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In February of 2004 we celebrated the 90th birthday of our former concertmaster, and now it is time to bid Professor Ricardo Odnoposoff a final farewell. This prominent violinist was engaged as concertmaster at the young age of 19 in 1933 at the Vienna State Opera by director Clemens Krauss, and came in a very close second to David Oistrach under dubious circumstances at the Ysaye Competition in 1937. The internationally renowned soloist and pedagogue passed away on October 26, 2004 in Vienna, the city which had become his home, both artistically and personally. Until the end of his life he maintained close contact with the Vienna Philharmonic, not only through his former student Professor Ortwin Ottmaier, but also by his personal interest and identification with our orchestra, which he expressed in such moving terms.
Ricardo Odnoposoff was born on February 24, 1914 to Russian immigrants in Buenos Aires. The young man's exceptional musical talent induced his parents to strive for a musical education for him in Europe. An attempt to study with Leopold Auer (1845-1930), was unsuccessful, as the legendary teacher of several generations of violinists who for decades dominated the international musical scene (among them Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, and Misha Elman), hesitated because of his advanced age to take on such a young pupil. Therefore, upon the recommendation of Erich Kleiber, Odnoposoff studied with the concertmaster Rudolf Deman in Berlin, and after only a few months changed to the studio of Carl Flesch (1873-1944), who in addition to Otakar Ševcik (1852-1934), was the premiere violin pedagogue of his day, and of whose analytical methods Odnoposoff spoke in glowing terms his life long.
Odnoposoff received his diploma in 1932 after four years of study, but there was another event in that year which had more decisive consequences for the young violinist. In June, the eighteen year old was awarded a prize at the First International Competition for Voice and Violin in Vienna, and the interest of those in influential musical circles was awakened, among them Vienna State Opera director Clemens Krauss (1893-1954). The concertmasters of the opera and of the Philharmonic at the time, Arnold Rosé (1863-1946), Julius Stwertka (1872-1942) and Franz Mairecker (1879-1950), were on average over 60 years old. As far back as 1923, Richard Strauss had noted the difficulties of the long-time concertmaster Karl Prill (1864-1931), which led to the violin solo in Strauss' "Bürger als Edelmann" being performed by Heinrich Schwarz, a brilliant violinist engaged in 1920, who died in 1935 at the age of 41. Prill retired in 1925, but the situation did not greatly improve. Clemens Krauss, who in many difficult situations in the history of the Philharmonic took decisive action, seized the opportunity and in 1933, without an audition, offered the 19 year old Odnoposoff a position as concertmaster.
Odnoposoff's first performance at the concertmaster's desk was in Verdi's "Othello" on December 25, 1933, and his first major Philharmonic test was a gala concert for Richard Strauss' 70th birthday on June 10, 1934. Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted "Ein Heldenleben" and insisted that Odnoposoff perform the violin solo. Until 1937, Odnoposoff appeared seven times as a soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic, among them two performances of Mozart's Violin Concerto in A major, KV 219. For the 100th birthday of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Odnoposoff made his debut in the subscription concert series with that composer's Violin Concerto in B minor, op. 61, on January 25 and 26, 1936, under Felix von Weingartner.
In Odnoposoff's own words, it was necessary for a young Philharmonic concertmaster to present oneself even more prominently as a soloist, and he therefore performed an Odnoposoff recital which included the violin concerti of Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvorák, as well as the Mozart Concerto in D major, KV 218, under the direction of Josef Krips and accompanied by the Philharmonic. In addition, he made numerous other solo appearances in Vienna and on tour, among these a sonata recital with Bruno Walter as pianist on December 2, 1935. This artistic collaboration extended to the Philharmonic concerts also, as Odnoposoff performed a major orchestral solo, the aria from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera "Il re pastore" with Elisabeth Schumann during a Philharmonic tour to London under Walter's direction in June 1937. On this same tour, Odnoposoff represented the orchestra in a special way, performing violin compositions by Fritz Kreisler at a gala at the Austrian embassy.
Probably the most decisive event in Odnoposoff's career occurred in 1937. The Ysaye Competition in Brussels, one of the most prestigious violin competitions in the world, was characterized that year by the legendary artistic duel between Ricardo Odnoposoff and David Oistrach (1908-1974). The preparations of the two artists could not have been more dissimilar. While Oistrach, after months of preparation, arrived in Belgium with an entire entourage, his Viennese competitor was playing his services at the opera and with the Philharmonic right up to the time of his departure to Brussels. It was an open secret that the Soviet juror manipulated loopholes in the competition rules and helped Oistrach to his victory with an extremely subjective evaluation, while Odnoposoff, finishing a close second, had to settle for the State Prize.
This sensational success drew considerable attention internationally, and led to a reordering of Odnoposoff's career. His numerous offers to perform as a soloist led him to relinquish his position as concertmaster and he left Austria in the autumn of 1938, with the political developments of the time also playing a role in this decision. Upon returning to Vienna from solo engagements in Italy, he was suddenly refused admission to the opera house. After Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, this great artist, who had taken on Austrian citizenship and became an enthusiastic Viennese, was, because of the Argentine citizenship which he still maintained, no longer welcome in his own land!
Odnoposoff travelled to Belgium, and subsequently returned to Argentina in 1940. In 1942 he debuted in New York, where he lived until 1956. In that year he returned to Vienna and became Professor at the Music Academy in 1957. He taught at that institution until 1973 and counted three future Vienna Philharmonic members, Paul Guggenberger (1941-2000), Ortwin Ottmaier and Edward Kudlak (retired September 2003), among his students. Odnoposoff's activities as a pedagogue were not limited to Vienna, as he taught in Stuttgart, and until 1994 in Zurich. Despite this extensive teaching work, the focal point of his career remained the concert stage, as thousands of public appearances and a notable number of recordings confirm. Many of those recordings have fortunately been re-released on CD.
After the war, Ricardo Odnoposoff appeared six times with his former Viennese colleagues. On February 1 and 2, 1947 he performed the Brahms concerto with Josef Krips in the subscription concert series, and in 1961 played the Sinfonia concertante, KV 364, with principal violist Rudolf Streng (1915-1988), conducted by Carl Schuricht, for the Mozart gala concert in Innsbruck, as well as for two concerts during Salzburg's Mozart Week. The last appearance of Ricardo Odnoposoff with the Vienna Philharmonic was on June 13, 1965, in the main auditorium of the Konzerthaus, when he played the premiere of the Violin Concerto of Theodor Berger (1905-1992), with Eugene Ormandy conducting.
There was one last personal meeting at the Musikverein on February 25, 1994. Upon his 80th birthday, Professor Ricardo Odnoposoff was awarded the honorary ring of the Vienna Philharmonic after a rehearsal on the podium of the Golden Hall. The ring, surely the orchestra's most personal decoration, was awarded in honor of an artist who, though only belonging to the Philharmonic for four years, remained his entire life a proponent of our orchestra, and one who valued highly the profession of orchestral musician: "The thought of entering a professional orchestra upon the completion of studies is often rejected by young people. What a mistake! What one learns in an orchestra is also important for the future soloist. Ysaye and Cesar Thompson played in orchestras, Adolf Busch was concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony, my teacher Carl Flesch was concertmaster in Bucharest, and I myself had the same position with the Vienna Philharmonic. The value of this discipline is immeasurable.
"A richly fulfilled life, lived with an enthusiasm for music, has come to an end. Do not mourn that it is over, be thankful, that it has been." The notification of the death of Ricardo Odnoposoff contains these words, and the Vienna Philharmonic concurs with this statement. To the pride we feel in having had an artist of such calibre among our ranks is added the gratitude for the affinity he felt with us his life long.