Mischa Elman was famous for his passionate style and gorgeous tone. He was the second prodigy pupil of Leopold Auer (Efrem Zimbalist was the first) to become internationally famous before adolescence.
He was born in Talnoy, Russia (now known as Talne, Ukraine) on January 20, 1891.
His family were musical and his grandfather was a Jewish folk musician (klezmer), who played the violin. It became apparent when Mischa was very young that he had perfect pitch, but his father hesitated about a career as a musician, since musicians were not very high on the social scale.
At the age of 6, he was taken by his father to Odessa, where he became a violin student of Fidelmann and a pupil of Brodsky. He progressed so quickly that when he auditioned for Leopold Auer at age 11, Auer immediately accepted him in his class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
A few years later in 1904, age 13, he made his European debut and in 1905 he performed in the UK, taking London by storm and performing at Buckingham Palace for Edward VII and Alfonso of Spain.
In 1908, he made his U.S. debut in Carnegie Hall performing the Tchaikovsky concerto with Altschuler and the Russian Symphony Orchestra. He was hailed as one of the greatest virtuosos of the time.
Elman toured extensively in the following years and performed with every major orchestra in the world. Along with Jascha Heifetz, Elman became a synonym for violinistic prowess. He was the quintessential Romantic interpretator. His tone was mellifluous and resonant. He excelled particularly in the concertos of Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Wieniawski; but he could also give impressive performances of Beethoven and Mozart. He published several violin arrangements of Classical and Romantic pieces, and also composed several short compositions.
The Elman family moved to the US and Mischa became a citizen in 1923. He sometimes performed in as many as 107 concerts in a 29-week season. In 1943, he gave the premiere of Bohuslav Martinu’s 2nd Concerto, which was written for him. Sales of his records exceeded two million.
A frequent accompanist in chamber works during Elman's early American career was Emmanuel Bay, who was born on the same day. Elman also performed with Josef Bonime, Carroll Hollister and others, but from 1950, his steady accompanist was Joseph Seiger.
Elman died on April 5, 1967 in New York City, a few hours after completing a rehearsal with Seiger.