Memoralia: The Memoirs of Richard Burgin
There is no better way to introduce readers to Richard Burgin, and his importance in the world of 20th century music, than to quote the following remembrance of him, written in October 1981 by the eminent pianist and Burgin’s former colleague at Florida State University, Edward Kilenyi.
“What did Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Hindemith, Rachmaninov, Joachim, Auer, Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Prokofiev, Martinu, Schoenberg – and other men of genius just as disparate – have in common? Close, collegial and friendly relations with … Richard Burgin.
“It would be a grave mistake, however, to assume that Burgin’s importance lay mostly in his associations with such dazzling friends. Rather, these greats were attracted to him on account of his tremendous musical gifts and marvelous, winning personality and wisdom. For forty-two years he was concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, one of the country’s top orchestras, and for twenty-one years, its Associate Conductor. After he retired from the BSO, Florida State University had the glory of having Burgin on its Music Faculty as Professor of Violin, Conductor of the Chamber Orchestra, and member of the Florestan Quartet during the years 1963-72.
“Born in Warsaw, and trained in Berlin and St. Petersburg, he became a guiding light in musical culture from 1920. During the summers, when he taught at the Berkshire Music Center, and at numerous Congresses of Strings, there was hardly an American musician, who did not benefit from his inimitable training in orchestral playing, conducting, and chamber music. As a violinist, he was second to none among all the great concertmasters. As a conductor he was so aware and enthusiastic about new music that his list of American (and several world) premieres includes such diverse works as Mahler’s Third Symphony, Schoenberg’s difficult scores, and the compositions of the constantly changing avant-garde.
“Although distinctions were showered on Richard Burgin throughout his life [including induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1947) and the French Legion of Honor (1954) as well as the reception of the Bruckner-Mahler Society Medal (1951) and numerous honorary doctorates], no great musician remained so consistently and sincerely modest. During his years at FSU, I never heard him raise his voice at a rehearsal or after a concert. The only occasion he did raise his voice in anger … occurred while playing his beloved game of bridge.”
Richard Burgin: A Life in Verse
Shortly after the author's father, Richard Moiseyevich Burgin (former concertmaster and associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), agreed to allow her to record his memoirs on tape he suffered a speech-destroying stroke. In the months that followed, she plunged herself into researching his life; a task complicated by Burgin living his long life almost wholly within the oral tradition: rarely recorded as a soloist or conductor; seldom wrote a letter; scribbled only in his stock books; and left behind a dozen or so empty diaries.
Nevertheless the author was able to gather a file drawer full of information about Richard Burgin, and synthesized her findings into prose. The resulting book cannot properly be called a biography of Richard Burgin; rather it is an imaginative work, based in on Burgin’s life and reminiscences. This Pushkin-esque memoir concerns the character, profession, loves, real and imagined life of the Russian-American violinist and conductor, Richard Burgin.