- Arthur Grumiaux
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Arthur Grumiaux was one of the greatest exponents ever of the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing. Born to a working-class family in Villers-Perwin, Belgium, in 1921, he was urged by his grandfather to study music and began his musical education at age four. By age eleven, he gained first prize in both violin and piano from the Charleroi Conservatory of Music and went on to study violin in Brussels with Alfred Dubois, who was a student of Eugène Ysaÿe. In 1939, he was awarded the Henri Vieuxtemps and François Prume prizes and was given, in 1940, the Prix de Virtuosité by the Belgian government. Grumiaux’ studies included substantial training in counterpoint and fugue, which he pursued — along with further violin studies — with the violinist George Enesco in Paris.
Grumiaux had just begun an extremely promising concert career as a soloist when war broke out in Europe. Belgium was under German occupation, and Grumiaux turned his attention to chamber music, particularly string quartets. Once the war ended, he resumed solo performances and developed a stellar career that took him to the United States, Great Britain, throughout Europe and to Asia. As an artist recording for the Philips label, he made numerous recordings of a diverse repertoire. Among these highly acclaimed interpretations are the complete set of Beethoven Sonatas, partnered by Clara Haskil; the complete unaccompanied Bach Sonatas, the Beethoven Concerto (of which my own favorite is his version with Von Beinum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra), the Berg Concerto, Mozart and Beethoven String Trios with the Grumiaux Trio (George Janzer, viola and Eva Czako, cello), and collections of short works for violin and piano. Many of these recordings have been re-released on compact disc and are widely available.
Grumiaux introduced William Walton’s Violin Concerto to continental Europe, and included traditional and contemporary works in his substantial repertoire. His playing, as preserved on recordings, is characterized by elegance, an expressive and round tone, tasteful discipline and subtlety, and a virtuosity that was not self-indulgent. He strove to serve the composers whose music he played, and not himself, and was exacting in his standards. As an interpreter, his training and understanding of the music’s structure was thorough, yet he was never pedantic in his approach to interpretation nor to teaching.
His partnership with the pianist Clara Haskil was one of the great joys of his life. She had been an excellent violinist until scoliosis affected her spine, forcing her to concentrate on the piano, but would on occasion switch instruments with Grumiaux, playing violin to his piano partnership. Her death, through a fall in a Brussels train station en route to a concert with him, was a severe blow to him personally and professionally and left him in an artistic void, without a suitable piano partner, for many years.
As a professor of violin, Grumiaux emphasized the need to listen closely to the phrase and its quality of sound. Although he demanded the highest technical standard from his pupils, he did not employ a rote system of teaching technique, instead preferring for the students to find a personal solution to these problems and to develop for themselves the artistry required to surmount them.
Despite being afflicted with diabetes, Grumiaux continued a rigorous schedule of concert performances and recordings, primarily in Western Europe due to his aversion to flying, until his sudden death from a stroke in 1986.
Belgium was extremely proud of her native son and presented Arthur Grumiaux with the title of Baron in 1973.