Leonard Rose Remembered

by Tim Janof

Leonard Rose was one of the greatest cellists of all time. Many of the recordings he made in the prime of his career continue to be viewed as the ultimate model of gorgeous cello playing. His greatest recordings have a timeless, unmannered quality that sound as fresh today as they did when they were first released.

He also had tremendous success as a teacher. His former students are now leading cellists around the world, and include principal and section cellists in professional orchestras, highly regarded pedagogues, and revered soloists. Leonard Rose was a cellist's cellist, who excelled in every aspect of cello playing -- teacher, soloist, orchestral cellist, and chamber musician.

While researching for this article, I had the tremendous fortune of finding Barbara Rose-Schirota, who is Leonard Rose's daughter. Not only did she provide insight into her father as a person, and provide details that only a family member could know, but she shared an unfinished video that her father made in 1978 on bow technique, as well as a rough draft of an autobiography that Rose was working on until his death in 1984. This article quotes liberally from these sources so that the reader may get a glimpse of Rose's memories and thoughts in his own words.


Rose's parents emigrated independently to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. His father, Gdal Rosovsky, from Bragin in Belarus, was twelve years old when he arrived in Baltimore in 1902. An immigration officer encouraged Gdal to Americanize his name upon his arrival, so he changed his name to Harry Rose. Rose's mother, Jennie, emigrated from Kiev around the same time. Harry and Jennie met and married in Baltimore, and had two sons, Frank and Leonard. Leonard, six years younger than his brother, was born on July 27, 1918, in Washington, D.C. Because of Harry's asthma, the family moved south to Miami, Florida, where they opened up a small grocery store.

Rose's parents were a classic pairing of opposite personalities.

"[My father] was a tremendous extrovert, always managing to be the center of attention and the life of the party. Mom was just the opposite -- quiet, suffering, and neurotic as Hell. Quite a combination, those two. Dad was a terrific ham and Mom was very introverted, and basically sad and self-conscious."

His father was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a self-taught cellist and pianist, and a Yiddish actor who played bit parts on Morris Schwartz's stage. He was also a tailor for President Harding for a time. Rose's mother was kind, considerate, and always subservient to her husband, which was quite common in the early 1900's.

Rose had two professional cellists in his family. Frank Miller, the legendary former principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was his first cousin. Miller was the youngest son of Rose's father's sister. Frank's older half-brother, Sam Stern, was a cellist with Radio Station WBAL in Baltimore. Rose had just started at Curtis when Sam died of leukemia in his 30's.

Leonard Rose's family was Jewish, but not particularly religious.

"There was the barest minimum of religion at home. In my entire youth, until I left home at age 15, I remember going to Synagogue just a few times on Yom Kippur."

Rose started taking piano lessons when he was eight years old. His family didn't have a piano, so his teacher allowed him to practice on hers. He advanced rather quickly and began to win some local competitions. When he was ten years old, his father suggested that he take cello lessons. Rose's first cello teacher was Walter Grossman, who had been a student of Joseph Malkin in Berlin. Rose, who studied with Grossman until he was fifteen years old, wrote the following about his first teacher:

"Walter Grossman was a very handsome and interesting man, and in those years a vital and strong influence in my life. He gave me much love and affection, and shortly after my first months of cello lessons, he was very encouraging. I remember him telling my father that some day my name would be up in lights.

"[He] was, at best, just a fair cellist. I remember his rather careless intonation and general insecurity. I do have him to thank for several extremely important basic instrumental principles that are vital in my cello playing and teaching to this day. First was the establishment of a curved thumb on the bow, for without the thumb being capable of flexing, the bow arm must be faulty…. Second, was a good left hand setting on the fingerboard in the lower positions. Third, were the early scales, exercises, and finger independence studies."

Rose felt he was blessed with hands that lent themselves to the cello. He wrote, "I have a tremendous lack of webbing in my hands. I am capable of doing many extensions on the instrument so that I could cover a vast area quite quickly."

By the time Rose was twelve years old, it became clear that he wanted to make his living as a cellist. "I guess I was gifted enough to play much better than my father, and I don't think he particularly enjoyed it." Rose began to win some local competitions, including one in Tampa when he was thirteen years old, where he was competing with kids who were four or five years his senior.

When Rose was 15, his father decided that his son should follow in his cousin's footsteps -- Frank Miller's -- footsteps and audition for a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He wasn't accepted. Felix Salmond said to him, "I think you are gifted. It would, perhaps, be better if you could stay in Philadelphia and work with your cousin, Frank Miller, for a year."

Instead of being discouraged, Rose was doubly determined that he would study at Curtis, so he moved to Philadelphia to study with Frank Miller. He lived with Miller's parents, as well as Miller, who lived with his parents at the time because he had just divorced from his first wife. Miller, who was only nineteen years old, had already graduated from Curtis and was the last chair in the Philadelphia Orchestra, a position that Rose coveted.

Rose studied with Frank Miller for six months and improved rapidly, which he attributed in large part to listening to Miller play. "His playing to me, in those years, sounded like a house on fire. He had a tremendous command of instrument."

Miller spent a lot of time discussing bow technique. "He immediately set off helping me with the bow arm very much. I remember I used to play with a rather high setting of the hand on the bow and immediately he lowered the wrist, which, of course, was absolutely right."

Miller also prescribed some intense left hand work.

"The other thing that Frank Miller did for me was to give me a very strict diet of scales and very difficult etudes -- Popper High School -- forty marvelous etudes. They are still sort of my Bible today, as far as cello is concerned. All my students have to play that material."

At the end of the school year, Rose auditioned for Felix Salmond again, playing the Haydn D Major Concerto. Salmond was absolutely bowled over and Rose was offered a scholarship immediately.

Rose later reflected on those six months of study with Miller:

"I made tremendous progress. It was a bitter disappointment that I'd not been accepted to Curtis by Felix Salmond the first time I tried out. However, in retrospect it was probably a very good thing for me. I'm somewhat sorry that I did not stay with Frank longer because he really gave me a first class beginning of technique on the instrument."



Rose both revered and feared Felix Salmond when he studied at Curtis. He also recognized Salmond's limitations.

"Salmond was absolutely a first class musician, in my opinion impeccable of taste. Unfortunately, he was not a truly great cellist. He had limited technical command of the instrument. He had a magnificent sound of the instrument. I think a lot of my sense of sound -- and I do love sound -- came from that period."

"Frank Miller understood the importance of technical material and a very strong technical background. Salmond, in the four years that I studied at Curtis, did not hear me play one scale, nor did he hear me play one etude."

The upside of Salmond's lack of technical training was that he wasn't particularly dogmatic about technical issues. "He did not inflict his own cello limitations by insisting we imitate him cellistically…. He didn't feed false information to his students."

Rose is known for having a beautiful cello tone, but he credits Felix Salmond for this, because Salmond demanded a beautiful sound, no matter what was being played.

"I think 'sound' is terribly important. I must confess I'm a sucker for sound! I like to think of sound on an instrument, particularly a string instrument, in the same way that a marvelous painter thinks about colors. Not all his reds are the same, nor blues, nor greens. He is constantly making variations of color/sound; and for me the really artistic players try to make differences."

Some might credit Rose's marvelous Amati cello for his beautiful tone, but he downplayed this. He felt that having a great instrument was only a small advantage. Instead, one should first hear the sound one wants inside one's head and then try to re-create it with the instrument.

Rose, later in life, discussed his three goals in teaching and compared it to Salmond's method. Rose's teaching goals were:

  1. To provide the best possible technical training.

  2. To give good musical guidance.

  3. To teach the student how to teach themselves.

According to Rose,

"[Salmond] was negligent with the first one. He did not establish a technical background…. I think he failed in the third category …. I think, basically, he was terribly insecure -- we had to play every fingering and bowing that the man wanted. This was stupid because he was 6 feet 2 inches tall, and I'm 5 feet 8 inches. His arms were much longer than mine; his hands were much bigger than mine….

"Salmond did not teach us how to investigate possibilities other than what he dictated…. If we took the slightest different fingering or bowing, his ego was immediately shattered.

"We could not begin to question any of his musical taste; I think his musical taste, on the whole, was absolutely marvelous, but he made us very intolerant of the ideas of other cellists. I remember hearing Piatigorsky for the first time. We were so indoctrinated by Salmond that we felt Piatigorsky did not play in good musical taste. This was absolutely ridiculous because Piatigorsky was a wonderful artist, as I found out later in life."

Salmond could also be sadistic. In his first lesson, Rose played the Beethoven g minor Sonata. Salmond "came over to me and grabbed me by the arm and started to shake me, saying in his very British way, 'You silly boy, what do you know about playing Beethoven?!' "

Another shortcoming of Felix Salmond was that he wasn't interested exploring 20th Century music, and this skewed Rose's own perception of contemporary music. Rose wrote, "I am fundamentally a Romanticist, and cannot feign interest in the 'intriguing sounds' or 'exciting new aural parameters' that some of today's composers produce. I question whether these works will ever stand the test of time the way Beethoven or Brahms have."

According to Rose's daughter, he later had some regrets about his attitude about contemporary music:

"My father told me in the hospital when he was dying that his only feeling of remorse was that he didn't branch out more into different eras of music, which he attributed to his training with Salmond. When my father had to play a contemporary piece like William Schuman's Cello Concerto, which he did for the Ford Foundation, we watched him agonize for a year. He wanted every note to be just right, and that piece is horrendously difficult, so he was driven to distraction. I remember my mother, who was wonderfully musical, sitting there, trying to help him make sense of the music."

Fritz Reiner was the conductor of the Curtis Orchestra while Rose was a student.

"[Reiner was] quite mean and sadistic, but one could learn a great deal from him…. He would think nothing of using insulting language with the orchestra, and such things as taking out pennies and throwing them to the double bass players, saying 'You're just furniture movers -- here!' or if some poor cellist would pluck a pizzicato note so that it would stop against the fingerboard, he would say, 'What do you think you're doing, playing a percussion instrument?"

While at Curtis, Rose received several job offers from professional orchestras. He played for Leopold Stokowsky, who was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Stokowsky immediately offered him a job. Rose asked Salmond whether he should take the offer, and Salmond recommended that Rose stay in school and continue his studies. Rose also played for Artur Rodzinski, and a few days later he was offered the position of assistant principal cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra. Again, he declined the offer to stay with Salmond. He also played for Efrem Zimbalist and was offered a job as principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony, which he also turned down.

In his fourth year at Curtis, Rose played for Samuel Shotzanoff, one of the most important music critics in New York. Shotzanoff asked Rose, "How would you like to play with Toscanini next year? … I think I can arrange that." It turned out that Shotzanoff was very influential behind the scenes with the NBC Orchestra. This was an offer that Rose couldn't refuse and he agreed to join the orchestra the following season.

It was at Curtis that Rose met his first wife, Minnie, who was a violist. He was 19 and she was 22. They married in 1939 so that they could go on a tour together with Toscanini in South America. In those days, a man and woman didn't travel together unless they were married, so they got married in a hurry, and the trip to South America was basically their honeymoon. Minnie gave up the pursuit of her own music career at that point.

NBC Orchestra


Though Arturo Toscanini is the first person one thinks of when the NBC Orchestra is mentioned, Leonard Rose credits Artur Rodzinski for creating the orchestra. It was Rodzinski who had first assembled the star-studded roster, which included Joseph Gingold, Oscar Shumsky, and William Primrose.

"Rodsinki's idea was to supplement a collection of top-notch players in and around New York by raiding the leading orchestras throughout the country and getting the best personnel possible."

Leonard Rose joined the orchestra in 1938 as the twelfth of twelve cellists, turning pages on the last stand. He quickly discovered that the curriculum at Curtis had serious gaps.

"I soon learned that my formal training at the Curtis Institute had not provided the best possible preparation. Indeed, Curtis seemed to believe that nearly all of its carefully selected students would become virtuosi, the successors to Casals, Heifetz, or Rubinstein. This approach, with its emphasis on solo literature, is not only simplistic; it can be quite damaging. In any school of music at any time, only a very few students will be destined for any sort of solo career at all. For most, the orchestra will more likely provide a living or a substantial portion thereof."

Toscanini is famous for his temper tantrums with the orchestra, and Rose witnessed more than a few of them. On one occasion, the "conductor broke his baton in half and threw the score up in the air; the pages scattered. Toscanini then jumped from the podium to the floor of the hall and began to pace back and forth in front of the orchestra like a caged lion, except, alas for us, he wasn't caged!" Another time, Toscanini snarled at the principal cellist, "You call yourself a first cellist? I wouldn't let you be a first cellist in a whorehouse!"

In November 1939, after having been in the orchestra for only three weeks, Rose received a request to play on a short wave radio broadcast. The station typically aired reports from Europe about the Hitler's maneuverings, but the coming bad weather would likely make reception from Europe so poor that they would need a last-minute stand-in. Sure enough, a storm came in and Rose ending up playing virtuoso pieces for twenty minutes to a radio audience that reached from coast to coast across the United States. At the orchestra rehearsal the next day, his colleagues heartily congratulated him.

After the broadcast that same week, Toscanini had a tirade at the assistant principal cellist, Jascha Schwartzman, screaming at him in Italian. Toscanini then pointed at Schwartzman and bellowed, "You, go back there." Then he pointed to Leonard Rose and said, "You, come here." Toscanini had, on a whim, appointed Rose assistant principal cellist. Rose believed that Toscanini had heard the radio broadcast, and was looking for an excuse to move him up to the first stand.

All in all, Rose had a marvelous year with the NBC Orchestra, though he was "insecure and scared to death." In retrospect, he felt that Toscanini, as a musician, gave "the music great rhythmic vitality, while he tended to drive too hard, too deliberately." Rose found Bruno Walter's musicianship more to his liking when he guest conducted with the orchestra. Walter's "agogic accents and rhythmic nuances were the marks of a profound artist."

In early 1939, Rodzinski, at that point the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, guest conducted with the NBC Orchestra. Rodzinski remembered Rose from the time Rose had played for him as a student two years earlier. Two weeks after the concert, Rose got a call from Boris Goldovsky, who was Rodzinski's right hand man. The principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra was leaving and Rodzinski wanted Rose to take his place. Rose was thrilled about the offer, but he asked for a few days to think about it.

The next day, the NBC Orchestra management called Rose into their office and informed him that they knew of Cleveland's offer and that they didn't want him to accept it. Not only did they offer him more money, but they told him that Frank Miller would be the new principal cellist. Rose was excited about the idea of sharing the first stand with his first cousin, so he turned down Cleveland's offer. A week later, management called Rose back into their office and said that Rose was going to be moved back to the second stand. Rose, incensed at his demotion, found out that Rodzinski still wanted him to be his principal cellist, so he left the NBC Orchestra for Cleveland. Rose was only 21 years old at the time.

The following year, Rose was chatting with Toscanini and explained what why he had left the NBC Orchestra. After hearing Rose's story, Toscanini was visibly upset, denying that he knew anything about Rose's demotion, saying in his broken English, "I never made such a phrase, I never made such a phrase!" Rose believed him and was touched by Toscanini's strong feelings about the matter.

Cleveland Orchestra


When Rose first joined the Cleveland Orchestra, he felt very insecure about his position. Apparently, Rodzinski was having second thoughts about his decision to hire him. He had also considered Paul Tortelier for the solo cellist position and wondered if he should have hired a more experienced cellist instead. At that time, Tortelier was playing on the second stand of the Boston Symphony in order to avoid being drafted in the French military during World War II.

Rose credits Charlie McBride for helping him survive his first year at Cleveland.

"Charlie was older and he may not have been a flamboyant cellist, but he was both a solid musician and a generous friend. He literally saved my musical life many times over with his experienced advice. Time after time he would volunteer, 'Lenny, look at this place,' or 'Lenny, be careful here, watch the conductor, do this, do that.' I shall always feel indebted to him."

Rose also credits violinist Fritz Kreisler for helping Rodzinski become comfortable with his decision to hire him. Kreisler was to play two concertos in the same concert, the Mendelssohn and his own arrangement of a Paganini Concerto, which included an eight-bar cello solo in the last movement. After Rose played his solo during the rehearsal, Kreisler stopped the orchestra and called out to Rose, "Bravo, bravo! Beautiful!" Kreisler then walked over and shook his hand, a kindness that brought tears to Rose's eyes. Kreisler also made Rose take two bows during the concert. After that, Rodzinski finally felt comfortable with Rose sitting as principal cellist.

Rose recalled an incident when Rodzinski programmed an all-Rachmaninoff concert, in which Rachmaninoff himself was to be the piano soloist. One of the pieces was "The Isle of the Dead" and the orchestra could not play the last movement fast enough for Rodzinski's taste. Impatient, Rodzinski slapped his thigh and screamed out, "No, no, no, no! You will see. He will come out here and tell me it's not fast enough. I know what Rachmaninoff wants." After two weeks of rehearsals, the orchestra was finally able to play it up to tempo. The day of the concert, Rachmaninoff came to the rehearsal while they were playing the fast movement, and what happened next caused the orchestra to erupt into hysterical laughter.

"The stage door opened and out walked Rachmaninoff in his overcoat, with his gloves on, and his arms crossed over his chest. With that crew-cut black hair, and his eyes like black coals, he walked up to Rodzinski, and said with his inimitable accent, 'Mr. Rodzinski, dat's much too fahst!' "

It was during this time that Rose began teaching at the Cleveland Settlement School of Music, which seems to have been more a community music school. He said of his teaching back then,

"In fairness, I knew very little about teaching during those years. Most of what I did was on a strictly imitative basis. I played well myself; I could demonstrate, and I had good instincts. But teaching, like learning an instrument, takes practice. It would be some time before I could convey to my own satisfaction technical details, good bow arm strokes, vibrato, and the like."

He began playing concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra during his second season, the first being the Lalo Concerto. He was extremely nervous about his debut.

"I bordered on hysteria. I began to worry some three or four months in advance, shaken by the realization that this Cleveland debut was perhaps my most significant engagement in my career to that date. Still, the nervous toll was excessive. I lost ten to fifteen pounds worrying."

Towards the end of the '42-'43 season, the Cleveland Orchestra players learned that Rodzinski would become the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, succeeding John Barbiroli, and he wanted Rose to come with him. There was a complication, however. The New York Philharmonic's principal cellist, Joseph Schuster, wasn't quite ready to leave, and he wanted to stay in the orchestra one more year before actively pursuing a solo career. Rodzinski ended up making a deal with Rose that he would sit as assistant principal cellist for the first year, and assume the principal's position when Schuster left.

New York Philharmonic


Schuster and Rose did not get along that first season. Schuster was aware of Rose's tremendous talent and was probably feeling a bit insecure about his position, and Rose told him in no uncertain terms that he thought he could play the solos just as well as Schuster did.

As the assistant principal cellist, Rose had a few opportunities that first year to sit in for Schuster. On one occasion, Schuster backed out of a concert series in which there were some particularly difficult cello solos, and he did so at the last minute. That series was going to be broadcast over the radio to thirteen million listeners. Rose, who was always an extremely diligent practicer, was fully prepared to sit in as principal and he played the solos beautifully, which gained him even more recognition. The New York press raved about Rose's playing, saying "We are looking forward to this young man becoming first cellist." Rose also got an excited call from Eugene Ormandy, who raved about his playing. According to Rose, Schuster returned the following week "with his tail between his legs," seemingly anxious to finish the season as soon as possible so that he could leave the orchestra.

The following year Rose became the New York Philharmonic's principal cellist, and he performed the Dvorak Concerto with tremendous success. Rose's reputation was growing steadily and he was getting the attention of conductors like Bruno Walter, Toscanini, Mitropoulis, Charles Munch, and Fritz Reiner, who all guest-conducted with the orchestra. Even Fritz Reiner, who was the cranky conductor at Curtis when Rose was a student, praised him: "You're doing a marvelous job here."

Of all the conductors with whom Rose played during this period, the one that had the greatest affect on him was, again, Bruno Walter.

"The man absolutely adored music. It was wonderful to see how much music meant to him. I can think of at least three occasions, at rehearsals, when I saw his eyes well up with tears and he would literally begin to shed tears because something in the music touched him."

When George Szell guest conducted with the New York Philharmonic, Rose, as was his habit, was practicing before rehearsal. Rose was working on the Dvorak Concerto when Szell popped his head into Rose's practice room and asked why he was practicing the Dvorak. Rose explained that he was going to perform the piece in a couple of weeks with the New York Philharmonic. Szell brought him into his own room and sat at the piano. Szell then began playing part of the introduction just before the cello's entrance in the first movement. They ended up playing through the whole piece, Szell playing entirely from memory. When the piece was finished Szell exclaimed, "Bravo! You are a marvelous player. I'm looking forward to that performance." After the Dvorak concert, Szell wrote to Rose, saying, "I don't think anyone can play that piece better than you played it, including the gentleman in the South of France." Szell was referring to Casals. Later, when Rose left the New York Philharmonic to pursue his solo career, Szell was the first conductor to engage him.

During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Rose was called up by the army to take a physical exam in preparation for being drafted. Part of the process involved a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist who examined him recognized Rose as being the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. He proceeded to ask Rose a bunch of made-up questions pertaining to his mental state, such as "Do you have dreams." Pretty much no matter how Rose answered, a red mark was made on his form. At the end of the examination, the doctor had made several red marks on the page, which purposefully painted Rose as being psychologically unfit to serve in the military. The doctor said, "I think a guy like you should not be drafted. You're a young artist, and you should go ahead and make your career." Thus, Rose avoided being sent to the front in Europe.

It was while Rose was at the New York Philharmonic that he participated in the first recording in which his name was appeared on the cover. He and other cellists from the New York Philharmonic made a recording of Villa Lobos Bachianas Brazilieras with soprano Bidu Sayou. The recording was a huge hit and paved the way for Rose's future recording contract with Columbia Records. Rose won a Grammy for that recording many years later, in 1984.


In 1949-1950 season, Rose was called in by the Associate Manager of the New York Philharmonic, Bruno Zirato. He showed Rose a newspaper clipping which reported that Piatigorsky was leaving Columbia Artists Management, Inc. This meant that Columbia would need a new cellist, and Zirato encouraged Rose to call them. Rose met with Columbia and they agreed to start the following year, since Rose wanted more time to pay off his Gofriller, the cello he had before his Amati. Thus Rose's solo career began in 1951. At its peak, Rose played as many as 110 concerts per year.

Rose experienced his share of humorous mishaps as a soloist. Once, when he was playing the Brahms Double on live radio with Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, Rose's a string broke just as he played the last of five chords with violin in the first movement, just before the orchestra comes in with a long tutti. He had one minute ten or twenty seconds to solve the problem. He looked over at Laszlo Varga's cello and saw that Varga had his "cheap English cello -- it wasn't terribly good and small" and he decided he'd rather not use it. He had a flash of an idea and leaned over to Varga, saying, "Quick, give me you're a string!" Rose managed to install the a string and tune his cello just before he had to come in, and the radio audience was none the wiser.

Another time, Rose was performing a concerto with the New York Philharmonic, again, on live radio. Bernstein caught Rose's bow in his baton with one of his famously large sweeping upbeats and Rose's bow sailed about ten feet. Rose tip-toed over to his bow, and, after confirming that his bow was undamaged, he tip-toed back to his cello and continued the performance without a glitch. "But if you want to know things that tend to take a couple of years off one's life, it's times like this one, under very trying circumstances with the Philharmonic, during broadcasts…."


In 1952, Isaac Stern and Eugene Istomin performed together for the first time in the music festival Prades. It was then that the two started talking about forming a trio. Stern had performed with Leonard Rose in a number of recitals and had played the Brahms Double with him, so Rose was chosen at the trio's cellist. Some were aghast that such esteemed soloists would detract from their careers to form a chamber group, and were skeptical that they could fuse together musically. But they were all such fine musicians that they played together marvelously, as can be heard in their many wonderful recordings. According to Isaac Stern, in his 1999 autobiography, Isaac Stern: My First 79 Years,

"All of us were such good musicians that the differences among us were minor. Most often we found ourselves instinctively in agreement, and where we differed, we would try to reach a consensus, because we all had the same goal: a musical result that we be as clear and as right as we could make it."

In 1955, there was what was known as "The Million Dollar Trio," which consisted of Heifetz, Piatigorsky, and Rubinstein. Each played a concerto or two with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and then they played together as a trio in a week of chamber music. The trio generated so much publicity that Ravinia decided to recreate the same sort of event with three young Americans, and the Istomin-Stern-Rose trio was asked to play. The reviews of their performance were only lukewarm, so the three went their separate ways with the idea that they would get together from time to time, and wait for an opportunity to make another serious public appearance.

In the summer of 1961, the State of Israel decided to host their first Israel Music Festival, and they asked the Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio to be the mainstay of the festival. Reporters from all over the world were there, including the major American magazines, and the event became a huge media event. The trio's performances were warmly received by the critics. "In 1961, we really took off like a shot out of a cannon. That was the beginning of some wonderful times, some wonderful tours, and marvelous recordings…." Some of Rose's most satisfying musical experiences were when he played with the trio, which was the "overall culmination of great music-making…."


Rose crossed paths with many historic musicians in his career. Heifetz made an especially huge impression on him.

"As a pure fiddler, none was any greater…. His instrumental equipment was fantastic. The left hand was sheer lightning in its pyrotechnic accuracy. The sound was electrifying and searing. In his great days, the sound was completely unique and thrilling…. Musically, Heifetz was thrilling to listen to, because he was such a unique violinistic marvel. Heifetz was so involved, it was well-nigh impossible for him to think of Beethoven or Brahms, etc. Heifetz was first…. Jascha was the king. I also think he was one of the most tortured of human beings….

"For all his mental genius, he was nevertheless a very disturbed and, I am afraid, terribly lonely man. I recall there were a couple of occasions when I could honestly say that Heifetz was 'almost' human. Generally, he carried himself like a machine. Once, he had memory lapses when he played with Cleveland. I'd never say I was pleased that any performer flubbed, but in that instance Heifetz, by succumbing to a human weakness, did hint at some bond between himself and every other mortal.

"A far better episode dates from my days with the New York Philharmonic. Heifetz gave a marvelous performance of the Beethoven Concerto on Thursday, and a still greater one on Friday afternoon. The third engagement, Sunday, was for a live audience with national radio broadcast as well…. Heifetz was most uncomfortable about the broadcast. He had a noticeable slip in the cadenza, and while the performance was good, it was certainly undistinguished for him."

Rose went up to congratulate him on his three performances, and "to my complete surprise, there were tears in his eyes. 'I'm glad you liked it," he told me. 'I hated it. Those damn microphones scare me to death!'"

Glenn Gould

One of Leonard Rose's frequent sonata partners was pianist Glenn Gould. Rose loved Gould's playing. "I still think his piano sound is one of the most beautiful piano sounds I've ever heard in my life!" One can watch them play together in a video of the Beethoven A Major Sonata. Watching them play together, one is struck by the electricity of their partnership, despite the fact that they were very different as performers. While Rose played with minimal excess motion and perfect poise -- the straight man -- Gould swayed, conducted, and muttered throughout the entire performance, but the combination is magical.

During the filming of that sonata, the producers asked Rose if he had memorized the music. The music stand was difficult to film around and they were hoping to get rid of it. Rose did have the piece memorized, but he thought that Gould would probably need to play from music. Gould said, "Oh, Leonard, do you want to play the piece from memory? I'll have it from memory tomorrow." And sure enough he did. Rose asked Gould how he did it, and Gould told him that he would lie in bed with the music and memorize it from there. "Glenn definitely is a kind of genius…."

To say that Glenn Gould was eccentric is an understatement, but apparently there is a likely medical explanation for some of his quirks. According to Rose's daughter, Barbara, who works in the medical field:

"Glenn Gould was deranged, but he had fibromyalgia, which couldn't be diagnosed at the time. He couldn't tell whether it was hot or cold, so he'd walk around in the summer with his great big coat on. My father would suggest that he take it off, and Glenn would say, 'But it's cold.' My father would reply, 'It's 95 degrees, Glenn.' Glenn couldn't feel it, which was very frustrating for him."

Rose, on fellow cellists

Rose was a very competitive person, and this is demonstrated in his unpublished book and is mentioned by several people who knew him. Janos Starker mentioned in his ICS interview that he felt Rose over-emphasized the competitive aspects of the music field. Starker's impression was that Rose was never satisfied with his career; no matter how much success Rose had, it was never enough. Lynn Harrell, in his ICS interview, also mentioned how Rose seemed interested in "conquering the world" with his cello instead of just playing beautiful music. And the way Rose talked about Joseph Schuster coming back "with his tail between his legs" seems to have a competitive edge to it.

According to his daughter, Rose was very critical of other cellists, and his competitive nature may not have allowed him to enjoy other wonderful cellists' playing as much as he could have.

"His comments about other cellists' playing were always very specific. He always had to balance a positive with a negative. He'd say things like, 'I don't like the tone, he gets too high on the bridge, but I like the bow arm.' And because he had perfect pitch, poor intonation really bothered him. He didn't like it when cellists would slide or widen the vibrato to mask notes that were out of tune."

There are stories floating around that Rose was envious of Rostropovich's ability to charm a crowd, but his daughter emphatically denies this. In fact, she says that they had tremendous affection for one another, though Rose didn't agree with Rostropovich's approach to pretty much everything involving the cello. Rostropovich actually visited Rose in the hospital when Rose was terminally ill.

According to Rose's daughter, Rose admired Jacqueline du Pré's playing, which is a bit unexpected, given how different their approaches were, he being the model of elegance and restraint and she being overtly emotional and, at times, over-the-top in her physical expression. One of the last things he said to his daughter before he died was about her: "What a marvelous cellist!"


When Rose joined the New York Philharmonic, he decided that he was more interested in pursuing a solo career than teaching, but Felix Salmond had other plans for him.

"My old teacher, Felix Salmond, kept insisting that I owed it to future generations of cellists, adding, 'I predict that in time you'll become one of the greatest teachers in the world.' "

It was Salmond who, in 1948, proposed Rose's name to William Schuman, president of the Juilliard School. Rose, only twenty-nine years old, accepted the position and taught alongside Salmond. Then, in 1951, at the end of his last year with the New York Philharmonic, Rose received a call from Efrem Zimbalist, who was the director the Curtis Institute. Piatigorsky was leaving Curtis to live in California, and Zimbalist wanted Rose to take his place. Rose was thrilled with the idea that he would be teaching at his alma mater so he accepted the offer immediately, and ended up staying for twelve years. Thus, Rose taught at both Juilliard and Curtis simultaneously.

In 1952, a year after he had left the New York Philharmonic, violinist Ivan Galamian asked Rose to teach at Meadowmount. Rose had heard Galamian's students and was stunned by the level of their playing. He said to Galamian, "I'm absolutely bowled over. How in the hell do you do it? It's fantastic!" Galamian invited Rose to his studio the next day so that he could observe Galamian in action. Rose wrote of that day, "That hour or hour-and-a-half that I spent with him in his studio was one of the most enlightening times I have ever experienced in my life. To this day, I utilize ninety percent of the information he extended to me."

Rose also lists Oscar Shumsky, Dounis, and Kreisler as influences in his teaching.

"My old friend, Oscar Shumsky taught me a great deal about the right hand, the right arm. I learned a lot from reading about Dounis. I learned a great deal from hearing and watching Fritz Kreisler, who, for me, had one of the greatest bow mechanisms of all time."

Rose, in his video on the bow arm, credits Dounis for his notion of the paintbrush technique in the bow stroke, not Felix Salmond.

Luigi Silva, who taught cello at Juilliard as well, told Rose that Rose's students sounded better than his. Rose was very pleased that his students generally had good sounds, and he attributed part of this to his students trying to copy his own playing.

"I think there is a certain amount of subconscious imitation that takes place, especially if a teacher is a good performer and plays for the students; and I do believe that a teacher should play for the students, explaining, of course, 'This is the way I do it as a teacher, but you could also do it this way, or that way."

Rose didn't believe in teaching through strict imitation, however. Instead he taught basic principles and allowed his students to apply them in their own way, though he would demonstrate in lessons whenever he felt it was necessary. What was striking about his demonstrations, according to several of his former students, was that he always played as if he were in performance. His demonstrations were never done half-heartedly.

Rose talked less about the left hand technique than he did the bow arm, though he certainly ran his students through a strict regimen of scales and etudes. Two of the left hand principals he discussed were pyramiding the fingers around the playing finger in slow playing, and subtly plucking as the fingers are lifted off the string. Pyramiding is done so that one's vibrato doesn't become too wide, and to give the playing finger some extra support. Plucking helps with clarity of articulation.

Rose made an unreleased video that discusses bow technique for the most part, though he also discusses sitting and holding the cello. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into his points in great detail, but there are some points that can be described briefly. He had very specific ideas on bow technique, which of course is immensely important in sound production. Fritz Kriesler was his ideal model for bow arm motion, "I have tried to pattern my bow arm after Kriesler's." He wanted his students to imagine that all joints are flexible springs, including the right thumb. One should "coax or plead" for the sound to come out of the cello instead of trying to force it out by over-pressing. All this contributes to creating a beautiful, open sound. And sound should be controlled by modulating the bow speed, pressure, and sounding point.

Rose believed strongly that there are no straight bows, in which the bow and bow arm perfectly retrace their path on the up and downbow. His exaggerated demonstration in his video shows how trying to play with a straight bow creates tension and prevents seamless bow changes. Instead the right hand, in long bows, should trace a figure-eight in the air during a complete whole bow up-down cycle.

He also talked a lot about playing with minimal tension. Tell-tale signs of unnecessary tightness are when a student grimaces, raises the shoulders, or breathes irregularly or not at all.

Despite his emphasis upon playing without tension and proper sitting, Rose had neck pain while he played. According to his daughter,

"He had terrible pain in the fifth and sixth vertebrae in the cervical spine, which was the result of how much he bounced his when he played, which a lot of cellists do. Whenever I see a cellist bounce his or her head, I fear that they will have the same problem."

Rose confirmed this as well:

"I still am a vigorous player, but I used to move my head a great deal. Every time I would attack a chord or a strong note -- like the beginning of the Dvorak Concerto -- my head would pop with all those down bows -- it would go forward and I weakened something back there."

When sitting, the cellist should face forward in the same direction as the chair, and the cello should sit at an angle such that the endpin is to the right of center. Cellists of different heights should experiment with the endpin's placement relative to the center-line of the chair in order to find the position that works best. To reach the C string, the cello should be rotated to the left to give the bow more ready access.

Rose was aware that there were those who envied his phenomenal track record as teacher, those who objected, "Well, yes, he's a good teacher, but he gets all the talent." Rose's response to this was that a teacher should be judged by what they turn out. After all, "a good teacher is less likely to ruin a great talent!"

Famous Students

Leonard Rose had great success as a teacher, turning out cellists who went on to have thriving careers, including Lynn Harrell, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others who became principal and section cellists in orchestras and highly regarded pedagogues around the world.

Rose recalls when Lynn Harrell first came to him at age 12. Mack and Marjorie Harrell came over with their son, who had brought with him both a baseball glove and his cello.

"Lynn played for me and he played with an extremely small sound. I said to him, 'Lynn, you don't sound like you're 6 feet 4 inches, you sound like you're 4 feet 6 inches. Play the damned piece -- stop tickling it!"

When both of Harrell's parents died, his father of cancer and his mother in a car accident soon afterwards, Harrell moved in with Rose's family while he tried to sort out his life. One day Rose received a call from George Szell, who needed a new principal cellist for the Cleveland Orchestra. Rose suggested that he let Harrell audition. "The boy is very young, only around 20, but he is a marvelous player -- he plays wonderfully in chamber music; and if you nurture him, you will have a marvelous cellist." Szell listened to Harrell and put him on the second stand. Before long, Harrell was the orchestra's principal cellist.

Yo-Yo Ma has Isaac Stern to thank for introducing him to Leonard Rose. The Istomin/Stern/Rose trio was rehearsing in Stern's apartment when, during one of the breaks, Stern said, "Someone is coming to play for you after the rehearsal." When the appointed time came, little Yo-Yo arrived, only nine years old, with his quarter size cello.

"Everything was from memory, everything correct, and really quite well in tune, although the sound was very small…. I knew the boy had something, and that he was extremely gifted."

Rose's daughter remembers the first time she met Yo-Yo.

"I remember like it was yesterday when Yo-Yo first came to our house. Before they came, my father said, 'I have this little Chinese boy coming. He's from England. Do not talk to the parents.' I asked if I could offer to take their coats, and offer them something to drink while they waited, which is what I typically did with my father's other students and their parents. He said, 'Yes, you can do that and then I want you to disappear into the kitchen. Let me know when they're here.'

"When the doorbell rang, this tiny nine-year-old walked in with his little cello, with his parents trailing behind. Yo-Yo went right to the biggest chair in the living room and sat down while his parents sat on the side with the cello standing up on the floor next to them. It was the cutest scene you could imagine.

"I went to my father's studio door and gave it the special knock that indicated when a student arrived and my father came out and gestured for Yo-Yo to come in. Yo-Yo's father, who was the conductor of a youth orchestra in Brooklyn, wanted to go in with his son, but my father indicated that he would rather see the child alone. Yo-Yo could care less and went in while his father stood outside the door and his mother sat on the couch.

"My mother and I were in the kitchen when we heard Yo-Yo begin to play. I turned to my mother and said, 'Oh my god. This kid is only this big,' gesturing with my hand low to the floor. My mother said, 'Really?' After the lesson, my father came in and I've never seem him so excited. He said, 'This is the best talent I've ever had!' He said, 'I can't believe it, I just can't believe it, Isaac was right.' "

Rose had high aspirations for Yo-Yo. He wrote back in 1984:

"I am convinced that Yo-Yo will go down in history as one of the greatest cellists of all time. He is one of the greatest talents I have ever heard on the instrument, possessing not only a technique that is extraordinary and a memory that is equally extraordinary, very rare, but he is so musical and has such a personality and a sense of style! At age 26 today, he is unquestionably one of the greatest cellists in the world … the only other memory I know which is in the same class, as regards the cello, is that of Rostropovich…. For me, Yo-Yo has the cellistic talent and musicality of some of the greatest players the world has ever known. That includes Casals, Feuermann, Rostropovich, and anybody else you want to name.

"He has a beautiful sound on the instrument, and, of course, the thing that I absolutely adore about Yo-Yo is that he is one of the nicest human beings in the world. His playing reflects it! Felix Salmond used to say, 'Public performance is one of the greatest mirrors of one's self possible,' and I think it's absolutely true. Yo-Yo sounds noble, he sounds loving, he has temperament … to feel all those human emotions, it's touching -- that boy is touching."

"I am proud to have been his teacher; and I must say, with him as with Lynn too, I insisted that [they] play as many etudes as they possibly could."

Rose's daughter also remembers when Matt Haimovitz came to her father.

"Matt was an incredible talent. He came into my father's life when my father was just about to get sick. I remember taking a look at my father at what turned about to be his last concert and saying to myself, 'Oh no, he's got what Mom had.' Sure enough, three weeks later, he was at Sloan-Kettering, where he stayed for the next six months. In the meantime, Matt Haimovitz had just come to him, and Matt's family had given up their home in California so that their son could study with my father. Their plans were completely derailed.

Rose's dying wish was that Yo-Yo would teach Haimovitz, but that never happened because Yo-Yo was too busy concertizing. This is why Haimovitz studied with Ron Leonard after Rose died.

Rose, on competitions

Leonard Rose had mixed feelings about competitions. He didn't like the Tchaikovsky Competition because he found it geared too much towards those who could play the loudest and fastest. He also didn't like the idea of forcing a contestant to learn a contemporary piece from scratch while at the competition, particularly a bad contemporary piece.

In his years of judging competitions, he was struck by the fact that "more and more people are playing the instrument better and better, but the number of artists, those with something to say, those who can move the listener, are just as few as ever."


Rose is well-known for his many editions, which are still published by International. At least in the United States, his editions are found in pretty much every cellist's library. Rose had a personal reason for doing them:

"I've been asked often enough exactly how much money I have made as an editor. Just about nothing. Editors received no royalties in the late 40's and 50's. The owner of International paid me a flat fee of $25 for such concerti as the Dvorak…. Why did I offer my services for so little? For much the same reason that I teach … that eternal quest for immortality. I want to leave something behind…."

Leonard Rose, the person

Leonard Rose had two children with his first wife -- Barbara and Arthur. Given that Rose could be on tour for seven weeks at a stretch, one might wonder about his family life. His daughter, Barbara, describes her family experience:

"I wouldn't say we had a normal life, though I didn't realize it at the time. It wasn't until many years later that my brother and I realized that our upbringing was far from normal.

"My father wasn't home that much, though my mother was there for us. When he returned from a tour, he would try in his own way to make it up to us. He would take each of us out separately, or play baseball with my brother. But he was constantly being pulled in several directions simultaneously, so even when he was home, he wasn't fully with us. He always had huge piles of mail to attend to when he returned from tours, which my mother would have organized for him in his absence. He just didn't have much time to relax with his family."

Rose was very demanding as a parent. According to his daughter,

"He expected a lot of us, perhaps too much. We had to be the most perfect kids imaginable, and he didn't have the patience to deal with the realities of what children are like --perfectly imperfect. He wanted us to be as refined as he was when he was on stage, where he was elegantly mannered, impeccably dressed, and technically and musically transcendent. It was near impossible to measure up to his expectations.

"He was very busy trying to build a career, which meant that his family-life suffered. At the same time, he was wonderful to his students, which was a bit confusing for us. At times it felt like he cared more about them than he did us. But I was so proud of him, and so proud to be his daughter."

It is well-known that Rose was a high-strung person and that he struggled with feelings of insecurity. Isaac Stern referred to him as a "driven neurotic." His former students recall him never allowing himself to rest on his laurels. No matter how successful a concert was, he always worried that the audience wouldn't like his next one. How could a person who achieved the greatest success imaginable in both his performing and teaching career be plagued with insecurity?

Part of the answer probably lies with Rose's upbringing. Rose's parents fought constantly at home, which was a recurrent psychological wound that was not given a chance to heal until much later in his life. Rose's mother's alleged intense neuroses couldn't have helped matters either. And Rose's father was very hard on him, often jarring his son's psyche with unsupportive comments. When Rose and his father were driving up for Rose's first audition at Curtis, his father said over and over again on the drive from Florida to Philadelphia, "I hope you make it, kid," which only intensified Rose's anxiety about the audition. His father also said on more than one occasion, "If you don't talk, people won't find out how stupid you are." Rose wrote, "God knows he'd done enough harm to me psychologically."

Rose also had to contend with being bullied by other kids because he was Jewish. There weren't many Jewish families in Miami when he was a child, only about three hundred, and anti-Semitism was prevalent in those years.

"I was a chubby Jewish boy, carrying a cello and books. What a target I was for Jew-baiting bullies, and what a sensitive, frightened kid I was. On at least two occasions, I was surrounded by four or five larger boys, and taunted and beaten … I'm afraid my psyche was very damaged by those episodes."

His daughter can only recall a couple of times in her entire life when she witnessed her father relaxing:

"He never allowed himself to relax, except when he was with Casals, and I never saw him be gregarious except when he was with Yo-Yo. I remember when my father fractured his collar bone after slipping on a stone while jogging. Around the same time, Yo-Yo had a spinal operation, so both were stuck in casts at the same time. I remember them sitting in our backyard, surrounded by hedges, commiserating with each other about their condition, and my father would tell story after story, not all of them clean."

Rose also struggled with stage fright. Isaac Stern mentions that "he couldn't get away from his nerves… but he always played through his nervousness, went through it to the performance, which was unfailingly brilliant." His daughter remembers what it was like before concerts:

"He had terrible nerves, and we steered clear of him before a performance because he was incredibly anxious. He needed a sense of perfect calm and control around him before he played, so we tried to be on our best behavior.

"When he had a concert in New York, he would drive us to the hall in complete silence. When we got out of the car, we weren't allowed to say a word. We just had to smile at everybody and let him do the talking. We would disappear inside the building and spend a few quiet minutes together. Then he would go out and play like a god."

Rose's daily life was highly organized, ritualized, and scheduled, and his days were always very full. He practiced anywhere from four to five hours a day until his later years. Even when he was older, he wrote, "I am not happy if I don't do my three hours of work in the morning. This has to be done, then I can go on to other things."

His daughter recalls his daily routine:

"I remember him getting up at 7am and by 8:30am he was downstairs, working out something in front of the mirror, perhaps fixing something in his bow arm motion. Then he would practice until lunch time. After lunch he would lay down for about an hour-and-a-half with the music at his side. That's how he memorized. He would go over the music and close his eyes, imagining himself playing. His left hand would be on the side of bed, and he would use it as a fingerboard as he fingered the music. If he had a concert that day, he would invariably have his steak at four o'clock.

"He practiced every day, literally, even when we were on vacation. He even practiced for three hours a day when his broke his right arm; he'd practice with his left hand alone.

"He always started with scales, and he would start them slowly and gradually increase the speed. He also played scales in double-stops. Then he'd do some careful bow work, staying on one string, making sure that everything was in order and sounded perfectly fluid.

"He would focus on the tiniest details, like trills, making sure that absolutely everything was perfect, and he couldn't rest until it was. This is why he and Isaac Stern played so well together. They both practiced and practiced to the point that everything was worked out to the tiniest detail."

On Saturdays, he typically taught five students from 1pm to 6pm, but he never watched the clock. This meant that, if a student needed a little extra time, he or she would get it, and his family dinners would be delayed.

Barbara believes that her mother deserves significant credit for Rose's success.

"My mother was innately musical and a very rare type of person. She was very outgoing, very gregarious, and she took over the social aspect of my parents' lives. She also handled the public relations duties of my father's career, so that all he had to do was practice and perform.

"I suspect that my mother helped him interpret many pieces. I remember her sitting with him, singing passages to demonstrate how she thought they should sound. Sometimes he'd take her suggestion, sometimes he wouldn't. After she died in 1964, he played in ways that I had never heard before. It was not as beautiful, and not because of a slip in his technique. It was because he didn't have the grounding that my mother provided. She'd say things like, 'Let's try a little more feeling here. Let's try a little more pianissimo there. Maybe more forte here….' Music was something that always drew them together. I don't think he played as well after she died."

The End

Leonard Rose died of leukemia in November 16, 1984, while in his daughter's arms. His first wife had succumbed to the same disease twenty years earlier, as did his first cousin's brother. When Leonard Rose passed away, the music world lost one of the most beautiful cellists ever to grace the stage, and one of the most influential cello teachers to walk the halls of academia. One hopes that his legacy will live on through his many recordings, his students, and his editions, and that he will be remembered and studied for generations to come.


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