One of the pre-eminent string players of the 20th century, Gregor Piatigorsky was born in Ukraine in 1903, and died in Los Angeles in 1976. His international solo career lasted over 40 years, and especially during the 1940’s and early 1950’s he was the world’s premier touring cello virtuoso — Casals was in retirement, Feuermann had died, and the three artists who were to succeed Piatigorsky (Starker, Rose, and Rostropovich) were still in their formative stages. His one true peer, Fournier, was limited in his travelling abilities by polio. Thus, Piatigorsky had the limelight almost to himself. He was gregarious, loved to travel and perform anywhere, and he hobnobbed as easily with farmers in small towns as he did with Toscanini, Stravinsky, Rubinstein, and Schoenberg. It was a legendary career.
Piatigorsky was not a “child prodigy,” perhaps, but his talent manifested itself early and carried him quickly upward. He began to play at age 7, and was accepted as a student at the Moscow Conservatory two years later. By age 15 he was principal cellist of the Bolshoi Opera. Escaping the upheaval of the Russian Revolution in 1921, he studied with Julius Klengel (also Feuermann’s teacher) in Leipzig, and at age 21 became principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic under Furtwängler. In 1929 he left the orchestra to pursue a solo career. Piatigorsky always loved chamber music, and was a member of three different piano trios – first with Artur Schnabel and Carl Flesch, next with Vladimir Horowitz and Nathan Milstein, and finally with Artur Rubinstein and Jascha Heifetz. – By Robert Battey