The Polish-born American violinist and pedagogue, Roman Totenberg, was born in a Jewish family, the son of Slanislava (Vinaver) and Adam Totenberg. He was a child prodigy, studied with Michalowicz in Warsaw, and made his debut at the age of 12 as soloist with the Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in 1923. He was also awarded the gold medal at the Chopin Conservatory/Warsaw and continued his studies with Carl Flesch in Berlin, where he won the International Mendelssohn Prize in 1931, and later with George Enescu and Pierre Monteux in Paris.
Roman Totenberg made both his British debut in London and his American debut in New York in 1935. He toured South America with Arthur Rubinstein, and gave joint recitals with Karol Szymanowski. He gave many concerts comprising the complete cycle of L.v. Beethoven sonatas and all J.S. Bachís Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046-1051). His diversified repertoire included more than thirty concerti. Among the many contemporary works he introduced are the Darius Milhaudís Violin Concerto No. 2, the William Schumanís Concerto, and the Krzysztof Pendereckiís Capriccio. He also premiered Paul Hindemith's Sonata in E (1935), the Samuel Barberís Concerto (new version) and the Bohuslav Martinůís Sonata, as well as giving the American premiere of Arthur Honegger's Sonate for violin solo. Under the patronage of the eminent violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Roman Totenberg along with pianist Adolph Baller and cellist Gabor Rejto formed the Alma Trio in 1942-1943 at Yehudi Menuhin's Alma estate in California.
Roman Totenberg appeared with numerous American orchestras including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and National Symphony Orchestra (Washington). In Europe he performed with all major orchestras such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam and Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. He performed with such a great conductors as Grzegorz Fitelberg, Vladimir Golschmann, Eugen Jochum, Krenz, Rafael Kubelík, Pierre Monteux, Witold Rudziński, Witold Rowicki, Steinberg, Leopold Stokowskii, Szell, and Antoni Wit. In recital he appeared at the White House, Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in every major American and European city. He was featured with the most important music festivals of the world, notably at Salzburg's Mozarteum, the Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Center, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival, and at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara where he became chairman of the string department in 1947.
Beside his concert activities, Roman Totenberg held the position of Professor of Music at Boston University, where he headed the String Department from 1961 to 1978. He has also taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the Music Academy of the West, the Aspen School of Music, the Mannes College of Music, and at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was the Director from 1978 to 1985. Notables whom he taught include: Yevgeny Kutik, Mira Wang, Daniel Han, Rachel Vetter Huang, Na Sun, and Ikuko Mizuno, and Mari Kimura.
In 2000 Roman Totenberg was awarded Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. In 1983 he was named Artist Teacher of the Year by the American String Teachers Association and in April 2007 he was honored with the New England String Ensemble's Muses & Mentors Award for his great artistry and significant contributions to string education. In 1988 he was awarded the highest Medal of Merit by the Polish Government for his lifelong contributions to Polish society.
Roman Totenberg was the father of National Public Radio journalist Nina Totenberg, judge Amy Totenberg, and business woman Jill Totenberg. His wife, Melanie (Shroder) Totenberg (1917-1996), acted as business manager for her husband for 50 years.
Roman Totenberg recorded under various labels including Muza, Deutsche Grammophon, Telefunken, Philips, Da Camera, Musical Heritage Society, Vanguard, Titanic and VQR. Recordings also appeared on Heliodor, Dover, and Remington label.