S0815. GIULIA BUSTABO, w. Otmar Nussio Cond. ORTF S.O.: Sonata #3 for Strings in C (Rossini); Violin Concerto #1 in D, Op. 6 (Paganini); Violin Concerto in d, Op.47 (Cond.by the COMPOSER); OTMAR NUSSIO Cond. Cimarosa & Vivaldi. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1327, Live Performance, 19 May, 1966, Maison de la Radio, Paris. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Guila Bustabo (Giuila Adelina Theressina Bustabo) was actually born in Wisconsin (which is in itself unusual.) She began lessons with her mother before she was three years old. By age five, she was studying with Leon Samétini (a pupil of Ysaÿe) in Chicago. After Sametini procured a scholarship for her (from Juilliard), she went to New York to study with Louis Persinger. Other pupils who were studying with Persinger at the same time (including Yehudi Menuhin) would later remember noticing bruises on her little arms and head when she would arrive in the morning. She played Wieniawski’s d minor Concerto in her New York, Carnegie Hall debut at age 15 (1931). By 1934 she was touring Europe and even played the Sibelius concerto for Sibelius himself (by his invitation) in 1937. The old man was exceedingly impressed with her playing. In 1938 and 1939 she appeared with the New York Philharmonic. During the war years, Bustabo played almost exclusively in all the Nazi-occupied territories in Europe. After the war, she was arrested by General Patton in France, though she was never charged. After that episode, word got around that she had been a Nazi sympathizer (if not a collaborator) and her solo career became somewhat inert, especially in the U.S. She was barely thirty years old. In 1949, she married an American military bandmaster (Edison Stieg). With most of her engagements dried up, she took a teaching post in Innsbruck (Austria) in 1964. She ended up retiring in 1970 and settled in Birmingham, Alabama, with her mother. In Birmingham, she sat in the first violin section of the Alabama Symphony for five years, though she played like a soloist and could not sight read.
Guila Bustabo died on April 27, 2002, in her two-room apartment in Birmingham, Alabama, at age 86."
- Prone to Violins, 10 Oct., 2009
“Bustabo was a technical gymnast of a quite extraordinary kind and at eighteen was already set for an international career….In 1941, in Germany, she and Mengelberg were taped in a splendid series of concerto performances of which the Bruch g minor was without question the most radiant and marvellous. It’s one of the very best performances ever recorded of this piece and shows her at her best.”
- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWebInternational
“Forty-odd years before Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg burst on the scene and four years before Ginette Neveu won first prize at the very first Wieniawski Violin Competition, Guila Bustabo. a young firebrand with blazing dark eyes and an attractive Buster Brown haircut dazzled a Carnegie Hall audience with her performance of that very same Wieniawski’s second Violin Concerto. A year later, she gave her first solo recital at Carnegie Hall where she dazzled not only the audience but also conductor Arturo Toscanini, who was present. Jean Sibelius said, in 1937, that her interpretation of his violin concerto was just as he “envisioned it when I composed it.” Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and the lesser-known Otmar Nussio were so enraptured by her playing that they composed violin concerti specifically for her.
She should have become the defining female violinist of her time, a performer of smoldering intensity with a gut-level emotional approach that still astounds after more than 70 years. But instead, she became a pariah in the concert world, shunned and ignored, suffered a mental breakdown, bipolar disorder and died forgotten, a pauper.
Guila Bustabo (Teressina Bustabo) was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin in 1916, began playing the violin at the age of two. At three, she and her family moved to Chicago so that she could study with Ray Huntington at the Chicago Musical College. Huntington was so impressed by her that he arranged a private audition for her with Frederick Stock, music director of the Chicago Symphony. Stock recommended her to Leon Samétini, a former pupil of Eugene Ysaÿe, with whom she studied at age four. She made her professional debut at age nine with Stock and the Chicago Symphony, then moved east where she performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and joined Yehudi Menuhin in Louis Persinger’s violin class as Juilliard. Then came her twin performances at Carnegie Hall, and it seemed as if her future was assured. Toscanini was so impressed that he was one of those who donated a large sum of money (Fritz Kreisler and Lady Ravenscroft was two others, along with several smaller donors) to help her acquire a rare Guarnieri del Jesu violin. In 1934 she toured Europe, including England (where she made her first recordings), and Asia.
But Guila had a dark cloud hanging over her life: her domineering mother, Blanche. And Blanche took it into her head that her daughter should take advantage of the numerous big-name artists deserting Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the countries they conquered by playing in those venues the others refused.
Guila was incensed, but she had already made the mistake of signing a paper making her mother her legal guardian and manager, and mom wasn’t about to give up on the Nazi-Fascist gravy train. She performed not only in Italy and Germany, but also in Austria after the Nazis annexed it in 1938 and then in the occupied Netherlands under the Nazi-kissing conductor Willem Mengelberg. Twice she tried to break free, but her mother hunted her down both times and pulled her back in. After the Second World War was over, Mengelberg’s cooperation with the Nazis led to a performance ban in his home country for five years, and Bustabo was arrested in Paris. General George Patton learned of her, listened to her story, and invited her to perform for his troops, but if it was known that she had played for the ardently Nazi conductor Oswald Kabasta, he might not have helped her. Later the charges against her were dropped, but her name was mud in liberal classical circles. As she later said, “Menuhin got away from his parents. He was lucky. I never got away from mine.”
Postwar, she revived her career in on-and-off fashion in Germany, performing and recording with such conductors as Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (the Dvorák Violin Concerto) and Nussio (the Brahms Concerto and Nussio’s own concerto). In 1948 she married Edison Stieg, an American military musician, but they divorced in 1976.
In 1964 she became professor of violin at the Innsbruck Conservatory, still playing occasionally. Since Blanche had spent most of the fortune she had made during the war years, she was forced to sell her Guarnieri violin so she could afford a little apartment near the Conservatory, from which she was forced to resign in 1970 due to bipolar disorder. She returned to the United States with both mom and hubby in tow, taking a position in the violin section of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (where she occasionally played solo) for five years. While living there, her medical care was graciously provided free of charge by a physician and friend, Dr. Ralph Tieszen. Following her symphony stint and divorce from her husband, Bustabo continued to live in Birmingham, Alabama, where she died in 2002, forgotten and broke.
Listening to Bustabo’s surviving recordings today, one can easily hear why she was so highly prized in her time. She played with a bright tone, using a bit more vibrato than her famous colleague Menuhin (probably the influence of the Ysaÿe method she learned in Chicago). Her technique was absolutely superb, and she almost always dug into the music in a way that still raises goose bumps on the listener.”
- THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE, 6 July, 2018
“Guila Bustabo’s fall from fame can not be attributed to a decline in her skills or talent; rather, the cause was her performance record in Nazi Germany. Bustabo, born in Wisconsin, was an American citizen whose desire to create music in prestigious halls with famed conductors overshadowed her willingness to denounce the horrors of the Third Reich. Bustabo’s story evidences a trend in Nazi musicians’ careers after World War II. Denazification boards in Europe and Western orchestral institutions alike did not ultimately hold artists like Guila Bustabo accountable for their passive support of a totalitarian regime, but the American public did.
Guila Bustabo studied violin with her father until she and her mother moved to Chicago to pursue study with Léon Sametini, a master violinist who had studied with the Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe. In Chicago, the young violinist played in the Chicago Symphony under Dr. Frederick Stock, performed with the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and studied at the Chicago Musical College. After a few years in Chicago, Bustabo and her mother moved to New York, where she studied at the Juilliard School under Louis Persinger alongside Yehudi Menuhin. On November 2, 1929, at only 10 years old, Guila Bustabo had her major solo debut at a Saturday morning Children’s Concert of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, performing the first movement of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto in f-sharp. On December 15, 1932, at the age of thirteen, Bustabo performed her first major solo recital at Carnegie Hall. The young violinist was on a meteoric trajectory that led to greater opportunities.
In November of 1934, at the age of fifteen, Bustabo left the United States with her mother for a European concert tour. It was during this tour that Bustabo acquired a Guarnerius violin. Irene Curzon, Baroness Ravensdale of Kedleston, lent the instrument to Bustabo for her first London performance in 1934. A few days later, Lady Ravensdale invited Bustabo and her mother to a dinner and announced she had a surprise for Bustabo. She gave the Guarnerius violin to Bustabo to continue to use on her European tour and afterwards. She performed with this violin across the globe for the next few decades and would use it in the several recordings made of her playing.
In 1937, she performed Jean Sibelius’ violin concerto for the composer himself, and Sibelius praised her interpretation as ‘exactly how [he] imagined it when [he] wrote it’. He called her the ‘most brilliant violin star of today’. The young prodigy’s performance skills and musicality propelled her among the ranks of the great violinists of the twentieth century. Her blossoming career and international prestige excited Bustabo and her mother, which may explain the hazardous choices they made next.
When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, he propelled Europe into the Second World War. France fell to Nazi forces on May 10, 1940, and rather than return to her home in the United States, Bustabo and her mother settled in Nazi-controlled Paris. Bustabo continued to build her career and perform throughout Axis territories during the war, performing as a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler and performing the Beethoven and Bruch concertos under Willem Mengelberg as a soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Nazi occupation.
Bustabo was so excited by her musical success in Europe that she often seemed oblivious to the political turmoil that surrounded her. This is evident in correspondence between Bustabo and Hans Rosbaud, an Austrian conductor who was the general music director in the city of Münster at the time. In a letter to Rosbaud that she wrote from Vienna, on February 13, 1941, Bustabo gushed about the reception of her past performances and her excitement for future ones, neglecting to mention that anything catastrophic was going on around her.
Her performance record during the war, and specifically those performances under Mengelberg in occupied Amsterdam, led to her arrest in Paris alongside her mother in 1945 at the hands of General Patton with the Allied forces. The United States never prosecuted the Bustabos, and they were released soon after. However, this association with the Nazi party would prove detrimental to Bustabo’s reputation with the American public.
While Bustabo never explicitly voiced her support for the Nazi Party, her many performances with prominent musicians of the regime and her willingness to build her career in Germany and its territories shows a passive permission to be used for propaganda. Obviously, the decision to let Bustabo perform [in New York] was a controversial one, and it proved to be the last of Bustabo’s major performances in her lifetime. After that 1948 performance, the American public turned a cold shoulder to the artist they once claimed as their own, and her career never recovered. Bustabo, finding it difficult to maintain steady performance gigs in the United States, lived in Europe with her mother for the next several years. She taught at Innsbruck Conservatory in Austria from 1964 to 1970, but retired due to her struggles with bipolar disorder. After making her final recording in 1971 of Emmanuel Wolf-Ferrari’s Violin Concerto that he wrote for her, Bustabo would never again grace the international spotlight.
In 1978, she moved to Birmingham, Alabama, with her mother at the request of Amerigo Marino, the conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Marino invited Bustabo to join the ranks of the orchestra in the first violin section. She played with the orchestra for a few years, but she did not fit in well. Trained as a soloist, Bustabo had never played the violin sitting down before, practiced sight-reading music, followed bowings given to her by a concertmaster, or learned how to blend her sound with the section. Additionally, Bustabo gave a bizarre impression to her colleagues in the Alabama Symphony. Despite her peculiarities, many of the members of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra respected her musical talents, and some of them even studied violin with her. However, because of her inability to blend with the ensemble, Bustabo’s contract with the ASO was terminated early in 1983. During this period, Bustabo gave up the expensive Guarneri violin that she had acquired in London many years before.
Guila Bustabo lived out the rest of her life in Birmingham, poor and unknown. After her mother’s death in 1986, Bustabo’s mental health worsened, and her manic and depressive episodes became more intense. When Guila Bustabo passed away in 2002, only a handful of people attended her funeral. A string quartet performed the music for the ceremony. In the wake of Bustabo’s death, several national and international newspapers published obituaries for her. In one of her obituaries, Bustabo was quoted saying about her colleague at the Juilliard School from when she was a young girl, ‘Menuhin got away from his parents. He was lucky. I never got away from mine’. However, it is unfair to excuse Guila Bustabo of all blame. While she was eccentric and naive and dealt with mental illness, she was at the same time a genius at her craft who obviously enjoyed her musical pursuits. Her career took a dark turn when she pursued musical opportunities in Germany rather than refuse to perform for an authoritarian, destructive regime.
The story of Guila Bustabo is an unfortunate case of a talented musician who, in her desire to create music in famous halls with prestigious conductors, entangled herself in a political situation that would lead to her own destruction. Secondly, Bustabo’s story highlights a historical and current problem within American classical music institutions: a willingness to feature musicians despite any harm they may have caused. Guila Bustabo was invited to play with the New York Philharmonic as a soloist even while “blacklisted” during denazification, and similar stories arise across the country when looking at the post-war lives of Nazi-affiliated conductors like Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan. These musicians were generally met with protests from the American public after warm welcomes from professional orchestras."
- Several of the primary sources for this research come from the Hans Rosbaud papers.