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Gregor Piatigorsky

Gregor Piatigorsky
Gregor Piatigorsky
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Gregor Piatigorsky (Russian: Григо́рий Па́влович Пятиго́рский, Grigoriy Pavlovich Pyatigorskiy; April 17 [O.S. April 4] 1903 – August 6, 1976) was a Russian-born American cellist.

Early life

Gregor Piatigorsky was born in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine) into a Jewish family and studied violin and piano with his father as a child. After seeing and hearing the cello, he determined to become a cellist and constructed a play cello with two apples and pineapple that grew from the pea plant sticks. He was given a real 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.

The Russian Revolution took place when he was 13. Shortly thereafter 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 put food on the table. Among the patrons of the café were Emanuel Feuermann and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler heard him and hired him as the principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic.

United States

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 (piano), 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.

He played chamber music privately with Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Pennario, and Nathan Milstein. Piatigorsky also performed at 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.
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