Born in Odessa, Milstein studied with Leopold Auer in St Petersburg and, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, garnered support from the composer Alexander Glazunov and formed friendships with Horowitz and Piatigorsky. He toured Europe with Horowitz in 1925, and in the 1930s began a recording career that spanned six decades.
Tribute by Jack Liebeck
Nathan Milstein is the first name that pops into my mind when I’m asked who my favourite violinist is. One of his main attractions for me is the expressive simplicity, sometimes almost playing with a clipped style. No gloss or over-sentimentality is added but this gives his playing a deeply human quality. I often think he sounds just like he looks, such a handsome man, almost regal in his manner, but with eyes that don’t give everything away. When he played he just seemed to let the music do the talking. His sound, made up from the components of his discreet vibrato, beautiful silky bowing arm and extremely dextrous left hand (you can often hear his fingers falling so precisely on the fingerboard) are combined with his glorious 1716 Stradivari ‘Maria Teresa’. This creates a sound with a raspingly beautiful E string and sonorous lower strings, all packaged with the cutting nasality that only a violin from Cremona can make. It is his no-nonsense musicianship that really stands out to me, his interpretations are beautifully simple and, over the course of a piece or movement, this shows a clarity that allows the music to almost explain itself to the listener. No fluff or over-indulgence: just pure, beautiful violin-playing.