The Guarneri String Quartet's first violinist details his six-decade romance with the instrument.

The Guarneri String Quartet's first violinist details his six-decade romance with the instrument.

Steinhardt (Indivisible by Four, 1998) begins with a dream, or rather a nightmare, comically illustrating his fear that he doesn't know enough about the violin, even though he has devoted his life to it.

This passage also introduces readers to Bach's Chaconne, the last movement of the D Minor Partita, often played as a violin solo. This piece, we later learn, inspired the author to become a violinist and has haunted him for most of his performing career.

As he relates his path from awestruck child to conservatory student to touring performer, the Chaconne makes several appearances; each time, Steinhardt is able to use events in his life to gain new insight into the work, culminating with a breathtaking performance in an unlikely and exhilarating natural concert hall.

The author provides an inside look at the demanding and tenuous life of a professional musician: hours of daily practice, chasing the dream of buying the perfect violin, the threat of a seemingly minor but career-ending injury always in the back of the mind. But Steinhardt merely narrates this tale. Its protagonists are the violins that enter and leave his life as he searches for the one instrument that will produce the sound he has spent a lifetime developing.

He refers to his wife and children only a few times, usually in passing, while the markings, provenance and sound of the various violins fill paragraphs. Steinhardt's passion is undeniably contagious; even the uninitiated will savor the technical sections for their revelations about the relationship between career performer and instrument.

By the final chapter, readers may find themselves searching for used violins—or at least for recordings of Bach by some of the legendary artists Steinhardt invokes.

A backstage pass to the life of an accomplished solo and ensemble musician, held together by sheer love of music.