Eugene Fodor, renowned American virtuoso violinist, died at the age of 60, of a liver condition, on February 26.
His prodigious talent was made manifest in early childhood. His list of violin instructors reads like a violin pedagogue’s hall of fame: Harold Wippler, Ivan Galamian, Josef Gingold, Jascha Heifetz.
There is an interesting story related to the year (1970) that he received lessons from Heifetz. Apparently Heifetz disapproved of his students being long-haired, so Fodor would wear a wig over his long tresses. The charade went on, until he was spotted giving a concert, wigless. A furious Heifetz banished him from his class forever.
Fodor’s successes at international competitions catapulted him to instant stardom. Most spectacularly his win of the top prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1974 in Moscow, at the height of the Cold War, fuelled media frenzy in his home country; he was accorded a hero’s welcome upon his return. His publicists created a larger-than-life image of the swashbuckling outdoorsy, “cowboy violinist” from Denver, Colorado. Recording contracts, concert bookings, and television appearances fell at his feet thick and fast.
In a sad reflection of how fickle the snobbish classical music industry can be, these soon dried up, however. He was very quickly, and perhaps a trifle unjustly, viewed as a “flash in the pan”, capable of dashing off pyrotechnical showpieces by Paganini, Sarasate, Wieniawkski, but lacking the gravitas to tackle the “heavy” concerto and chamber repertoire required of a serious concert violinist. The truth however, was that he had rarely been given a proper chance. His irascibility and tactlessness did little to help advance his career. In the absence of a supportive music industry, a decline seems in retrospect inevitable.
Tragically, it seems that the story of his descent into alcohol and drugs is what the world remembers him for. The mainstream American media, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, to the Chicago Tribune, seemed to find it relevant to mention his drug history, and his arrest in 1989, in either their obituary headline, or in the very first sentence. “Mick Jagger of the Violin”, screamed the Baltimore Sun.
But those who knew him more intimately spoke of a very different musician, and human being. They speak of a man hurt by the rejection of his peers and the industry, and it is a moot point to argue whether his addictions prompted his ostracism, or the other way round.
Towards the end of his life, he was still performing across the US, but in less glamorous venues than before. He was at the height of his powers as late as 2008, at a concert in a San Diego hotel where he smiling, effortlessly performed Paganini’s “La Campanella” with its diabolical cauldron of fingered octaves, harmonics, left-hand pizzicato. The world was not to know then, that it would be his last public appearance.
But even in his darkest days, he never ever let his standard of playing slide. “He taught me to raise my standard, not so much by his words, but by his playing”, one of his students was quoted as saying.
He was once asked why he still felt the need to practise so much (a punishing six hours a day), despite having attained such prowess, and he is quoted as having replied that with anything less, he would lose having total control of the nuances of violin playing.
In an interview to Laurie Niles of violinist.com in 2008 he remarked, “There’s nothing I do not love about the art of violin playing and music. I think it is humanity’s greatest gift. I think music is the greatest means of expression we have in life. There’s something utterly transportive, spiritually, about music. If you want to take it a step further, even the ancient scriptures of the Far East talk about how song and music is a way to discover the Divine within us.”
Click here for his breath-taking account of Wieniawksi’s Capriccio-Valse Op. 7.
Rest in Peace, Maestro. May your spirit find the peace that eluded you in this life.