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Austrian violinist and violist Eduard Melkus turned 90 last year. Tully Potter speaks to colleagues, former pupils and the man himself – and outlines a far more diverse and varied career than his reputation for early music performance would suggest
Violin lovers have a special place in their hearts for Viennese fiddlers, and they happily reel off the great names: Fritz Kreisler, Erica Morini, Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Willi Boskovsky, Walter Barylli…and Eduard Melkus, who turned 90 last September. Of them all, Melkus, who barely plays now, is the most versatile. Renowned as an early music pioneer, he has also played music by Hindemith and Webern, Bartók’s Solo Sonata and Viola Concerto and the violin concertos by Berg, Reger (rather cut), Schumann (his own edition, incorporating some of Kulenkampff’s and Hindemith’s changes) and Wellesz, which he premiered in 1962. He led quartets in Switzerland and America and either directed or conducted his own chamber orchestras in Baroque and Classical repertoire.
He was born in Baden near Vienna on 1 September 1928 to parents who played music for pleasure – mostly the piano. His father, an official in the finance ministry, and his aunt commanded a vast range of four-hand pieces, and it was his mother who encouraged his ambitions: ‘It was against the family tradition to become professional,’ he tells me. ‘Musicians were considered a little bit like vagabonds – which we are!’
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