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Kató Havas, the celebrated and muchloved Hungarian violinist and pedagogue, died on 31 December 2018 aged 98. Five former colleagues and students remember her important and generous influence on their own playing and teaching
Kató Havas pictured at the time of her US debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1939

Born in 1920 in Transylvania, the Hungarian violinist Kató Havas was a child prodigy and by the age of nine was accepted to study at the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. The youngest student there, she came under the influence of giants of the musical world – Bartók, Kodály, Dohnányi and Hubay, and her own teacher Imre Waldbauer, well known for his work on posture. After graduating, Havas left Hungary for America, where she gave her US debut recital at Carnegie Hall, New York, in October 1939 before embarking on a critically acclaimed concert tour.

There followed a period of withdrawal when she married, had a family and put violin performance to one side. Although her playing had been much admired, she herself had never felt completely at one with it. She wondered how her childhood friend the gypsy violinist Csicso could produce the most ravishing tone on a simple violin while playing the most complex things, all with apparent ease and joy. So, during this period, questions and ideas began forming in her mind and she gradually evolved her ‘New Approach’.

By the time her books were published in the 1960s and she was putting her approach into practice, she was in England helping string players who were suffering from aches and pains, physical tensions and stage fright. Even though her work was highly controversial in the beginning, before long she was in great demand worldwide. Of her 1973 book Stage Fright: Its Causes and Cures, with Special Reference to Violin Playing, Menuhin wrote, ‘It is the most realistic and practical approach imaginable… a book that should be worth its weight in gold to every student and many a performer.’

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About The Strad

We talk to the members of the Belcea Quartet and ask why more young people are turning to period performance. Students of Kató Havas pay tribute to the late violin teacher, and there’s a look at asymmetric instruments. Plus a Mendelssohn Masterclass and Renaud Capuçon’s Life Lessons.