Gregor Piatigorsky. Without question one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century, and to some the greatest string player of all time. The Ukranian born American cellist settled in the U.S. after fleeing Nazi-occupied France in 1940, where he became a much in-demand professor of cello at The Curtis institute in Philadelphia as well as Tanglewood and Boston University, and on the West Coast at UCLA and USC in Los Angeles. He was active all the way until the time of his death in 1976.
Many of those composers wrote pieces for him, including Sergei Prokofiev (Cello Concerto), Paul Hindemith (Cello Concerto), Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Cello Concerto), William Walton (Cello Concerto), Vernon Duke (Cello Concerto), and Igor Stravinsky (Piatigorsky and Stravinsky collaborated on the arrangement of Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne”, which was extracted from Pulcinella, for cello and piano; Stravinsky demonstrated an extraordinary method of calculating fifty-fifty royalties). At a rehearsal of Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, which Piatigorsky performed with the composer conducting, after the dramatic slow variation in D minor, Strauss announced to the orchestra, “Now I’ve heard my Don Quixote as I imagined him.”
Piatigorsky had a magnificent sound characterized by a distinctive fast and intense vibrato and he was able to execute with consummate articulation all manner of extremely difficult bowings, including a downbow staccato that other string players could not help but be in awe of. He often attributed his penchant for drama to his student days when he accepted an engagement playing during the intermissions in recitals by the great Russian basso, Feodor Chaliapin. Chaliapin, when portraying his dramatic roles, such as the title role in Boris Godunov, would not only sing, but declaim, almost shouting. On encountering him one day, the young Piatigorsky told him, “You talk too much and don’t sing enough.” Chaliapin responded, “You sing too much and don’t talk enough.” Piatigorsky thought about this and from that point on, tried to incorporate the kind of drama and expression he heard in Chaliapin’s singing into his own artistic expression.
He owned two Stradivarius cellos, the “Batta” and the “Baudiot.” According to Cozio.com, Piatigorsky also owned the famous Montagnana cello known as the Sleeping Beauty from 1939 to 1951.Modern Italian Jago peternella cello.
This conversation, with James Day is part of the series Day At Night and was first broadcast on May 24, 1974