In Memoriam: Eudice Shapiro

The renowned violinist taught at the USC Thornton School of Music for 50 years and paved the way for other women in her field.
By Ljiljana Grubisic and Jill Blackledge
While at USC, Shapiro taught alongside musical greats such as Gregor Pitaigorsky and Jascha Heifetz.

Eudice Shapiro, an internationally known violinist, chamber musician, recording artist and teacher who had been on the faculty of the USC Thornton School of Music since 1956, died Sept. 17. She was 93.

Shapiro was as an important influence at the school, overseeing many years of students’ strings education, in addition to being an integral part of the musical scene in Los Angeles.

“Eudice not only reflected the musical culture of L.A. but was also at the forefront of creating its unique musical personality,” said Dean Robert Cutietta.

Shapiro celebrated the 50th anniversary of her appointment to USC in September 2006 at which time the city of Los Angeles recognized her artistic contributions and designated her as the city’s cultural treasure.

Shapiro created her own legacy on the violin. Born in 1914, she began studying violin with her father when she was five, winning her first prize at 10 and beginning her solo career with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at age 12. She would go on to study at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., under Gustave Tinlot and the Curtis Institute with Efrem Zimbalist.

Shapiro moved to Los Angeles in 1941 when it was particularly difficult for a woman musician to find work.

“Eudice Shapiro was a pioneer in many ways and set a new path that one could follow. She exemplified elegance within the strongest of the characters and her presence and art opened doors in countless ways,” said her colleague Midori Goto, the chair of the USC Thornton’s strings department.

After settling in Los Angeles, Shapiro began working for the Hollywood studio system, playing for Paramount, United Artists and RKO. She remained in the system for 23 years, becoming the first female concertmaster in a studio orchestra at RKO, an appointment that led to new opportunities for other female musicians. In addition to performing with studio orchestras, Shapiro also played with the American Art Quartet, which included Robert Sushel, Virginia Majewski and Shapiro’s first husband, Victor Gottlieb, who passed away in 1963.

Since 1956 when she joined the faculty at USC, Shapiro was overseeing students who would later move on to play in many prominent orchestras and serve on college faculties. In addition, she got to teach alongside other great musicians, including Ingolf Dahl, Gregor Pitaigorsky, William Primrose and Jascha Heifetz.

During her career, Shapiro appeared as orchestra soloist under Eugene Goossens, Fritz Reiner, William Steinberg, Josef Rosensock, Igor Stravinsky and Izler Solomon, and in chamber performances with Arthur Schnabel, Bruno Walter, Lili Kraus, Rudolf Firkusny, Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, Zara Neslova, Darius Milhaud, Leonard Pennaro and Vivian Rivkin.

She also appeared in festivals across the country and in Canada, in addition to teaching every summer for 17 years at the music festivals in Aspen, Colo., and Flagstaff, Ariz. She also was an artist-in-residence at the Manchester Music Festival in Vermont.

Shapiro was very much in demand as a performer in Los Angeles as well. She came into contact with many Los Angeles composers and often helped premiere their new works. These connections also helped procure jobs that normally would have been harder for a woman to obtain, such as becoming RKO’s concertmaster.

While Shapiro earned praise for her studio work, she was also known for a commitment to modern composers, introducing their music to her students. She earlier said in an interview, “I was always interested in American music and in people that I knew who were composers.” She said her interest in modern music stemmed from the fact that many students had not been previously exposed to it.

Shapiro premiered works by, among many others, Aaron Copland, Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky, with whom she developed a close friendship. She brought her interest in contemporary music to Los Angeles by developing concerts and organizations, including the first Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Monday Evening Concert series. Its predecessor, Evenings on the Roof, began in 1939 and showcased modern composers, playing at different venues around the city. The series developed into Monday Evening Concerts, which also lent many of its musicians to the Ojai festivals.

It was the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, though, that helped introduce Shapiro to Stravinsky. In order to keep from competing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chamber Orchestra asked composers to conduct. Shapiro first met Stravinsky when he conducted her, and over time they became great friends, often rehearsing together.

Shapiro’s recordings are on the Columbia Masterworks, Crystal Records, Vanguard and New World labels. Last November, Crystal Records reissued one of her recordings, which includes eight of Stravinsky’s pieces and one work by Lukas Foss, with Shapiro accompanied by the American Art Quartet and Brooks Smith on the piano.

Shapiro is survived by son Larry Gottlieb, daughter-in-law Kathleen, grandson Luke and brother Heschel Shapiro and his wife Shirley.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Eudice Shapiro Endowed Violin Scholarship at the USC Thornton School of Music.