Zino Francescatti, a violin prodigy known in the world’s concert halls for his lyricism and eloquence and who in his prime performed some 120 concerts a year, died Tuesday at his home in France. He was 89.
His family, which did not disclose a cause of death, told the Associated Press that he had died in La Ciotat near Marseilles where he had lived for more than 50 years.
He was born Rene-Charles Francescatti in Marseilles in 1902, the son of professional musicians. His father, Fortune, had studied and worked with a violinist known as “Sivori,” who was the only pupil the legendary Italian composer and violinist Nicolo Paganini ever had. Through his father, the Paganini romantic tradition was passed to the young Francescatti.
Francescatti, who took the name Zino early in his career, made his debut at age 10 with a full symphony orchestra, performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. In 1924 he went to Paris where he not only played (sometimes with cellist Pablo Casals) but began teaching at the Ecole Normale de Musique.
He traveled to England with Maurice Ravel for a series of piano and violin duets and in 1939 made his American debut.
It was not with the New York Philharmonic as his publicists wrote, he told The Times in a 1974 interview, but with the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Assn. in Pittsburgh.
“And I played a half-dozen more concerts before I made my debut with the Philharmonic,” he said.
Although Francescatti was linked to the romantic tradition through his father’s ties to Paganini, he began to extend his concertizing beyond the conventional repertory.
He mastered works by such contemporaries as Leonard Bernstein, Darius Milhaud and Ottorino Respighi, and toured with pianist-composer Robert Casadesus, performing the sonatas of Claude Debussy and Cesar Franck.
At his peak, he set a whirlwind pace, flying from Europe to America for performances with most of the world’s symphony orchestras. By 1974, he had performed 84 times in 24 seasons with the New York Philharmonic, 68 appearances in 16 seasons with the Philadelphia Orchestra, 30 in 15 seasons with the Pittsburgh and 19 in seven seasons with the Los Angeles orchestras.
His conductors included Bruno Walter, Herbert von Karajan, Seiji Ozawa, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Pierre Boulez.
For many years he maintained homes in La Ciotat and New York City but by the late 1970s had curtailed his travel in deference to his advancing years. He also worked out regularly, ate lightly and slept as long as he could.
“To play an instrument with a bow and to keep the sound beautiful is so difficult after 70,” he said in 1974.