My interest was piqued when I read a Daily Chronicle article
recently by Drew Zimmerman about Daniel Biss, who was running
for governor, and his grandparents, Dr. Kurt Biss and Madame
Raya Garbousova, who lived in DeKalb. I have been in their former
home at 524 W. Lincoln Highway and admired the spacious rooms,
tall windows that let in so much light, and even the underground
garage that cars entered from the side yard.
Then last week, The Midweek had a historical tidbit about
famed cellist Garbousova being a featured soloist with the Northern
Symphony Orchestra 50 years ago.
Being an intrepid journalist, I found their younger son,
Paul, in Boston, with the help of Zimmerman. Paul was most cooperative
in telling their life stories, and what a tale.
Biss and his family, being Jews, had to flee from the Nazis
in Vienna, Austria, in 1938, before he had completed his college
education. They settled in Basel, Switzerland, for a while, and
he completed his medical degree in 1939. With the help of a distant
relative, he emigrated to America, landing in Chicago at Michael
Reese Hospital. Then, wanting to open a private practice, he
visited DeKalb, found it a desirable location, and eventually
became one of the three physicians who founded the DeKalb Clinic.
His first wife had passed away in 1946, when Paul was only
a year and a half old. A patron of the arts
Madame Raya Garbousova and husband Dr. Kurt Biss (Photo
provided by Paul Biss)The headstone of Madame Garbousova at Oakwood Cemetery
here, Biss attended a concert at NIU where the renowned Garbousova
was the guest soloist, while touring the country to perform with
symphony orchestras. It must have been love at first sight
Paul cant remember since he was a toddler, but a year and
a half later they married and she relocated to DeKalb. She became
their second mother and devoted herself to raising the children,
while still performing and teaching music at NIU.
She and her sister had left their native Russia because
Jews also were being mistreated there. She had begun piano lessons
at the age of 4, then became fond of the cello at age 6, launching
a career that brought her worldwide acclaim. She played with
some greats, including Pablo Casals, Arthur Rubinstein and Jascha
Heifetz, as well as sharing her talent with Albert Einstein,
who played the violin with her privately and became a devoted
fan of hers.
How serendipitous that she and Biss met here, just after
the war ended, and married in 1949. Her first husband had died
fighting with the French Resistance in 1943. She came to America
and became a U.S. citizen in 1946. Both she and Biss contributed
so much to the medical, cultural and social life of the community.
When she died in 1997, she was laid to rest in the far
southwest corner of Oakwood Cemetery behind the Congregational
Church. Local historian Steve Bigolin showed us her headstone
during a cemetery walk several years ago. But I always wondered
where her husband was buried when he died in 2003. His son, Paul,
cleared that up, explaining that Biss wanted to be cremated and
By the way, both their sons are accomplished musicians.
Paul graduated from Indiana University in music, then got his
masters at Juilliard in New York City. He taught for 25
years at Indiana, in addition to teaching at Tel Aviv University,
MIT, and Stearns Institute as part of the Ravinia Festival. At
one time he was concertmaster of the Akron (Ohio) Symphony. His
wife also is an accomplished violinist.
His brother, Gregory, is a pianist and composer. His works
have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Denver Symphony
and NIUs Vermeer Quartet. Gregory recently retired from
a career as a commercial scuba diver and lives in Eastport, Maine.
Raya Garbousova Papers, 1894-1991
Kay Shelton tipped me off to this collection now at the
Founders Memorial Library. She emailed me after this column appeared
in the Chronicle: FYI: Gregory Biss donated his mother's
collection of music to the NIU Libraries Special Collections.
The materials include her personal notations and bowings. The
bowings are of critical importance to cellists.
Brief Description: Materials in
this collection are primarily published musical scores for the
cello previously accumulated and owned by Raya Garbousova. Some
music manuscripts are in an unpublished form. They represent
an extensive collection of music for cello performance along
with some exercises for the cello. There is a particular emphasis
on works for solo cello and cello with piano accompaniment. Many
items have Ms. Garbousovas annotations and cello bowings.
There are a small number of ephemeral materials related to the