Paul Doktor was born in Vienna in 1917 to singer-pianist Georgine and Karl Doktor, violist and co-founder of the celebrated Adolf Busch String Quartet. At the age of five, he began violin studies with his father, and received his diploma from the State Academy of Music in 1938. While still in his teens, he toured as a violinist with the Adolf Busch Chamber Orchestra, but the youthful player’s mastery of the viola came to the fore when, at a few days’ notice, he was asked to stand in for the ailing second violist in a performance of the Mendelssohn Quintet with the Busch Quartet. His achievement was so remarkable that he was invited to join the Busch in presenting a series of Mozart quintets at London’s Wigmore Hall. From then on, Paul Doktor stuck to the instrument fate had chosen for him, and became the first violist ever to be awarded unanimously the First Prize at the International Music Competition in Geneva. He left Vienna in 1938 and from 1939 to 1947 was principal with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra. He moved to the USA in 1947 and became a citizen in 1952.
His American debut at the Library of Congress in Washington DC was certainly auspicious: “Not for many years has so competent a master of the viola been heard in American concert halls”, commented the Washington Post. From then on, he appeared widely as recitalist, soloist with orchestras and as a chamber musician. Doktor was equally at home in the baroque, classical and modern repertoires. With Yaltah Menuhin, he introduced to American audiences a Concerto for Viola, Piano & Orchestra by J.C.F. Bach, which he had discovered in Paris. He gave the world premiere of Quincy Porter’s Concerto for Viola & Orchestra at the Columbia University American Music Festival and recorded Walter Piston’s Viola Concerto with the Louisville Orchestra for their First Edition Record series. He also played the BBC premiere of Wilfred Josephs’ concertante (“Mediatio di Beornmundo”), which he repeated for its American premiere in New York.
In addition to his solo career, Doktor was a founder-member of the Rococo Ensemble, the New York String Sextet, The New String Trio of New York, with whom he recorded the Max Reger and Frank Martin string trios, and the Duo Doktor-Menuhin. Extensive tours took the Duo all over the USA and Alaska. They also joined forces in making four television films about the viola for the National Educational Network; these comprise rarely performed music by Marais, Stamitz, Telemann, Dittersdorf, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Hummel, Berlioz, Brahms and Flackton, many of which were edited by him. Paul was often joined by Yaltah in demonstration lectures and string seminars at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Missouri.
When not performing, he was a faculty member at the Juilliard School, The Mannes College of Music and New York University. He also taught at the Philadelphia Musical Academy and Farleigh Dickinson University and was a guest professor at the Montreal Conservatory. In appreciation of his diverse educational activities, he was recipient of the 1977 Artist-Teacher of the Year award, presented annually by the American String Teachers Association to one outstanding contributor to string pedagogy in the world.
Paul Doktor died in New York City on 21 June 1989.