Robert Mann, first violinist and founder of the Julliard string quartet, died on New Year’s Day at age 97. He stayed with the chamber group for 51 years and became one of the longest standing members of any chamber group in the world. The quartet has received 3 Grammy awards and he himself had performed in at least 5,000 concerts playing more than 600 works .
In addition to teaching at Julliard, Mann was on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and mentored other famous quartets including the St. Lawrence, Bretano, Tokyo and Emerson string quartets.
Mann was born in Portland, Oregon in 1920 to an English father and a Polish mother. As a boy he wanted to become a forest ranger in a national park. He began music lessons at age 9 with a Belgian teacher who was killed 2 years later. At age 13 he took lessons with the concert master of the Portland Symphony, Edouard Hurlimann, who was instrumental in steering Mann toward a career in music.
At age 18 Mann attended the Institute of Musical Art on scholarship and a year later he transferred to the Julliard Graduate School.
In 1941 Mann won the violin competition fo the Naumberg Foundation in NY, the prize for which was a debut recital at town hall.
In 1946, Following his service in the army during WWII, Mann was invited by the president of Julliard to form the Julliard String Quartet. Two of his army friends were invited as well; violinist Robert Koff and cellist Arthur Winograd, in addition to violist Raphael Hillyer.
In late 20th century America there was an increase in interest in chamber music, due in part to the success of the Julliard String Quartet. The quartet was famous for its passion, style and commitment to playing contemporary music.
In 2014 Mann was the subject of a documentary entitled “Speak the Music: Robert Mann and the mysteries of chamber music.