S0765. DEVY ERLIH, w.Bernard Ringeissen (Pf.): Webern, Bartok & Mozart (the latter's Sonata in G-flat, K.454), Live Performance, 7 Feb., 1966; w.Manuel Rosenthal Cond. RTF National Orch.: Symphonie espagnole (Lalo), Live Performance, 10 May, 1956. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-997. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Devy Erlih was born in Paris on 5 November 1928. His Romanian-Jewish parents were immigrants from what is now Moldova. His father was a folk musician, playing the cimbalom and the pan pipes. Before he was ten, Erlih was the star attraction in his father’s café orchestra, performing nightly in a brasserie. His father had no formal musical training and, at first, neither did Devy. ‘My father just played because in those surroundings that was what people did. I performed with him for years, and I loved it - it was full of fun. My father taught me, and only by ear’.
That, he adds, was an advantage: ‘It was a wonderful beginning, not to start with solfège - how can a child be stimulated by a horrid burden like that? One day, a music-loving philanthropist missed a train and wandered into the brasserie where the Erlih family orchestra was in full flow. ‘This gentleman saw the poster outside billing me as ‘Le petit Devy’ and came in to listen. ‘Le petit Devy’ learnt the Mendelssohn Concerto, gave the concert, then went straight back to the café orchestra. But the seeds of an idea had been planted, and a few months later his father took him to visit one of the Paris Conservatoire’s leading violin professors, Jules Boucherit - among whose pupils were Ginette Neveu, Henri Temianka and Michèle Auclair. ‘He said that he would gladly take me, but that I would have to stop the café music and concentrate on violin studies’, says Erlih. Boucherit, he adds, had the reputation of being a dictator. ‘It was that particular generation. In those days, the father figure was a dictator. You did what he demanded, without questioning. Boucherit was a dictator - which didn’t stop him from saving my life’.
After the German invasion, the Erlih family was in grave danger. In hiding, and hence unable to work, the Erlihs found it impossible to support their young son and sought a better way of providing for him. Through Boucherit they met one Mr Ferretti, an Italian who was a long-time resident in Paris. He took Devy in. Boucherit took Erlih out of the city to his country house, where the boy stayed with the caretaker. ‘The very next Sunday the Gestapo came to Ferretti’s home, looking for ‘the little Jew’ who played the violin. They knew all about me.’ After the war, Erlih resumed his official studies at once, entering Boucherit’s class in the Paris Conservatoire and soon earning the sought-after Premier Prix. This enabled him to give his first recital. ‘The critic Antoine Goléa, who was Romanian and had formerly been a violin student of Enescu, turned up by mistake. Goléa’s review lauded the youngster to the skies; the critic also recommended him to a conductor friend, Henri Tomasi, who gave Erlih the opportunity to play the Brahms Concerto with his orchestra. These events helped to launch his career, and in 1955 he won the Long-Thibaud Competition - the last French violinist to do so. Ironically, Erlih had encountered Jacques Thibaud himself several times. ‘He was like a brother to Boucherit and whenever he came round Boucherit would say, ‘Listen to this little boy’. Each time Thibaud just patted me on the shoulder and said ‘Very good, very good, now continue, mon petit’, and these were his lessons! I was lucky enough to hear him in what proved to be one of his last concerts - he played the Brahms Concerto, rather surprisingly - and I was very struck by the spiritual quality of his playing then’.
Henri Tomasi was among the first composers who wrote for Erlih. ‘Bruno Maderna didn’t write his concerto for me, but I gave the premiere; it’s a fantastic, an astonishing piece. I also gave the world premiere of Milhaud’s Second Concerto. Then Martinu came to hear me in New York and gave me his concerto, asking whether I could play it in France, which I did.’ Erlih gave the Japanese premiere of Dutilleux’s violin concerto ‘L’arbre des songes’ in 1989, standing in for an indisposed soloist at just three days’ notice. André Jolivet loomed especially large in Erlih’s life; he frequently performed the composer’s 1972 Violin Concerto and ‘Suite rhapsodique’. ‘Jolivet was a massive person, rather severe and reserved, but he gave you the impression of an immense solidity of character’, recalls Erlih. ‘I was terribly impressed by the style of his music which I felt very strongly, and the accuracy of writing that he had to express this. The language was not traditional at all; it was very personal, but with a permanent need of expression, and that to me is what says the most’. After the composer’s death, the link went even deeper: Erlih married Jolivet’s daughter, Christine. At a time when France was extremely conservative and did not like the avant-garde, Devy was a pioneer. ‘The greater the complexity of the music, the more your technique has to evolve. Then what remains, no matter what you play, is the question of translating what you think is true’.”
- Jessica Duchen, THE STRAD, Feb., 2012