THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Birth of Ivan Galamian
(January 23, 1903)
Musicians would not develop their innate talents without their teachers. In the second half of the twentieth century, Ivan Galamian was a world-known violin teacher who taught many of the best-known violinists at the time, such as Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.
Ivan Alexander Galamian was born of Armenian parents in the city of Tabriz (Iran) on January 23, 1903. Soon after his birth, his family migrated to Moscow. He studied violin at the School of the Philharmonic Society of Moscow with Konstantin Mostras until he graduated in 1919. Still a teenager, the newly installed Bolshevik government threw him in jail. The opera manager at the Bolshoi Theater rescued Galamian; he argued that he was a necessary part of the opera orchestra, and the government allowed him to go free. Soon thereafter, he moved to Paris, where he studied with Lucien Capet in 1922-1923. He debuted in the French capital in 1924. After performing throughout Europe as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras, he eventually gave up the stage in order to teach full-time, due to a combination of nerves, health, and a fondness for teaching. Cellist Leonard Rose, later his colleague at the Juilliard School in New York, noted: “He told me that he had all the ambitions to be a great concert artist, but his nerves would bother him so much he would have backaches for weeks after concerts. So he said the hell with it.”
He became a faculty member of the Conservatoire Rachmaninoff, where he taught from 1925-1937. He moved to the United States in 1937, where he married Judith Johnson in 1941, and became a citizen in 1944. In this period of time, his teaching abilities made him known everywhere. He was appointed to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1944, and became the head of the violin department at the Juilliard School in 1946. He was also director of the Meadowmount Summer School of Music in Westport, N.Y., which he founded in 1944 and continues to be in operation today. He wrote two violin method books, Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching (1962) and Contemporary Violin Technique (1962). Almost anyone who wanted to be a violinist knew there was time to be spent under his tutelage. Parents would fly to New York with their would-be prodigies, and teachers from all over the world sent him their most gifted students.
Galamian incorporated aspects of both the Russian and French schools of violin technique in his approach, which was described in the New Grove Dictionary of Music as “’analytical and rational, with minute attention to every technical detail.” “However,” the dictionary continues, “he rejects the enforcement of rigid rules and develops the individuality of each student. Mental control over physical movement is, in his opinion, the key to technical mastery.”
The teacher for generations of world-class violinists passed away on April 14, 1981. As Judith Karp wrote in The New York Times, “It was not entirely unexpected; at 78, the legendary Armenian pedagogue had been in less than perfect health for some time. But there was always a burning force in Mr. Galamian that almost made one believe he could defy nature’s rules; it was the force of his own wry conviction that ‘I cannot die as long as there are students around who want to learn to play the violin.’”