Oscar Shumsky

Bio | Recordings


David Oistrakh called Oscar Shumsky "one of the world's greatest violinists". This is not hyperbole but a sentiment echoed by many distinguished musicians. Among his colleagues, Shumsky was considered to be one of the greatest violinists, on the level of Kreisler and Heifetz.

In an age which included such phenomenal violin prodigies as Yehudi Menuhin and Ruggiero Ricci, Oscar Shumsky stood out. Born to Russian immigrant parents in Philadelphia on March 23, 1917, Shumsky began playing the violin at age three. His outstanding talent was recognized early in his life, and Leopold Stokowski pronounced him "the most astounding genius I have ever heard". In 1925 Stokowski invited the young prodigy to appear with him and the Philadelphia Orchestra as soloist in Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5. That same year Shumsky began studying with Leopold Auer in New York, becoming the great pedagogue's youngest student ever.

Shumsky performed several hundred concerts in his youth, often appearing with the pianist and conductor Ernest Schelling, founder of the young people's symphony concerts. On one occasion Schelling arranged for Shumsky to play for Fritz Kreisler. After performing for the great Austrian violinist, the prodigy played Kreisler's then unpublished Beethoven cadenzas from memory (Shumsky had only heard Kreisler play the Beethoven concerto in concert twice before!). Deeply impressed by the child's immense talent, Kreisler predicted that he would become one of the finest violinists of the century.

Oscar Shumsky taught at Yale, Juilliard School of Music and Peabody Conservatory. His pupils are very famous players and the Emerson String Quartet count among them. His ability to allow the music to emerge was legendary whether he coaxed it from an orchestra or helped to inspire a gifted student. In all he touched, genius emerged triumphant. In the field of photography Oscar Shumsky was a master as well and his many black and white photographs are personal statements and testimony to his extraordinary nature and talent.

His memory was phenomenal and the master could accompany any concerto on violin or piano! He knew all of the important string quartets and symphonies and could as well sit down at the piano or violin and play them. His repertoire was staggering and at a moment’s notice Shumsky could play over 6o concerti! There will never be another artist like him. He touched many generations of fine musicians and the people who came into contact with him were so very fortunate. Oscar Shumsky is deeply missed by his adoring fans.