Gregor Piatigorsky (Russian: Григо́рий Па́влович
Пятиго́рский, Grigoriy Pavlovich Pyatigorskiy; April
17 [O.S. April 4] 1903 – August 6, 1976) was a
Ukrainian-born American cellist.
1.1 Early life
1.2 United States
4 Partial discography
7 Further reading
8 External links
Gregor Piatigorsky was born in Ekaterinoslav (now
Dnipro in Ukraine)
Jewish family. As a child, he was taught violin and piano by
his father. After seeing and hearing the cello, he was determined to
become a cellist and was given his first cello when he was seven.
He won a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatory, studying with Alfred
von Glehn, Anatoliy Brandukov, and a certain Gubariov. At the same
time he was earning money for his family by playing in local cafés.
He was 13 when the Russian Revolution took place. Shortly afterwards
he started playing in the Lenin Quartet. At 15, he was hired as the
principal cellist for the Bolshoi Theater.
The Soviet authorities, specifically Anatoly Lunacharsky, would not
allow him to travel abroad to further his studies, so he smuggled
himself and his cello into
Poland on a cattle train with a group of
artists. One of the women was a heavy-set soprano who, when the border
guards started shooting at them, grabbed Piatigorsky and his cello.
The cello did not survive intact, but it was the only casualty.
Now 18, he studied briefly in
Berlin and Leipzig, with
Hugo Becker and
Julius Klengel, playing in a trio in a Russian café to earn money for
food. Among the patrons of the café were
Emanuel Feuermann and
Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler heard him and hired him as the
principal cellist of the
In 1929, he first visited the United States, playing with the
Philadelphia Orchestra under
Leopold Stokowski and the New York
Philharmonic under Willem Mengelberg. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, in
January 1937 he married Jacqueline de Rothschild, daughter of Édouard
Alphonse James de Rothschild of the wealthy Rothschild banking family
of France. That fall, after returning to France, they had their first
child, Jephta. Following the
Nazi occupation in World War II, the
family fled the country back to the States and settled in
Elizabethtown, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. Their son,
Joram, was born in Elizabethtown in 1940.
From 1941 to 1949, he was head of the cello department at the Curtis
Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and he also taught at Tanglewood,
Boston University, and the University of Southern California, where he
remained until his death. The USC established the Piatigorsky Chair of
Violoncello in 1974 to honor Piatigorsky.
Piatigorsky participated in a chamber group with Arthur Rubinstein
William Primrose (viola) and
Jascha Heifetz (violin).
Referred to in some circles as the "Million Dollar Trio", Rubinstein,
Heifetz, and Piatigorsky made several recordings for RCA Victor.
He played chamber music privately with Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz,
Leonard Pennario, and Nathan Milstein. Piatigorsky also
Carnegie Hall with Horowitz and Milstein in the 1930s.
In 1965 his popular autobiography Cellist was published.
Gregor Piatigorsky died of lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles,
California, in 1976. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial
Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
It has been reported that the great violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian
once described Piatigorsky as the greatest string player of all time.
He was an extraordinarily dramatic player. His orientation as a
performer was to convey the maximum expression embodied in a piece. He
brought a great authenticity to his understanding of this expression.
He was able to communicate this authenticity because he had had
extensive personal and professional contact with many of the great
composers of the day.
Many of those composers wrote pieces for him, including Sergei
Paul Hindemith (
Cello Concerto), Mario
William Walton (Cello
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
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.
Piatigorsky was also a composer. His Variations on a Paganini Theme
(based on Caprice No. 24) was composed in 1946 for cello and orchestra
and was orchestrated by his longtime accompanist Ralph Berkowitz; it
was later transcribed for cello and piano. Each of the fifteen
variations whimsically portrays one of Piatigorsky’s musician
colleagues. Denis Brott, a student of Piatigorsky, identified them as:
Casals, Hindemith, Garbousova, Morini, Salmond, Szigeti, Menuhin,
Milstein, Kreisler, a self-portrait of Piatigorsky himself, Cassadó,
Elman, Bolognini, Heifetz, and Horowitz.
Heifetz, Primrose & Piatigorsky (
RCA Victor LP LSC-2563) RCA
Victor Red Seal 1961
Heifetz & Piatigorsky (Stereo LP LSC-3009)
RCA Victor Red Seal
Piatigorsky also enjoyed playing chess. His wife, Jacqueline
Piatigorsky, was a strong player who played in several US women's
championships and represented the
United States in the women's Chess
Olympiad. In 1963, the Piatigorskys organized and financed a strong
international tournament in Los Angeles, won by
Paul Keres and Tigran
Petrosian. A second
Piatigorsky Cup was held in
Santa Monica in 1966,
and was won by Boris Spassky.
^ a b cello.org biography
^ Rubinstein, Arthur (1973). My Many Years. New York: Knopf.
^ Thiollet, Jean-Pierre (2012),
Piano ma non solo, Anagramme Ed., p.
147. ISBN 978-2-35035-333-3
^ Plaskin, Glenn (1983). Biography of
Vladimir Horowitz Quill
^ Solow, Jeffrey (31 March 2010), "Prokofiev:
Cello Concerto in E
minor, Op.58", MusicaNova's Blog, MusicaNova Orchestra of Scottsdale,
retrieved 19 March 2013
^ King, Terry (2010), Gregor Piatigorsky: The Life and Career of the
Virtuoso Cellist, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co,
ISBN 0786456264, retrieved 19 March 2013
^ Prieto 2006, p.251
^ Lambooij, Henk; Feves, Michael (2007) . A cellist’s
companion: a comprehensive catalogue of cello literature. Netherlands:
Stichting The Cellist’s Companion. p. 430.
^ Lamoreaux, Andrea (2009).
Wendy Warner Plays Popper and Piatigorsky
(Liner notes). Wendy Warner, cello, and Eileen Buck, piano. Cedille
Records. CDR 90000 111.
Prieto, Carlos; Murray, Elena C.; Mutis, Alvaro (2006). The Adventures
of a Cello. University of Texas Press. pp. 249–251.
His autobiography: Cellist (1965). Doubleday. Limited edition reprint:
Da Capo Press (1976). ISBN 0-306-70822-1
Bartley, M. (2006). Grisha: The Story of Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
Otis Mountain Press. ISBN 0-9760023-0-2.
"Gregor Piatigorsky". The Musical Times. 117 (1604): 849–849.
October 1976. access-date= requires url= (help)
King, Terry (2010). Gregor Piatigorsky: The Life and Career of the
Virtuoso Cellist. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-4635-3.
"With the Artists". World Famed String Players Discuss Their Art,
Samuel and Sada Applebaum, John Markert & Co., New York (1955).
Pages 192-202 are devoted to Gregor Piatigorsky.
Jump in the Waves, a Memoir, Jacqueline Piatigorsky, St. Martin's
Press, New York (1988). ISBN 0-312-01834-7.
Biography at cello.org
Gregor Piatigorsky on IMDb
ISNI: 0000 0001 0896 4371
BNF: cb13898456g (data)