Death of Lillian Fuchs, "one of the best string players in America"

October 5, 1995
The cover of Lillian Fuchs: First Lady of the Viola by Amedee Daryl Williams, published by iUniverse in 1994.

Lillian Fuchs was born into a musical family in 1902 (some accounts have her birth year as 1901 or 1903).  Her father taught Lillian and her brother Joseph the violin.  "I just developed quietly because nobody paid any attention to me even in my family," she told The Strad magazine in 1986. "They were always fussing over Joseph. I didn't mind at all. I was delighted to be left alone."

Fuchs had first-rate conservatory training as a pianist and then as a violinist.  She studied violin with the noted Franz Kneisel at the New York Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) and graduated with highest honors in 1924.   Ms. Fuchs made her New York debut on the violin in 1926, but soon shifted her concentration to viola.  She moved into the mainstream of musical life in New York, joining her two gifted brothers in chamber music recitals.  She was a member of the Perole String Quartet from 1926 to the 1940s, one of the first American women to break the gender barrier in quartet playing.  Harold C. Schonberg hailed her as "one of the best string players in America," in The New York Times in 1962.

As an instructor, she was responsible for the training of many musicians now at the top of the profession, including Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman.  But she said, "I don't take credit for anyone. You can help them, you can feed them, you can educate them, but what they do themselves is what finally counts."  She taught from 1962–1991 at the Manhattan School of Music, from 1964–1990 at the Aspen Music Festival and School, and from 1971–1993 at the Juilliard School, where she was an emeritus member of the faculty until her death.

As a composer, Fuchs published 12 Caprices for solo viola (1950), Sonata Pastorale (1956) and a Jota and Caprice Fantastique for violin and piano.  She also arranged Mozart's Violin Concerto in G (K216) for viola and provided it with cadenzas (1947). She made some unique piano accompaniments for the Paganini caprices for violin, written for her brother Joseph.

Later in life, she returned to her practice of performing with family when she created the Lillian Fuchs Trio with her twin daughters, Carol Stein Amado (a violinist) and Barbara Stein Mallow (a cellist).

Ms. Fuchs was the first violist to perform and record on the viola the six Bach suites written for solo cello. "The measure of an artist is the silence he or she can inspire," Ross Parmenter wrote in The Times in 1948 of her performance of the Sixth Suite. "The silence for her performance was intense.”

Sources: “Jewish Women and Jewish Music in America,” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia; “Lillian Fuchs, 91, Violist and Teacher from Family of Musicians,” New York Times, October 7, 1995; “Obituary: Lillian Fuchs,” The Independent, October 14, 1995; “Lillian Fuchs.”



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Jewish Women's Archive. "Death of Lillian Fuchs, "one of the best string players in America" ." (Viewed on April 13, 2024) <>.