A Tribute to My Violin Teachers

I was fortunate to study under two very exceptional violinists during my youth: Robert Louis Barron and John Maltese. Although there is still much biographical information I have still to learn about them, I present here a brief tribute to their memories.

Dr. Barron
Dr. Robert Louis Barron

Mr. Maltese
Mr. John Maltese
Robert Barron was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on December 7, 1897. As a child, he studied violin under Henry G. Ritz of Detroit.

At some point (possibly 1908) his family moved to Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago he studied under Max Fischel, Bernard Listemann, and Harry Diamond. He was concertmaster of the Young People's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago from 1911-13 and made his solo debut at age 14 on April 6, 1912, at the Fine Arts Theater of Chicago, premiering the Earl Drake violin concerto.

Barron made his first U.S. concert tour in 1913-14, giving 163 concerts throughout the country. He received his Master’s degree from Mills College in Oakland, California, on April 6, 1913. He later returned to Chicago and served on the faculty of the Sherwood Music School and worked also at the Max Fischel studio.

Sometime in the late 1910s he moved west, where he settled for several decades. He was known to have given recitals in Eugene, Oregon, on June 4, 1919, and another on March 16, 1920. He taught violin at the University of Oregon in 1918-19. He later was on the music faculty of the College of the Pacific (1928-31) and served as director of the Manning School in San Francisco from 1931-35. By 1940 Barron had moved to Texas where he conducted the Amarillo Philharmonic (1940-48). He was awarded the D.Mus. degree from the Amarillo Conservatory in 1948. The following year he was made conductor of the Arkansas Valley Symphony Orchestra.

Sometime in the 1950s he moved to Anniston, Alabama, where he conducted the Northeast Alabama Symphony Orchestra and taught music history at Jacksonville State College (now University). When the orchestra folded Barron retired from conducting and concertizing and taught in a private studio in Anniston. He gave his farewell recital in Anniston on April 23, 1966.

Dr. Barron died in Anniston on October 23, 1975, after a lengthy illness.

I studied under Dr. Barron from 1963-69. Among the many things I remember his telling me through the years was that he also studied under Carl Flesch (unless my memory is distorted). To my knowledge, Flesch never lived in the U.S., nor did Barron ever study in Europe. I wonder whether he meant that he had a master class with Flesch. In no articles I have located about Dr. Barron’s life and career (and there are many, especially from the first half of the 20th century) is Carl Flesch ever mentioned as one of his teachers. I would like to discover whether Carl Flesch ever gave master classes in the U.S., or perhaps judged any competitions in America. Whatever the story, there is no doubt from the many reviews I have accessed that Robert Barron was one of the preeminent violinists of his day in the United States. I really wish he had made some recordings during his heyday, but to my knowledge none exist.

John Maltese was born in Trapani, Sicily, on February 19, 1920, and immigrated to America with his parents a year later.

Exhibiting a remarkable talent on the violin from an early age, he studied at Juilliard after completing his high school education.

He put his musical studies on hold, however, during the Second World War and served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Caliente. When the war ended he resumed his studies and earned a Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.

For several years afterward he engaged in performance and played for three presidents while serving as violinist in a string ensemble. He also played in recording orchestras for many notable popular musicians of the era, including Perry Como, among others.

Maltese later became a college professor — a career that spanned 35 years. I was fortunate to have studied under him at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, during the early 1970s where his style of teaching (which encompassed patience, compassion, and a deep love of music) became a pattern I endeavor to emulate in my own teaching to this day.

In addition to his performance and pedagogical careers, Maltese was known worldwide for his collection of historic recordings, particularly those of his idol, Jascha Heifetz. He is believed to have possessed the only complete collection of all Heifetz recordings ever made, including some very rare private recordings not even in Heifetz’ own possession. For his work on a comercial collection of Heifetz recordings, he and his son John were given a Grammy Award in 1996. The two also were responsible for rediscovering and having issued on commercial CD the famous, and believed to be lost, Julius Block cylinders from late 19th-century Russia.

At the time of his death on October 11, 2015, in Athens, Georgia, he and his son were near completion of a new biography of Jascha Heifetz, which his son intends to complete in his honor.

R.L. Barron, 14 years old, 1912

R.L. Barron, ca. 1930

R.L. Barron, 1965

John Maltese, ca. 1933

John Maltese, 1970

John Maltese, 2015

Return Home