George Perlman Dies In Chicago


George Perlman with the Golans
George Perlman with the Golans
photo by Judith Golan

George Perlman, violinist and composer, taught for 74 years until two months before his death on June 23, 2000, at age 103. For much of his life he taught 60 hours a week, plus performing in concerts, composing works played around the world and editing violin music for Carl Fischer. He retired from teaching on April 15th of this year.

He joked that he had come to the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan, where he had his teaching studio, “just before the flood, the one in the Bible.” In fact, the Fine Arts Building, considered an historic Chicago landmark, is only a few years older than he was, having been built in 1885.

He was born on May 15, 1897, in the Ukraine, where generations of his family had been rabbis. He was 4 when his parents immigrated to Chicago. His principal teachers were Leon Samatini, Adolph Weidig; he also studied for a year with the great Leopold Auer.

Perlman studied law at Northwestern and DePaul Universities, earning his doctorate in law at DePaul. He joined a law office in 1927, while also teaching at the Fine Arts Building, but soon abandoned law to perform and teach.

In 1933 he became associate violin editor for the Carl Fischer music publishing company in New York, a position he held for many years. Perlman’s editions of such works as the Bach a minor violin concerto and the Ten Have Allegro Brilliant are still used by many teachers. Also popular are his anthologies, such as the Violinist’s Solo Album and the Violinist’s Contest Album. Perlman’s original music is published by Fischer, Boosey and Hawkes, and Theodore Presser.

Perlman’s work as a composer was motivated by his activity as a teacher. Barbara Sonies, a Philadelphia-based violinist who teaches at Swarthmore College, tells of how he composed exercises for her lessons that were suited to her individual technical needs. Some of his pieces, such as the Indian Concertino and the Concertino, are within the grasp of students who have studied the instrument for only a year or two. Joseph Golan, principal second violin of the Chicago Symphony, describes these pieces as “nice, listenable music, very rewarding for students.” Golan studied with Perlman from the age of 4 until he started with the Symphony in 1953, at the age of 22.

As a boy, Golan played Perlman’s Clown’s Greeting to a Dummy and his Suite Hebraique. In 1938, he privately recorded Perlman’s Indian Summer with the composer at the piano. The piece was inspired by a two-panel cartoon by John T. McCutcheon that appeared each autumn on the front page of the Chicago Sunday Tribune. Golan calls it a “sweet, simple, nostalgic song,” and he still plays it, in an arrangement he made for his quartet, the Golan Quartet. It is also apparently a favorite piece of his son, Lawrence, who recently released a CD entitled Indian Summer on the Albany label. The CD contains Perlman’s complete violin music. Lawrence Golan, who currently teaches at the University of Southern Maine, studied with Perlman for five years.

Many of Perlman’s pieces reflect his Jewish heritage: in addition to the Suite Hebraique, written in 1929, there are also the Ghetto Sketches of 1931 and the Israeli Concertino of 1973. In Joe Golan’s opinon, Perlman had “a great feel for Hasidic and Eastern European music, [as well as] Israeli music.” Golan played many of these pieces when he was young.

Perlman will probably be principally remembered, however, as a warm and inspiring teacher. Both Golans (father and son) and Sonies remember him as a “father figure,” someone who was “always interested” in their lives. Sonies reminisced that Perlman’s greatest gift was “knowing what to give when.” “He knew how to deal with students on a psychological basis,” she commented; “he had a way with young people, without ever talking down to them.” He facilitated his students’ developments in multiple ways: not just technically and musically, but also professionally. Sonies recalls small performances that he arranged, and a quartet that he set up for her as a girl. She studied with Perlman from the age of 5 until she went to Eastman as an undergraduate.

As a teacher, Perlman was both creative and curious. He used a great variety of music in his teaching, for instance. According to Sonies, Perlman “always had something different for each student…etude books no one ever used, parts of Locatelli concerti that went all over the fingerboard…” He was inventive in finding solutions to technical problems. In addition to creating his own exercises, he devised variations on more standard etudes.

Perlman also apparently had a “wonderful sense of humor,” according to Sonies. She remembers a period of time when her lesson, which ran from 4:30 to 6, was routinely interrupted by a call from Mischa Elman, as soon as the long-distance rates went down on the East Coast, a minute or two after 5. Perlman finally answered the phone one day and handed it to Sonies. The ensuing minute and a half was uncomfortable for both the great violinist and the 12-year-old Sonies. Perlman then took the call, and explained to Elman that if he was going to keep calling during Sonies’ lesson, he should talk to her!

Perlman taught countless students over the course of his career. Many of them went on to the Eastman and Juilliard Schools of Music, and have gone on to become professional violinists. Besides Sonies and Lawrence and Joseph Golan, other students in the profession currently include David Arenz, principal second violin in the Atlanta Symphony, Pamela Hentges, assistant principal second violin in the National Symphony, and Richard Posner, a freelance violinist in Chicago.

Mr. Perlman is survived by his wife, Carol, a librarian and violinist, and their daughter, Pamela Perlman.