August 8, 2018

In all the forty-five years that our Guarneri String Quartet performed in public, and during the nine years since we retired, I don’t believe I’ve dreamt of the quartet more than a handful of times. This might seem odd to string quartet aficionados who know how much must go into a performance: practice and more practice, discussion and disagreements, endless and often exhausting travel, and, finally the high bar we set for ourselves in performance itself. Lots to dream about, wouldn’t you think?

I wonder myself why I haven’t dreamt more often about our quartet. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of who the members of our group are and how we operate with one another. We are a rowdy bunch—like four opinionated brothers you might say—who, while maintaining a certain amount of respect and politeness in rehearsal, have no qualms about truth telling.

A most unprofessional explanation of my Guarneri-less sleep might be that our openness and frank criticism during rehearsals—for the good of the performance rather than to squabble with each other on a personal level—meant that each of us walked out of rehearsals relatively unencumbered by smoldering resentments or unresolved issues. And therefore presumably nothing of substance to dream about.

Several weeks ago, however, I did dream about the quartet. I awoke both surprised the dream had happened and amused at its utterly mundane nature. It involved a single bar of music during rehearsal in which violist Michael Tree and I shared a passage with exactly the same notes and rhythms. As we played, both Michael and I made a slight swell in volume as indicated, but our swells unfortunately peaked at different times. This was the most minor of details that would have to be sorted out. Should I do it Michael’s way, or would he agree to my way, I asked. An impish smile crossed Michael’s face as he began to respond, but just at that moment I awoke.

Why a Guarneri Quartet dream and why about Michael, I wondered as I sat up in bed. And then as the fog of sleep lifted, the answer came rushing at me unavoidably. Several weeks earlier, on March 30th, Michael had passed away.

After the quartet retired in 2009, Michael and I remained fast friends and occasionally performed together at music festivals. Now and then I would visit with him in the very last years when his health began to fail. As chance would have it, my last visit was the day before Michael died. His wife, Jani, and I sat across from Michael as he, no longer conscious, lay in bed. I held his hand and spoke a few words to him in the hope that he heard me on some level, and then Jani and I told stories about Michael—his artistry, his humor, his importance to our musical community.

Since Michael passed away, I’ve thought a lot about our 64-year-old friendship, but there are so many moving parts to it. In 1954, as a first- year student at the Curtis Institute of Music, I heard Michael before I actually met him. He gave a recital at Curtis Hall as an already superb violinist, but what struck me was the compelling nature of Michael’s music making—the sense of rubato and nuance the way he shaped a phrase. Here was a big musical personality.

Michael and I soon became good friends. He was funny, quirky, boisterous, a great storyteller, and highly opinionated, especially about music. For me, seventeen years old, Michael was a most intriguing fellow. As he was the older, more experienced boy, I began to follow his lead in all kinds of ways. Michael wore tweed jackets. I bought a tweed jacket. Michael had a pipe collection and smoked Balkan Sobranie tobacco, so I did the same. We were two Jews, one from LA and one from Maplewood, New Jersey, both trying to pass ourselves off as English gentlemen.

During our years together at school—during one of which we roomed together—Michael and I played hundreds of hours of gin rummy, went to innumerable movies, ate endless meals with our student friends in China Town while fighting with chop sticks for the best pieces of sweet and sour shrimp, and played incessant practical jokes, one of which backfired when I enacted a scene from the French horror film, Diabolique. Unfortunately, it scared Michael half to death and almost got me thrown out of school.

All of that, of course, was merely a way of letting off steam while we tackled the serious business of becoming musicians. But there was more. At that time, many violinists in the school, and that included Michael and me, hoped to be the next ravishingly brilliant violin soloist. As for chamber music, the exalted repertoire was our education, our joy, and our inspiration. Michael was one of many who studied chamber music as part of the school curriculum and often enjoyed playing string quartets late into the night for sheer pleasure, but for a career? Chamber music and more specifically string quartets might be a cherished sideline, but surely they were hardly a way to make a living.

That was about to change with the ever-increasing presence of the Marlboro Music Festival. Here were great soloists of the time such as Rudolf Serkin, Marcel Moyse, Alexander Schneider, and Pablo Casals performing chamber music to large and enthusiastic audiences. Marlboro proved the lie that chamber musicians were merely failed soloists. The festival opened up a new world of possibilities by blurring those lines between soloist and chamber musician.

Several of us from Curtis, including Michael and John Dalley, violinist, found Marlboro irresistible. We spent summer after summer studying and performing the hallowed chamber music repertoire. And gradually but somehow inevitably, our priorities began to evolve. Michael and I first began to talk with each other about forming a string quartet, then we talked with John Dalley, and finally with cellist David Soyer.

When the decision to form a quartet at the end of summer 1963 took place, David would obviously be the cellist, but who would the violist be? The three violinists, John, Michael, and I had all loved playing viola, but before any discussion could take place, Michael firmly claimed the position for himself. John and I put up no argument, for we had often heard Michael performing as violist. Violinists who pick up a viola often cannot avoid still sounding like violinists. Their vibrato is too fast, they tend to skim the strings in the violin manner, whereas the viola demands a slower bow speed and a different bow pressure in order to plumb the dark, rich, and seductive sound the instrument is capable of. But Michael was a natural, and he must have sensed at that moment that his future lay with this larger instrument.

One of our very first performances as a string quartet in 1964 at Marlboro was of Paul Hindemith’s Quartet Opus 22. Frank Salomon, co-administrator of the Marlboro Music Festival, played a recording of the performance for me not long ago. I had no idea such a recording existed and I was nervous to hear what easily could have been a tentative performance by four guys just starting out on their quartet adventure. Hindemith, a violist himself, had given ample and challenging solos for the instrument. The four of us played well enough, but Michael sounded phenomenal as a masterful instrumentalist, as a team player, and as a fully formed and charismatic musician. All those jokes about poor violists were rendered obsolete at that moment.

For better or worse, rather than blending in a unified sound and interpretation at all times, we chose to maintain our individual personalities whenever possible. This was clearly evident in Michael’s swashbuckling opening viola solo of Smetana’s From My Life Quartet. No one else could have sounded like Michael—unabashedly open-hearted, daring to impatiently move forward with the music’s increasing intensity, and all done with immaculate precision.

And then, the Guarneri String Quartet went on to perform on the world’s concert stages for the next forty-five years with only one change of membership when cellist David Soyer retired and Peter Wiley took his place. How did that happen? The simple answer is that we played well and people kept on hiring us. But the concert field has other such successful groups that have changed members at will or collapsed entirely. Our luck was that we had a workable and mostly enjoyable chemistry. And Michael was an integral part of that: full of useful ideas, able to take criticism well, almost never moody, and with an over the top sense of humor.

String quartets have often invited me to perform with them as guest violist. This has put me in the unique position of seeing how they operate first hand, and how every one of them seems to have a distinct personality. One group was overly polite and could hardly muster criticism. Another was serious, sharply critical, and uncomfortably tense. A third talked more than it played during rehearsals. The Guarneris? We could be intense, argumentative, sometimes immersed in seemingly insignificant details, but our overarching mood was open, good-natured, and often raucously funny.

Michael was the ringleader when it came to jokes and stories. Often he would relate an event that both of us had witnessed but that I hardly recognized in his retelling. Michael would get carried away as he turned a simple story into a full-blown melodrama full of details that I had hardly been even aware of. Knowing Michael full well, the rest of us could not help laughing even as we rolled our eyes in disbelief.

When it came to concerts, however, Michael was utterly serious. After performances, he often made notes of what he felt had been lacking. At the next performance of the work, whether it was the next night or three months away, Michael would bring his comments to us beforehand. This was laudable and also extremely useful.

That is, except once in Eindhoven, Holland.

Michael came to each of our dressing rooms before the concert to ask permission for him to begin the last movement Fugue of Beethoven’s Opus 59#3 Quartet a little more slowly. He felt that we were playing the Fugue at such a clip that many details were falling by the wayside. We all agreed. Why not take a tad off the tempo of this wildly brilliant movement for clarity’s sake. But Michael miscalculated as he began the Fugue. With the best of intentions, his tempo sounded as if he was practicing in slow motion. The rest of us looked at each other in astonishment. After practicing for months to play the almost impossibly fast tempo that Beethoven indicated, we somehow managed to get through this waterlogged rendition.

In the wings immediately after, Michael raised his voice to carry over the applause that was still continuing. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he said, looking sheepish. “I miscalculated.” “Never mind” answered Dave. “We are going out there and playing the movement again at the RIGHT tempo this time.” “Alright. Alright,” said Michael with a somewhat crazed look on his face. As he put bow to string, I was entirely unprepared for the fastest tempo I had ever heard. Again, the rest of us looked at each other in disbelief. How on earth were we going to play a tempo that would have astonished even the great Beethoven. The Eindhoven audience was given the once in a lifetime experience of hearing both the impossibly slowest performance of Beethoven’s fugue ever, followed by the impossibly fastest rendition ever.

Lucky them.

What do quartet members do on tour after they have traveled, checked into the hotel, practiced individually and rehearsed? In their free time they might read a book, watch TV, or go for a walk. But for Michael and me it was tennis. If possible, we would arrange ahead of time for a court and even players for doubles drawn usually from the chamber music board. Tennis rackets were usually stored with our instruments in the plane’s overhead racks. Were we accomplished players? Not particularly, but it didn’t really matter. We loved the game, it was good, healthy exercise, and Michael and I always pushed ourselves to the limit in order to win.

Ironic that in performance only a few hours later. Michael and I were often playing phrases together that required consideration, thoughtfulness, and deep cooperation rather the competitiveness needed as we bashed the tennis ball back and forth. In the second theme of the first movement of Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major, Michael and I play in octaves this achingly tender melody, making a slight nuance together as the harmony changes, and finally lingering oh-so-softly at the end of the next bar—an “ooooh” moment for the audience if we do it well. This was music making, of course, but you might also call it a very special kind of friendship that existed between Michael and me for those fleeting moments of the second theme.

The Guarneri quartet acquired a curious rehearsal technique early on, one that happened without planning or discussion but that somehow stuck. We never complimented each other. It was assumed that each of us was expected to play well and that comments were only for constructive criticism. For example, if Michael had ever said to me, “Oh Arnold, I just loved the way you played that phrase,” my first thought would have been that I was about to be fired.

But the Guarneri Quartet retired almost ten years ago and somehow that releases me to say something to you, Michael, that I would not have dared to say in all those forty-five quartet years together.

I loved your playing, Michael. I loved the freedom, the expressiveness and the very personal character of it. I loved the melancholy in it and that gorgeous dark chocolate sound you were able to muster at just the right moments. That won’t be forgotten by all of us who had the privilege of hearing you, working with you, and by those fortunate students who studied with you.

We thank you, Michael.

Michael Tree, 1974. Photo © Dorothea von Haeften.

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  1. From Cynthia Morrow on August 8, 2018

    This is such a moving tribute to your quartet mate and friend. I was fortunate enough to study violin while in high school with Michael’s father, Samuel Applebaum. He was a kind, generous, and inspiring man. He set me firmly on the path to my own musical career in the gentlest way possible. Michael’s mother was warm and caring as well, and that light in Michael’s eyes, I always thought, was inherited from both his parents. Thank you for this, and for writing such a heartfelt and informative blog in general.

  2. From Scott on August 8, 2018

    That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  3. From chin kim on August 8, 2018

    so touching

  4. From Carl S on August 8, 2018

    Beautifully written, Mr. Steinhardt!

    After hearing news of his death, I played the last movement of Razumovsky no. 3 quartet. That same anecdote in your book never failed to illicit a chuckle for me — how the first rendition in that concert was like entering the hot tub with a glass of wine in one hand, while the encore was a fleeting frenzy.

    I’m sorry that I never heard the quartet in person. He will be missed.

  5. From Marianne Wurlitzer on August 8, 2018

    Arnold – You always manage to do it but this time was certainly different and must have been very difficult for you to write. As you know,I have known the Quartet since it was first formed in Marlboro in 1964 and this brought back a flood of memories but such fresh insight as well and I am really grateful. I, like everyone, loved Michael and thank you for letting me peer on the inside a bit of your incredible relationship.

  6. From Jameson Cooper on August 8, 2018

    What a beautiful homage! The man was and will always be a legend. It was an honor to work with him. Thank goodness for all those great recordings we have

  7. From john F steinfirst on August 8, 2018

    So beautifully and truthfully written, Arnold. Brings back memories.

    On the tennis court, Michael was a fierce competitor, never wanting to lose, driving me crazy with his dinky shots and placements.

  8. From Carter Yeatman on August 8, 2018

    I am distressed to hear the Michael Tree has passed away. I have followed the Quartet from the early concerts at Virginia commonwealth University to New York to the near-final concert in Kansas City. And a lot in between. Somehow, I feel that I know all the members personally, and so I do feel Michael’s loss with real sadness.

  9. From Adarsh Khalsa on August 8, 2018

    Lovely story… thank you

  10. From julie jaffee nagel on August 8, 2018

    Thank you for sharing your memories of Michael Tree and the experiences you shared in the Guarneri Quartet. The music of your collaboration resonates verbally in your loving words- –X4!

  11. From Nora Williams on August 8, 2018

    I absolutely loved this tribute to Michael, a violist that I and all my violist friends have held in high regard, especially as we were coming up through the ranks. I remember hearing the Guarneri at Stanford, where I studied with Bernie Zaslav. Now as a Chicago-based violist, I am so incredibly grateful to the rich heritage of quartet violists who have been a guiding light on what it means to be a great chamber musician and champion of our beautiful instrument. Thank you. thank you, Arnold for your elegant and eloquent words!! I find your literary style as engaging as your playing and I so appreciate the Guarneri’s dedication, artistry and sense of humor.

  12. From Peter Chun on August 8, 2018

    I’m a violist, and virtually life-long Guarneri fan. I started to play the viola two years after starting to play the violin, because I was seduced by the tone of Pinchas Zukerman. Some years later, I found a rather rare record of Zukerman playing trios with his then-wife Eugenia, and of all people, Michael Tree. That is the only time I listened to Zukerman play (violin, naturally, since Mr. Tree was on…) ANYTHING with other people and my ears did not naturally get drawn to his inimitable and characteristic tone, because I was drawn this time instead to Mr. Tree’s tone, which I consider to be the most gorgeous EVER to be heard. This is so much so that when I had the good fortune to play with Peter Wiley at a festival in Korea, just before the first rehearsal started I got REALLY intimidated, realizing that here was a man who sat right next to the most gorgeous viola sound ever, for some years. That really was my thought as we started to rehearse. I began to feel I was torturing the poor man with my own much poorer tone… I treasure the memory of having heard you at Jordan Hall in Boston, and in a much poorer hall in Lawrence, KS, and of course all the treasures you all left for the world through your incredible records, some of which are finest ever.

    Thanks for sharing these touching and beautiful memories of Mr. Tree.

  13. From Cynthia Morrow on August 9, 2018

    Dear Arnold,I sit here in tears reading your tribute to Michael. Adrian also respected and loved him. They performed Harold in Italy together and it remained a fond memory. We too shared happy times with Michael and Jani. I mourn his passing away. Thank you for writing so memorably about Michael. Warm regards to you and yours. Sheila Sunshine

  14. From Ricardo on August 9, 2018

    Beautiful tribute. Thank you, Mr. Steinhardt.

  15. From Dr Solomon on August 9, 2018

    A wonderful, heartfelt tribute. Thank you.

  16. From Giovanni Radivo on August 9, 2018

    I love your stories and the way you write them.
    I heard the Guarneri quartet in Holland more than 20 yrs ago and since then I’m one of your greatest admirers!! Your way of expressing each individuality within the unity of the quartet is quite unique!!

  17. From Michael Riley on August 9, 2018

    What a lovely and heart warming story! I was fortunate to have heard you both up
    at Marlboro in 1979, and on many occasions thereafter! Thanks for sharing these
    reminiscentes with us.

  18. From Ani Kavafian on August 9, 2018

    Oh, Arnold! What a wonderful touching tribute. That last paragraph is etched in my memory for good!

  19. From pierre filmon on August 10, 2018

    Thank you very much Mister Steinhardt for such a touching and heartfelt tribute to such a close friend and colleague of yours. We cherish your music, you gratify us with a beautiful blog (I am about to read INDIVISIBLE BY FOUR I have by my side). Art and Class always lies in the soul of artists, with or without their instruments. Best regards, Pierre Filmon

  20. From Cynthia Morrow on August 10, 2018

    Where can I write my comment for this most moving remembrance? Hava

  21. From Eugene Raichelson on August 10, 2018

    I complement you both on your beautiful writing and your out of this world relationship with Michael Tree.

    Love and respect,

  22. From Dawn Forde Arno on August 11, 2018

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  23. From Cynthia Morrow on August 11, 2018

    Oh Arnold! You never fail to take me with into adventures and insights and here, into such a tender reflection on your friend and fellow quartetnik. Thanks for all the stories you share and for that musician’s heart that sings through all your work. Love Sonya’s

  24. From James Dunham on August 12, 2018

    Thank you, Arnold, for this wonderful tribute. I am fortunate to have known Michael, indeed to have known all of you in the Guarneri Quartet. Michael was a rare musician, teacher and man – we are all the better for having known him.

  25. From Paula Washington on August 15, 2018

    As Miriam Makeba sang, “Love has a bright strawberry taste.” and as Bruce Adolphe said, “Chamber music is the music of friends.” This story was a beautiful tribute to both. Thank you.

  26. From Rosita Hopper on August 18, 2018

    Mr. Steinhardt–I love you so much. Rosie H., vla

  27. From Avelino on August 22, 2018

    Scott, thank you ever so for you post.Much thanks again.

  28. From Les Myers on August 25, 2018

    In my years in public radio, I often played recordings of the Guarneri Quartet, and rattled off your names in the “back announce.” So what a great pleasure to read your tribute to Michael Tree and bringing out his personality beyond the recordings. Your writing is a beautiful tribute. Thank you.

  29. From Peter Bucknell on August 31, 2018

    Wonderful words. I hope you write more. You really should.
    I ran into you four backstage on a couple of occasions. The first time in the 90s you were being held hostage in Melbourne for some ‘T-shirt photo op’, and the photographer was late… Michael was quite funny about it despite the absurdity of the situation. Once backstage in Köln when I asked Michael about some fingering solution for a late Beethoven qt to which of course he replied with one eyebrow raised: “depends”. (The correct answer to what was probably a silly question)
    As a young student quartet in Germany we used to sit there and play his 59.3 intro again and again. We would just just laugh at how good it was. I don’t know how he did it. So clean, so fast. My friends who studied with him were all so so sad when he died. A couple of them, like you got to go and see him near the end when he seemed to have a sharp memory for certain incidents.

  30. From Karl Winkler on November 1, 2018

    Thank you for this touching tribute. I have been a fan of the Guarneri Quartet since the ‘80s and had several opportunities to hear your live performances. Michael was truly one of a kind and just a terrific violist and musician. As a violist myself, I often drew inspiration from his style, boldness, virtuosity and tone. He and the quartet are one of the main reasons I fell in love with chamber music in the first place. And, you have a gift for writing, also. All the best and thank you again.

  31. From Tomaz Soares on February 25, 2019

    Dear Mr. Steinhardt,

    I am a violinist from Brazil, currently based in Rio de Janeiro. I am currently member of a full time string quartet. Since I am no longer in school and I was looking for guidance and advice, I have just concluded to read your book “Indivisible by four”. Thank you so much for sharing so many different aspects of what is to be part of an ensemble. Everything from the musical side of things to the business side of it, I was touched by your way of presenting the ideas. I could perceive that you and you quartet fellows had a very balanced relationship. Human, with honesty and truthfulness to it! I never met Mr. Tree or any of the Guarneri’s, but I am grateful to everything you and your fellow quartet mates have contributed to the history and the practice of this unique art form.
    I hope we can meet one day.

    Best wishes, Tomaz Soares.

  32. From Carmit Zori on November 2, 2019

    Dear Arnold,
    Thank you for telling Michael how much you loved his music , personality and all of him. It made me cry inside. I loved Michael and feel so fortunate to have known him.
    Love to you

  33. From Claudine Bigelow on March 13, 2020

    I loved reading this tribute of my teacher and friend. Two years ago, when he passed away in March, I took the afternoon off. I planted my entire yard in hundreds of violas and pansies to honor him. It was a good feeling to bask in the sunshine of that day, to feel the coming of spring, and to work. To dwell on the memories of what he taught me, and to think of that sound you describe so well. The pattern with pansies here in Utah is that when summer arrives, they fade, and die. It’s the natural way of things. But there is a section of my yard where the little violas have continued to proliferate and reseed themselves many time over. This March is the second year they have lasted through the winter and surprised me again with their beauty and courage to defy snow and sun. There are more than ever. They have reminded me once again of the enduring love I have for my great mentor and recognize the lasting influence of a good teacher. The blooms help me reflect on all that he taught me, and can in turn, pass on to the next generation.


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May 5, 2021

Ach, you made a mess of it

Have you ever regretted something you’ve done or said? I certainly have. Out of the clear blue, an unpleasant or embarrassing or foolish moment from the past will pop into my brain. How could I have done or said that, I’d think, shaking my head sorrowfully. Since whatever had happened, unfortunately, couldn’t ever be erased [...]

April 1, 2021

Sale! Sale! Sale!

Dr. Arnie’s Fiddle-4-Fun Emporium announces: SALE ON STRADIVARIUS VIOLINS! TODAY ONLY! Think of it. You’ve always wanted a Stradivarius but could never afford one. Today, and today only, these remarkable violins are now on sale at   the unbelievably low price of $29.95. You heard that right, folks, only $29.95. Unlike 17th and 18th century Stradivarius [...]
Colorado Symphony

March 10, 2021

A Chance Encounter

It wasn’t even Halloween, but the strange creature coming toward me had a grayish ball for a head and funny little reddish things sticking out all over. Uninvited, it abruptly sat down across the table from me and began to speak. “Well, I’ve just infected another one, so I thought I’d relax for a while [...]

February 8, 2021


Shortly after my first teacher taught me, age six, the basic positions of the violin, he placed a page on my music stand with what appeared before my innocent eyes to be groups of lines with indecipherable black dots scattered willy-nilly over them. He then explained that these groups of five lines were called staves, [...]

January 5, 2021

Erica Morini

Today, January 5th, is the birthday of violinist Erica Morini. Born in Vienna in 1904, she first studied the violin with her father, Oscar Morini, and later at the Vienna Conservatory with Otakar Šev?ík. Morini made her debut at age eleven with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Berlin Phiharmonic orchestras under Arthur Nikisch. She was immediately [...]

December 14, 2020

Music in the Time of Biden and Harris

On January 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Kamala Harris will assume the offices of president and vice president of the United States. There will be new faces, new ideas, new policies, and undoubtedly a different personal style of governing. And there will inevitably be different music at the White House. I have not the [...]

October 31, 2020

Halloween Special

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. The worms play pinochle on your snout. Your stomach turns to an icy green and pus shoots out like white whipped cream. You wipe it up with a slice of bread, and that’s what you eat when you are dead. So, folks, have I gotten you into [...]

October 29, 2020

All Hands On Deck

Dear Readers, Following up on my last post, Music in the Time of Trump: With the election 5 days away, this feels like an all-hands-on-deck moment. So I’ve just signed up to help get out the vote by working a phone bank. I’ll be doing this through Swing Left starting tomorrow. Can I invite, inspire, coax, cajole, [...]

October 1, 2020

Music in the Time of Trump

The night that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, I couldn’t sleep. That Republicans nominated him as a candidate was shocking enough, but the fact that so many Americans had voted for a man deeply unfit for the presidency was incomprehensible. Since then, no matter how incompetent, ignorant, racist, unethical, mean spirited, [...]

September 2, 2020

Practice? MMMaybe Not

If I don’t practice for one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it. —Jascha Heifetz; But Mr. Heifetz, what about four days, or four weeks, or, gasp, even longer? During a busy performing schedule, I would sometimes take a day off here and there; and in [...]

August 3, 2020

Practice, Practice, and (ugh), More Practice

I hated practicing the violin as a kid. Not that I didn’t love the sound of the instrument or the music I played. It’s just that at that early age, I preferred to be out with my neighborhood friends playing ball or cops and robbers in the fields nearby. When my parents threatened to cut [...]

July 1, 2020


At a very early age, my grandson, Julian began to ask me questions. “Nunu”, he asked (my grandkids call me Nunu), “how old are you”? That was soon followed by, “Nunu, how old will you be when you die”? As Julian got older, he often asked other types of questions I could not answer and [...]

June 1, 2020

Serial Numbers

All kinds of things have serial numbers. I imagine that dozens of objects in my own home have them- my toaster must have one, and my TV set, washing machine, microwave, electric tooth brush, telephone, and on and on. Thinking about it, however, I have to ask the obvious: what are serial numbers good for? [...]
Kreutzer Sonata, painting by René François Xavier Prinet

May 1, 2020

The Kreutzer Sonata

On May 24th, 1803, one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most renowned and revered works, the Kreutzer Sonata, Opus 47, for Violin and Piano, was performed for the first time. The Sonata’s three movements run the gamut from ardent lyricism to high-wire virtuosity. During that first performance, George Bridgetower, the brilliant Afro-European violinist for whom it [...]
Swami Arnie in deep meditation.

April 1, 2020

Zen and the Art of String Quartet Maintenance

String quartets- good, bad, or worse- a hearty welcome to our twelve step program from me, Swami Arnie. Without a doubt, you will want to participate in this remarkable, one of a kind workshop that takes place today, and only today. Objective: To make each of you better instrumentalists, better musicians, better string quartet players, [...]

February 28, 2020


Amir, a salesman from a local blind and shade store, came up to our house some time ago in order to advise my wife, Dorothea, and me about some kind of window covering.  Well into our discussion, Amir somehow learned that I was a violinist.  With that, all talk about blinds and shades abruptly came [...]

February 3, 2020

Ludwig van Beethoven: Space Traveler, Human Heart Explorer

Dear “In the Key of Strawberry” readers, After having written a monthly blog about music for some ten years, I’ve taken the last year and a half off in order to do other things- namely, to move from New York City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from sea level to high desert at 7,200 feet [...]

August 8, 2018


In all the forty-five years that our Guarneri String Quartet performed in public, and during the nine years since we retired, I don’t believe I’ve dreamt of the quartet more than a handful of times. This might seem odd to string quartet aficionados who know how much must go into a performance: practice and more [...]

June 20, 2018

Symphonies, Guns, and Beer?

I often feel anxious for young musicians, even the most gifted of them, as their graduation from music school approaches. In the months before, so many still don’t know what their future holds. Will a top prize in a competition garner the beginnings of a solo career? Or might a successful audition lead to a [...]
Arthur Rubinstein(a),1971

May 8, 2018

An Arthurian Tale

As a teenager growing up in Los Angeles, some fifteen years before our Guarneri String Quartet would perform and record with the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, I had a brief preview of Rubinstein’s personality. My violin teacher, Peter Meremblum, had founded and led a very well-known young people’s orchestra in which I played. The Southern California [...]
Arthur Rubinstein in 1971. Photo © Dorothea von Haeften

April 1, 2018

Arthur and Sergei

Today, April 1st, is the pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birthday. Which reminds me of a story. “Which reminds me of a story,” said the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, turning to us, the Guarneri String Quartet, while remaining seated at the piano. We four happily put down our instruments, having just been bathed in Rubinstein’s ravishing [...]

March 6, 2018


How well can you really know a musician as a person based solely on his or her performance? You might walk away from such an occasion with some sense of the musician’s intelligence, emotional depth, taste and style. But could you honestly say, despite the innermost thoughts and feelings communicated during the concert, that you [...]

February 1, 2018

What’s In a Name

My mother, who attended one of our Guarneri String Quartet concerts some time ago, told me afterwards of a conversation she overheard in the ladies room during intermission. “Are any of the Guarneri members Jewish?” one woman asked another. “No,” responded her friend. “Arnold Steinhardt is of German origin, John Dalley, English, Michael Tree, Scottish, [...]
Mel Torme

December 24, 2017

The Christmas Song

Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier. Already before Thanksgiving had arrived this year, the holiday lights were strung and the usual Yuletide songs had invaded every conceivable public space. Perhaps because I’m a musician, a shudder runs through me when I once again have to hear after a blissful year’s absence, the inane Winter [...]

December 4, 2017


A fellow goes up to the airline counter and asks to be booked to Buenos Aires, Caracas, Singapore, and then Honolulu. “I’m sorry, sir,” the agent says, “We don’t fly to any of those places.” “Funny,” responds the traveler, “you sent my luggage to all those places the last time I flew with you.” For [...]

October 31, 2017

Halloween Special

Hello People. Dr. Arnie here, once again. Today is Halloween, and a perfect time for me to spread the word about my latest, favorite subject—Cryogenics. You all know what I’m talking about: the study of things at very low temperatures. Actually, it’s not exactly things that I had in mind. Recently, I read about the [...]
Andrew Carnegie

October 4, 2017

Andrew Carnegie

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? I know. I know. Practice. Or take the subway. Or hail a cab. Or if the year is 1891, take the trolley from 14th Street, the center of town, to the end of the line and walk two blocks north to 57th Street and 7th Avenue. You’ll find [...]
Jules Eskin

September 6, 2017


My dear friend Jules Eskin passed away last November at the age of eighty-five. I first met Jules when he became principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1961. I had already been in the orchestra as assistant concertmaster for two years. At twenty-two years old, I was the youngest member of the orchestra, and [...]

August 8, 2017

Cécile Chaminade

Today, August 8th, is Cécile Chaminade’s birthday. What? You’ve never heard of Cécile Chaminade? But how is that possible? Chaminade was one of the most successful pianists and composers of the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century. Born in Paris, France, in 1857, Chaminade composed more than 350 works, including two piano trios, a choral symphony, [...]
Uncle Sacha vants you.

July 7, 2017

The Bartók Project

When I was still a teenager, a friend coaxed me into a record store with the sole purpose of having me listen to something he considered of utmost importance. In those days, every record on sale had a sample that one could hear in a private booth. My friend refused to divulge anything as he [...]

June 2, 2017

I Love You

Over the past few years, I’ve begun to depend more and more on my smart phone. At first it was just for telephoning, emails, and for taking photos. But more recently, I’ve begun using it for all kinds of useful things: weather reports, the news, messages, driving directions, as a metronome, playing scrabble, and even [...]
Floating violinist surrounded by floating people.

May 3, 2017

Ultimate Goals

Violin auditions were once again held this winter at the Curtis Institute of Music. Over a period of three days, the faculty listened to violinists from all over the world play the required music by Bach, Mozart, Paganini, and a concerto of their choice. Many of these young musicians performed with great sensitivity and technical [...]

April 1, 2017

Four Play

A message from Dr. Arnie about string quartets: Dear Friends, I know, I know. String quartets are a troublesome business. Take Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet in which a poor young girl has to die despite desperately pleading for her life. Just terrible if you ask me, and by the way, my condolences [...]

March 6, 2017

Speak, Piano

Many years ago, my wife, Dorothea, and I visited her friend, Gottliebe von Lehndorff, in Peterskirchen, a town not far from Munich, Germany. A single, shattering event had originally brought the two women’s lives together. Both Dorothea’s father, Hans Bernd von Haeften, and Gottliebe’s husband, Heinrich von Lehndorff, had been involved in the failed July [...]

February 2, 2017

Separation Anxiety

Several months ago, Soovin Kim, the artistic director of the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival, asked me to participate in the Beethoven Project, a series of concerts each featuring a late Beethoven string quartet and preceded by a talk about the work.  Soovin had invited the Parker String Quartet to perform one of those five [...]

December 24, 2016

Santa Claus

I recently learned some unexpected things about Santa Claus. First of all, he played the violin. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Lots of famous people have played the violin. Albert Einstein, Casanova, Paul Klee, Thomas Jefferson, and Benito Mussolini all played the violin, so why not Santa Claus. I also learned that Santa didn’t [...]
John Koutroubas at the counter.

December 7, 2016

Little Pete’s

They say that nothing lasts forever. But some things do last longer than others. And once in a while, something manages to last a very long time. I’m thinking of Little Pete’s diner on the corner of 17th and Chancellor Streets in downtown Philadelphia. I first discovered the place in the fall of 1954 when, [...]

November 8, 2016

Music From Marlboro, the Fiftieth Anniversary

If anyone were to ask me what the single most significant musical influence of my life was, the answer would be unequivocal: The Marlboro Music School. In the many summers I spent there as a young adult, I was able to study, perform, and listen to the great chamber music repertoire shoulder to shoulder with [...]

October 5, 2016


Just a few years ago, at two different schools, I coached students who had banded together in the hope of becoming professional string quartets. Each quartet consisted of strong players and gifted musicians, and they not only played well together but, most importantly, each quartet had something personal and meaningful to express in their music-making [...]

September 9, 2016

A Visitor

As in so many years past, I was once again a participant at Marlboro Music this summer. Marlboro has achieved a reputation of such stellar quality that music lovers from the earth’s four corners flock to this festival nestled in the hills of Southern Vermont. Even luminaries known the world over occasionally appear at Marlboro [...]
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

August 3, 2016

Where are the Dancers?

A friend, who was a professional ballet dancer for many years, was taken as a child by his mother to a symphony orchestra concert. Up to then, his musical experience had been largely limited to the piano accompaniment provided during his dance classes and the ballet performances he occasionally attended. He sat patiently for a [...]
Scott Peacock

July 6, 2016

The Chocolate Cake (A Second Helping)

I very much enjoy writing my monthly blogs, which are more or less on the subject of music. And I’m always gratified and encouraged to continue by the many reader comments. An unexpected and delightful surprise—a fringe benefit, you might say—are the stories that come back to me in response. For example, when I wrote [...]

June 3, 2016

The Chocolate Cake

My wife, Dorothea: So, how was the concert tour?” Her husband, Arnold: “Great. After the concert in Rome, I had a plate of gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce that was to die from. And in Vienna, you wouldn’t believe how sensational the Salzburger Nockerl was.” Dorothea: “I’m glad. But what about the concerts? How did they [...]

May 4, 2016

The Homecoming

Kirk Browning, an American television director and producer with hundreds of productions to his credit had decided to move into smaller quarters. Our mutual friend, Virginia, was there to assist as Kirk regretfully disposed of many of the awards, trophies, and memorabilia that he had amassed over a lifetime of professional work. At one point, [...]

April 1, 2016

Dr. Arnie Returns

By overwhelming popular demand, the distinguished musicologist Dr. Arnie has once again agreed to answer your most pressing questions about music, musicians, and maybe even the meaning of life:   Dear Dr. Arnie, Do you have to speak French to play the French horn well? Dear Concerned, Of course not. How do these preposterous rumors [...]

March 3, 2016


Our dog, Tessa, died in the middle of a blizzard in New York City this January. Almost twelve years old and certainly slowing down with age, Tessa no longer frolicked joyfully in the park as she once had, and lately climbing steps of any kind had become painfully difficult for her. Still, her death was [...]
Final curtain

February 4, 2016


No one ever dies in chamber music. The thought occurred to me while I was on the way to the opera. People die right and left in opera. Madame Butterfly, Tosca, Carmen, Romeo and Juliet—they all die. I’ve played in a professional string quartet most of my life, but nobody dies there. Yes, there are [...]

January 7, 2016

A Heavenly Length

Franz Schubert’s sublime Two Cello Quintet in C major is probably on every chamber music lover’s short list of most beloved works. Certainly, it is on mine. Recently, I had the memorable experience of hearing the Quintet performed glowingly not once but twice within hardly more than a week. The first performance, by the Dover [...]

December 4, 2015

String Quartet Fever

Here’s a riddle that made the rounds a few years ago: What is one Russian? An anarchist. What are two Russians? A chess game. What are three Russians? A revolution. What are four Russians? The Budapest String Quartet. If the first three parts of this playful riddle attributed to the violinist Jascha Heifetz are open [...]

November 1, 2015

More Than a Music Festival

Late last summer, I traveled to Poland for a chamber music festival that took place in a small town called Krzizowa, or Kreisau as it was known as part of Germany until the Second World War ended. Knowing beforehand something of its background and the people involved, I eagerly looked forward to the festival. It [...]

October 2, 2015

Mozart’s Baby

There is an often repeated and certainly justified belief that only a truly experienced professional string quartet can do justice to the masterpieces of the quartet repertoire. After all, its four members would have had the time to know each other’s musical personality intimately; to learn how to work well together; to spend the many [...]
Floating violinist surrounded by floating people.

September 4, 2015


Last March, the Curtis Institute of Music violin faculty, of which I am a member, listened to over one hundred violinists from all over the world audition to become students at the school.  There were only two or three openings for the next school year and many of the young violinists played remarkably well, which [...]

August 1, 2015


Will Hagen, an impressively gifted young violinist, has just won third prize in the 2015 Queen Elisabeth Competition for classical violinists. Named after Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and established in memory of her good friend concert violinist Eugene Ysaÿe, the Queen Elisabeth Competition is considered one of the most challenging and prestigious in the world. [...]

July 1, 2015

Speak, Living Room

A few months ago, just after finishing a recording project, Lorraine Feather, jazz singer, and lyricist, and Dave Grusin, pianist and composer, went out to dinner with Dave’s wife, Nan Newton. Nan, who had never met Lorraine before, soon learned that the singer had spent the earliest years of her childhood on Manhattan’s Upper West [...]

June 1, 2015

The World of the String Quartet

Last year, the Curtis Institute of Music, where I was once a student and where I now teach, asked me to participate in an internet course about the string quartet. Curtis, partnering with the online educational platform Coursera, has already had impressive success with two previous online courses: a survey of classical music co-hosted by [...]

May 1, 2015

Bob Simon

Bob Simon and I unknowingly walked off with each other’s nearly identical coats several months ago. Once the error was discovered, we met days later in my apartment for the great coat exchange and had a good laugh about the situation. That done, Bob and I sat down at my dining room table and talked [...]

April 1, 2015

Arnie’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables are known throughout the world. Aesop is said to have been a Phrygian slave who lived in ancient Greece and whose fables have endured because of the great wisdom embedded in them. Legend has it that Aesop’s life ended when he either jumped or was thrown from a cliff. Sadly, another set of [...]

March 1, 2015

John Cage and His String Quartet in Four Parts

John Cage once said, “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it.” I burst out laughing when I first read this. Just imagine Ludwig van Beethoven announcing to the world, “I have nothing to say,” in which case he might have put down his pen and paper and taken a walk in the woods, [...]

February 3, 2015


I have never studied or performed Bach’s Sonata in C Minor for Violin and Keyboard, but I thought it would make a lovely opening number for a planned recital this spring. So in the next few days, I began by reading the first movement through, making some preliminary phrasing decisions and then figuring out possible [...]

January 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Coats

It’s January. It’s cold out there. It’s time for a coat story. Friends of ours recently invited my wife, Dorothea, and me to dinner at their New York City apartment. We hung our coats along with many others on one of several racks in the lobby, and after a lovely evening of fine food and [...]

December 1, 2014

Fifteen Seconds of Fame

The American poet, Galway Kinnell, died last October. I had the pleasure of knowing him and seeing him occasionally during the years he lived in New York City. One evening, Galway and his wife to be, Barbara, invited me and several other friends to dinner. Introductions were made all around and a superb meal along [...]

November 1, 2014


November is hunting season in upstate New York where my wife, Dorothea, and I have a home. And if it’s hunting season, then it’s time for our hunters to show up. Several decades ago, three men—let’s call them Andrew, Bob, and Charlie—knocked on our door and politely introduced themselves. They told us that they worked [...]

October 1, 2014

The Silent Note

Do you remember the phrase in that old Coca Cola commercial, “The pause that refreshes?” It did nothing for me at the time because I don’t even like the drink. Still, the commercial initiated something quite unintended. Rather than coaxing me to go around the corner and buy a bottle of Coke, the single word [...]

September 1, 2014


Ninety-seven young violinists showed up at the Curtis Institute of Music’s annual violin auditions last spring with the hopes of becoming students at the school next fall. Thirteen made the semifinal round and of those, five were chosen by us, the violin faculty. Some who auditioned were still diamonds in the rough. Others already played [...]

August 1, 2014


It’s that time of year again.  I’ve worked hard for it, I deserve it, and nothing’s going to stop me from it.  Yes, I’m packing up my violin and bow, putting them in the closet, and then I’m not going to practice for a while. Just for a few days. Well, maybe a week. Mmm, [...]

June 2, 2014

Kissing Cousins?

Story #1 My old Ford Mustang convertible needed a paint job several years ago so I took it to the local body shop in upstate New York where I live. Once all the details had been discussed with the shop owner (let’s call him Norm), I remembered something that had always bothered me. The first [...]

May 1, 2014

In the Ear of the Beholder

“Here’s a challenge for you,” a friend posed over dinner some time ago.  “Name the four great child prodigy classical music composers.”  He leaned back, smiling smugly in the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t be able to guess them all.  Two were obvious: “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, of course, and Felix Mendelssohn,” I blurted out.  My [...]

April 1, 2014

News Bulletin

In The Key of Strawberry is pleased to post “Dear Dr. Arnie,” the syndicated musician’s advice column hosted by the legendary Dr. Arnie. Examples of his advice, featured below, will undoubtedly be of invaluable help to musicians of every persuasion. Dear Dr. Arnie, I have an orchestra audition coming up next month and worrying about [...]

February 24, 2014


Last summer I was once again a participant in the Marlboro Music Festival.  As always, the school generously provided my wife, Dorothea, and me with a house off campus.    This time we were given the former home of David Soyer, the cellist of our Guarneri String Quartet for thirty-seven of its forty-five-year existence.   Dave passed [...]

February 1, 2014

Violin Collection

I own three violins. I have a Lorenzo Storioni made in Cremona, Italy around 1785.  This violin’s sound is dark and husky.  Its varnish is lustrous, and the swirling patterns of its wood grain are remarkably beautiful. I also have a violin made for me in 2006 by Samuel Zygmuntowicz, a distinguished American string instrument [...]

January 1, 2014

Me and my Violin

Marc Lifschey, one of the greatest oboists of his era, once told me that after retiring as a performer and teacher, he had sold his oboe. On the face of it, giving up an instrument you no longer use seems perfectly reasonable, but nevertheless I was taken aback.  Marc was not merely an excellent oboist; he [...]

December 1, 2013

But the Melody Lingers On

About to walk across New York City’s Central Park on a sunny winter day, I suddenly heard the strains of Santa Claus is Coming to Town wafting out of a nearby workman’s truck radio.  What a silly melody, I thought to myself absentmindedly.  Twenty minutes later, I had crossed the park but to my consternation, [...]

November 1, 2013

And What Then?

I have a hard time getting my brain around abstractions.  So when I read with alarm about the latest debt limit crisis in the United States Congress and the possibility that Uncle Sam might actually close our government’s doors, I tried to imagine the situation in terms of my own profession—music—and, even more specifically, in [...]

October 1, 2013

Calling Planet Earth

Dear Key of Strawberry, Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Brzjk and I live on planet Ulfz located many light years from you.  We have been aware for some time that life exists on your planet—I believe you call it Earth.  Nevertheless, we Ulfzians have been reluctant to make contact with you.  Quite [...]

September 1, 2013


One year into a 23-month mission, NASA‘s Mars rover Curiosity has assured its place in the history of planetary exploration as the most ambitious and one of the most successful attempts to date to explore the surface of another planet. Curiosity’s data allowed the mission’s science team to establish that Mars once had an environment [...]
Tom Heimberg

August 1, 2013


I met Tom Heimberg during junior high school recess when we were both twelve years old. The popular sport during recess was something we unofficially called Chinese handball—a game played with a rubber ball against an upright surface. Tom and I became quite professional at discussing topspin, slices, drop shots, and fake outs, but as [...]

July 8, 2013

Drunk as a Skunk

I know of no one among all my musician friends and colleagues who will drink anything alcoholic before performing. Even those who enjoy an occasional glass of wine, beer, or an enticing margarita are very, very careful to imbibe only after rather than before a concert. Simply put, it’s hard enough to play well while [...]

June 1, 2013


We were enjoying an after-concert snack at the hotel restaurant when David Soyer, our cellist in the Guarneri String Quartet, took a sip of his beer, leaned back expansively, and announced in a mock Eastern European accent, “I rub stick against rope.  Make many zlotys.” No, we weren’t somewhere in Poland where people deal in [...]

May 1, 2013


Little Suzy was in the midst of working on a piece with her piano teacher when she suddenly stopped playing, crossed out Johann Sebastian Bach’s name at the top of the page, and wrote her own name above it. “Why did you do that, Suzy?” her surprised teacher asked. “He’s not playing the piece. I [...]
Thou Shalt Not Steal

April 1, 2013

A Bible Story

I once stole a bible. It was wrong, I shouldn’t have done it, and part of me would like to forget that it ever happened. But this day, April Fools’ Day, seems as good a time as any to tell the story of my shameful deed. The theft took place when I was a young [...]

March 4, 2013


Rudolf Kolisch’s name came up while I was at the Marlboro Music Festival this summer. The distinguished violinist had been a Marlboro participant late in life. Along with his other remarkable accomplishments, Kolisch was the rare violinist who played the instrument “left-handed.” Because of a childhood injury to the middle finger of his left hand, [...]

February 2, 2013

Fritz Kreisler

“Did you ever get to perform the Fritz Kreisler String Quartet?”  I’ve been asked this question again and again over the years, undoubtedly in response to a scene in “High Fidelity,” the 1987 documentary about our Guarneri String Quartet. In that scene, I bring the Kreisler String Quartet in A Minor, a work I dearly [...]

December 28, 2012

The Interview

Giving interviews is something musicians have to do surprisingly often—we usually do them to stir up a little interest and sell a few tickets to our concerts. On one occasion last summer my radio interviewer had done his homework well. He knew a great deal about me, and the music I was going to perform [...]

November 22, 2012

An Open Letter to Sammy Rhodes

You think quitting smoking is hard? Try quitting a string quartet. My four-step program might help violist Samuel Rhodes, who just announced his retirement from the Juilliard String Quartet at the end of the season. The following is my letter to him. Dear Sammy, I read the news of your retirement from the Juilliard String [...]

September 7, 2012

A Night to Remember

Have you ever heard a performance that you will never forget no matter how long you live? I have. And have you ever gone out on a blind date with someone who is known to thousands, perhaps even millions of people—just about everyone except you? I have. Not only that, but both events happened on [...]
Arnold Giving Colbourn Commencement Speech

May 7, 2012

Colburn School Commencement Address

By Arnold Steinhardt Good morning. I’m honored to be speaking to you at this 2012 Colburn School commencement and equally honored to teach at the school. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and it pleases me immensely to know that Colburn, with its faculty of distinguished musicians, is now the pride of the [...]
The Steinhardt String Quartet, Press Poster

April 1, 2012

The Steinhardt String Quartet

Hartz-4-Artz your internet culture source April 1, 2012 From the Music Desk: Arnold Steinhardt To Form New String Quartet Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet that retired in 2009, has announced plans to form a new string quartet. Mr. Steinhardt recently told Hartz-4-Artz reporter N. Nam Trebor that he deeply misses the [...]
Arnold Steinhardt Sixth Grade Class Photo

March 1, 2012

Teach Me!

What makes a good teacher? For that matter, what makes a bad one? Some teachers merely pass on information. Others excite a student’s interest through their own love for the subject. Some teachers employ fear and intimidation. A very few manage to teach you how to become your own teacher. The craft (or is it [...]
Jascha Heifetz

February 2, 2012


Mr. Jascha Heifetz (born 1901, died 1987) Violin Virtuoso Section Heaven February 2, 2012 Dear Mr. Heifetz, Today, February 2nd, is your birthday. Happy birthday, sir, and my deepest thanks for the miracle of your artistry. I have listened to you play the violin throughout my entire life—actually my entire life plus nine months to [...]
The Arnold Steinhardt Metronome

January 5, 2012

You’re On Your Own

My daughter, Natasha, once came home from her weekly piano lesson and asked to use my metronome—a request from her teacher. I told Natasha that I didn’t own a metronome. At the next lesson, her teacher insisted I go out and buy one. The clerk at my local music store looked at me oddly as [...]
Meryl Streep as Roberta Guaspari

December 4, 2011


I began to study the violin with a series of teachers who taught music and the instrument, but who as time went by also saw fit to teach me the elusive craft of performance. Toscha Seidel, an early teacher, challenged me to break out of my shell and show the music’s emotional character. My next [...]
Rock Concert T-shirt

November 1, 2011


I had just settled down with my ice cream cone in front of Ralph’s Pretty Good Café when a garbage truck rumbled to a stop directly in front of me. To my consternation, the driver got out with the motor still running and noisily began to empty garbage cans into the truck. No, I said [...]
Manuscript of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge

October 3, 2011

Opus 130

Not long before I graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1959, John Dalley, a fellow violin student, asked me whether I’d like to work on Beethoven’s late String Quartet in B Flat, Opus 130. The Paganini String Quartet had recently performed at the school, ending their program with another late Beethoven Quartet, Opus [...]
Arnold Steinhardt's Violin Case

September 9, 2011

My Violin Case

What’s a violin case for? Well, a violin for one. And bows to go along with it, of course. What else? Extra strings, rosin, and a mute. Also, a tuning fork and chin rest fastener. Oh, I almost forgot—music stored in the case cover pouch. That’s about it, right? Wrong. At least, forgive the pun, [...]
Rudolf Serkin, pianist, and Arnold Steinhardt, violinist, 1980

August 2, 2011

Marlboro at Sixty

The following article appeared in a booklet, “60th Anniversary Reflections on Marlboro Music”, that celebrated the event with a weekend gathering at Marlboro on July 9 and 10 of hundreds of participants past and present from all corners of the globe. In August, 1957, Jaime Laredo and I, two young violinists hoping for a career [...]
Stage F-F-Fright

July 1, 2011

Stage F-F-Fright

I must have been only seven or eight years old when I first performed in public. My teacher, Mr. Moldrem, had me play two melodies, one from the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the other from Brahms First Symphony. Moldrem, well known for his ability to teach youngsters, presented his students regularly in concerts. Before the [...]
Del Gesu Beare, Scrolls

June 6, 2011

An Old Friend

Sam, a widower in the autumn of his life, lost thirty pounds, had a face lift, dyed his hair, took elocution lessons, bought a smart new wardrobe, withdrew all the money from his bank, and flew to Miami for a brand new life. Soon after, Sam met a lovely woman at his hotel’s casino and [...]
Practice, Practice

May 3, 2011

Practice, Practice

After the Second World War, my parents were able to rent out a room attached to the back of our garage due to a severe housing shortage. The rumpus room, as they called it, was sparsely furnished, but that was enough for a succession of people to perch there for the time they needed to [...]
The Duo

April 1, 2011

The Duo

After forty-five years making music together, the Guarneri String Quartet played its very last concert on October 27, 2009. People often ask me whether I miss playing quartets. Of course I do. I miss not only the concerts, but also the camaraderie, the rehearsals, the traveling, the exotic food, and the interesting people along the [...]

March 1, 2011

A Meditation on the Meditation

In the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, the courtesan, Thaïs, reflects on her past life of worldly pleasure. Looking into the mirror, she worries that her beauty will soon fade. The monk, Athanaël, arrives at her palace, admonishing Thaïs that there is one kind of love she does not yet know. He exhorts her to [...]
Forty Year Story

February 3, 2011

Forty Year Story

In the spring of 1970, Judith Serkin, a cello student at the Curtis Institute of Music, told me that she and four other students at school, cellist Peter Wiley, violist Geraldine Lamboley, and violinists Lucy Chapman and Jill Levy, hoped to study Schubert’s Two Cello Quintet during the next semester. Judith asked whether I would [...]
Perfect Pitch Tablets from Tone Deaf Comics

January 3, 2011

Perfect What?

My daughter, Natasha, told me recently about a gifted young boy she knows who has learned to read at an early age and already plays the piano with astonishing originality. As if to offer a final and irrefutable proof of the boy’s extraordinary musical talent, Natasha added one more thing. “You know, he’s got perfect [...]
David Soyer

December 6, 2010


David Soyer, cellist and founding member of the Guarneri String Quartet, passed away on February 24, 2010—one day after his 86th birthday. Michael Tree, violist, and John Dalley and I, violinists, the other founding members, played in the quartet with Dave for almost forty years and we knew him for close to fifty. Peter Wiley, [...]
Paganini's Birthday

October 27, 2010

Paganini’s Birthday

Today, October 27th, is Niccolo Paganini’s birthday. Below is a reprint of an article I wrote on this occasion which appeared in the October issue of The Strad magazine. Next, as an attachment, is Caprice #24.25, my arrangement of Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Finally, I include a letter that to my great astonishment Paganini just wrote [...]
Photo from Opus

October 4, 2010


I saw Opus a while ago, a play by Michael Hollinger that deals with the inner workings of a string quartet. Since I have been a violinist in the Guarneri String Quartet for many decades, you can imagine that I awaited the opening curtain with some anticipation. The subject of my profession is not exactly [...]
Hermes/Mercury, God of Travel

September 6, 2010


I hear a lot of griping from my friends these days about travel. Trains are much more luxurious and dependable in Europe. Japanese taxi drivers wear white gloves and decorate their cars with curtains while in New York City, taxis are, well, let’s not even talk about it. And the deluxe plane travel of years [...]

August 2, 2010

In a Sentimental Mood

I recently heard an all-Stravinsky concert performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. A few days later, a review of the evening by Anthony Tommasini appeared in the April 23, 2010 edition of the New York Times. A comment he made about the orchestra’s rendition of The Firebird Suite caught my eye: “The Firebird’s Lullaby, [...]
Dinner Music

July 1, 2010

Dinner Music

Uncharacteristically early for an appointment, I slowed my pace up Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. Better early than late, I thought, but what on earth was I to do with myself for the next 30 minutes. As I approached 86th St., the answer appeared almost by magic in the form of Papaya King, a hot dog stand [...]
Disney Hall

June 2, 2010

Something New, Something Old

I happened to be performing in Los Angeles just as the city’s new and glittering Disney Hall opened several years ago. A week earlier, I called my mother who was living in Southern California to tell her of my arrival. “Oh, wonderful,” she said. “You can take me to Disney Hall.” That was fine with [...]
Joe Vita

May 4, 2010

Joe Vita

I left the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University last year after having taught a graduate violin class there for over two decades. Among other things, I miss the lively conversations I often had with colleagues at student recitals, oral exams, juries, or over a pizza at the local Italian restaurant. Topic [...]
Twelve Note Story

April 23, 2010

Twelve Note Story

Take a deep breath and try to settle down. I know, I know. The task is daunting, but you’ve worked hard. Just be relaxed. Be focused. And now get practical. For starters, think of a good tempo. Not so easy based on the first two or three notes that are slow and deeply personal. Better [...]
News Alert

March 30, 2010

News Alert

The United States Bureau of Weights and Measures has just announced at a national news conference that chamber music may cause global warming. The issue first came to the bureau’s attention when directors of several distinguished music conservatories notified it of alarming and unexplained rises in temperature at odd times of the school day. Government [...]
Sophisticated Traveler

February 28, 2010

Sophisticated Traveler

I planned to take the 2 PM Eastern Airlines shuttle from New York City. That would have gotten me into Boston by three with plenty of time to grab a bite, take a taxi to Jordan Hall, change, practice some, and relax a bit before the Guarneri String Quartet concert at 8 PM. But an [...]
Grammy Award

January 18, 2010

Grammy Awards

The Guarneri String Quartet was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Chamber Music Performance this year for our Hungarian Album on RCA Red Seal. The CD consists of Ern? Dohnányi’s Quartets Nos. 2 and 3, and Zoltán Kodály’s Quartet No. 2, three works of striking beauty. The Grammy Awards (originally called [...]
Shall We Dance?

January 4, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Many years ago, I had occasion to play a Bach Partita for the pianist and scholar, Arthur Loesser. When I finished, Loesser asked me whether I knew how to dance the partita’s five movements. I vaguely knew that the movements were based on old dance forms, but I had assumed that the dance steps themselves [...]
Looking for Work

December 1, 2009

Looking for Work

The Guarneri String Quartet retired, yet Arnold Steinhardt continues to perform in public. Photo by Dorothea von Haeften. Violinist in Recently Retired String Quartet Looking for Work * Skills Proficient in chamber music. Works best with people willing to overlook occasional lapses in intonation, phrasing, and tone. Performs virtuoso solo works, but no higher than [...]
Birth Pains

November 4, 2009

Birth Pains

Mozart’s String Quartet, K. 421 in D Minor, occupies a special place in the hearts of the Guarneri String Quartet. It was the very first music we read through after deciding to form as a group. Why that work? Hard to remember after all these years, but I would guess that its emotion charged and [...]
The Guarneri Quartet

October 6, 2009

For the Very Last Time

On June 12, 2007, the Guarneri String Quartet sent out the following announcement: Dear Friends, We, the Guarneri String Quartet, have decided to retire at the end of the 2008-9 season, our forty-fifth year before the public. This has not only been a long journey, but a deeply satisfying one as well. What could be [...]
Gray's Papaya

September 1, 2009

Gray’s Papaya

“We’ll drive you home,” said Frank Salomon, an old friend and long-time presenter of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts at Washington Irving High School. The Guarneri String Quartet had just finished a performance there, the last ever on the series before our retirement. Moments later, Frank behind the wheel, his wife Martha, my wife Dorothea, and [...]
Second Concert

August 3, 2009

Second Concert

The following is a slightly extended version of Second Concert, that appeared in the June publication of the new magazine Listen: Life with Classical Music. Our string quartet played a concert at Emory University in March of this year. Whenever I’m in Atlanta, I stay with my friends, Murphy Davis and Ed Loring, ministers who [...]
Arthur Rubinstein

July 7, 2009


A member of the audience, somebody I’d seen backstage more than once before, came up to me recently after a concert I had just played. He smiled broadly, shook my hand enthusiastically, and said, “Great concert… really.” In the midst of thanking him, that last word, “really,” finally registered. Really? Excuse me sir, but what [...]
Life, Death, Music

June 13, 2009

Life, Death, Music

Last summer, Emily Hsiao, a teenager whom I’d never met, e-mailed me. She asked whether the Guarneri Quartet would have time to listen to music students in her high school when we played in Ann Arbor, Michigan that winter. Only hours after my visit to the school, a brutal attack on one of those students [...]
Almost on the Riviera

May 11, 2009

Almost on the Riviera

Did you always believe what your parents told you when you were young? I certainly did. I may not have always had the good sense to obey them or heed their advice but their wisdom was unquestionable. Take education, for example. My parents believed mightily in the importance of formal knowledge and therefore the need [...]
The Abode

April 1, 2009

The Abode

Alter Bock, a dedicated amateur string quartet player, has just announced plans for the creation of a home for retired chamber musicians. “I’m concerned that these wonderful musicians I’ve heard and admired most of my life have a nice place to spend their golden years.” He spoke to me from the music room in his [...]
Yehudi Menuhin

March 5, 2009

Genie in a Bottle

I ran into the violinist, Jennifer Koh, not long ago. Jenny is a highly gifted young musician who happens to have a keen interest in string players of old. At some point, our conversation turned to Yehudi Menuhin, one of the great violinists of the twentieth century. We talked about Menuhin’s instantly recognizable style, the [...]
A Brush with Fame

February 8, 2009

The Brush With Fame

Ah, Los Angeles! So-called city of angels, a place where the sun shines almost always, where palm trees flourish, a place that knows no winter-in short the city where I was born and raised. But in my adolescence, Los Angeles was much more than a hedonist’s playground. Thanks to the movie industry, the balmy weather, [...]
New Years Thoughts

January 1, 2009

New Year’s Thoughts

A drawing in the New Yorker magazine several years ago depicted a tawdry back alley with a few empty cans and bottles strewn about. The caption above read: Life without Mozart. Its message apparently affected many of us. I saw the drawing on peoples’ desks, walls, and refrigerator doors for years afterward. As a member [...]
The Swan

December 1, 2008

The Swan

When I was eleven years old, my violin teacher assigned me The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. I had no idea that The Swan was a famous cello solo or that it was part of a much larger work, The Carnival of the Animals. I had never even heard of its composer, Saint-Saëns, or seen his [...]
Mr. Oliver

November 10, 2008

Mr. Oliver

I enrolled in a music appreciation class when I was a high school student. Near the beginning of the semester, the teacher of the class took ill and a substitute, Mr. Oliver, replaced him. Mr. Oliver knew his subject well. He played us everything on the school record player from Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony to Peruvian [...]
Tooth Talk

October 8, 2008

Tooth Talk

I was having my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist the other day when she offhandedly asked whether my children were also in the music industry. Fortunately, with my mouth wide open and filled with dental gear, I was only capable of answering with a few rather inarticulate and muffled noises. Otherwise, I might have [...]
What Good is Music

September 11, 2008

What Good is Music?

[Originally written and published in September 2002]. I lost no loved ones on 11 September 2001, nor was my home destroyed or my work affected in any palpable way by the tragic attack on our nation; and yet, the events of that morning have prodded me to look inward and take personal inventory. As a [...]
A Tale of Three Violinists

August 10, 2008

A Tale of Three Violinists

I stood in the artist’s dressing room, warming up nervously before my sole rehearsal with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. For a twenty-two-year-old violinist just starting a career, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with this distinguished group of musicians was an important engagement. My palms were sweating, my heart beat rapidly, and I began to pace back [...]
Last Words to a Son

July 11, 2008

Last Words to a Son

Andrea, the head nurse at the assisted living home where my mother has lived for many years, called last month to tell me that mother had stopped eating, that she was drifting in and out of consciousness, and that she was failing rapidly. The next day, my son Alexej and I flew to Southern California [...]
A Dog's Tale

June 12, 2008

A Dog’s Tale

I’m a wonderful teacher. I know, you don’t have to tell me. It’s not nice to brag. But truth above all, I always say. Here. Let me show you why I’m so good. We have a dog named Tessa. As far as I can tell, Tessa doesn’t have much feeling for music one way or [...]
Remembering Izzy

May 10, 2008

Remembering Izzy

Photo by Allen Cohen Every one of us has to die. We know that. We also know that sooner or later all of us will be forgotten. Even Einstein. Even Beethoven. Nevertheless, we humans doggedly strive for meaning in our lives and harbor the secret (or not so secret) wish to accomplish something of sufficient [...]
A Noteworthy Day

March 2, 2008

A Noteworthy Day

I heard a great deal of music yesterday. Let me rephrase that. Yesterday, I heard a multitude of sounds—some longer, some shorter, higher or lower, louder or softer—as I made my way through my waking hours. The sounds appeared sometimes as individual tones and sometimes in groups of two and three. They often repeated themselves [...]
Solo Bow

February 2, 2008

Solo Bow

The Guarneri String Quartet played a concert in Wisconsin several years ago. Why do I remember that this particular concert was in Wisconsin? Probably because Wisconsin is a cheese-making state and a delicious selection of cheese was set out at the after-concert party. It’s funny what details remain vibrant in one’s mind, especially in light [...]
In the Key of Strawberry

January 1, 2008

In the Key of Strawberry

An unexpected thought interrupted the sentence I was reading in the morning newspaper, followed by several other thoughts in quick succession. I had just remembered last night’s dream: My wife, Dorothea, and I were riding on a bus in a foreign country. Through the window we espied an open-air flea market with an array of [...]
Hiroshi Iizuka

December 1, 2007

Cousin Sam

“How much time you giving me today, maestro?” This was more or less the way Sam began most of our phone conversations. Sam Schloss was my cousin, more specifically: my mother’s mother’s sister’s son. I would usually call him during a break in one of the open rehearsals the Guarneri String Quartet held during its [...]