany is limned in quite remarkable detail. Virtually every musical figure or other important personage who intersected the lives of Adolf, Fritz, and Hermann Busch--who became revered as, respectively, violinist, conductor, and cellist--is identified with biographical details. To a casual reader, such documentary largesse may seem daunting, even stupefying. But the richness of detail summons so vividly a vanished world of musical life that it's hard to stop reading.

Aside from their purely musical accomplishments, the Busch brothers make a fascinating study in idealism and rectitude, and the consequences of acting upon those qualities. With the coming of the Third Reich in Germany in 1933, many artists, musicians, educators, and writers were threatened. Those who were Jewish or political liberals (read Communists) were immediately imperiled and began a mass exodus that frequently resulted in their eventual arrival in the U.S., or sometimes led to tragedy and personal destruction. …

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