A man saw the whole world as a grinning skull and crossbones. The rose flesh of life shriveled from all faces. Nothing counts. Everything is a fake. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes and then an old darkness and a useless silence. So he saw it all. Then he went to a Mischa Elman concert. Two hours waves of sound beat on his eardrums. Music washed something or other inside him. Music broke down and rebuilt something or other in his head and heart. He joined in five encores for the young Russian Jew with the fiddle. When he got outside his heels hit the sidewalk in a new way. He was the same man in the same world as before. Only there was a singing fire and a climb of roses everlastingly over the world he looked on.
—Carl Sandburg, “Bath”

The idea of writing about the violinist Mischa Elman first struck me a year ago March, a few weeks after the birth of my daughter, Nadia. Nadia is my first child, and is his...

 
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