The world famous violinist Jascha Heifetz could this year have been celebrating his 110 years anniversary.
Jascha Heifetz February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1901 – December 10, 1987) was a violinist, born in Vilnius, then Russian Empire, now Lithuania. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time.
Heifetz was born into a Jewish family in Vilnius, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. His father, Reuven Heifetz, son of Elie, was a local violin teacher and served as the concertmaster of the Vilnius Theatre Orchestra for one season before the theatre closed down. Jascha took up the violin when he was three years old and his father was his first teacher. At five he started lessons with Ilya D. Malkin, a former pupil of Leopold Auer. He was a child prodigy, making his public debut at seven, in Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania) playing theViolin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn. In 1910 he entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory to study under Leopold Auer himself.
He played in Germany and Scandinavia, and met Fritz Kreisler for the first time in a Berlin private house together with other noted violinists in attendance. Kreisler, after accompanying the 12-year-old Heifetz at the piano in a performance of the Mendelssohn concerto, said to all present, “We may as well break our fiddles across our knees.” Heifetz visited much of Europe while still in his teens. In April 1911, Heifetz performed in an outdoor concert in St. Petersburg before 25,000 spectators; there was such a sensational reaction that police officers needed to protect the young violinist after the concert. In 1914, Heifetz performed with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Arthur Nikisch. The conductor was very impressed, saying he had never heard such an excellent violinist.
Heifetz and his family left Russia in 1917, traveling by rail to the Russian far east and thence by ship to the United States, arriving in San Francisco.
On October 27, 1917, Heifetz played for the first time in the United States, at Carnegie Hall in New York, and became an immediate sensation. Fellow violinist Mischa Elman in the audience asked “Do you think it’s hot in here?”, whereupon Leopold Godowsky, in the next seat, imperturbably replied, “Not for pianists.” The reviews by the New York critics were rapturous.
In 1917, Heifetz was elected as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national fraternity for men in music, by the fraternity’s Alpha chapter at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. As he was aged 16 at the time, he was perhaps the youngest person ever elected to membership in the organization. Heifetz remained in the country and became an American citizen in 1925. When he told admirer Groucho Marx he had been earning his living as a musician since the age of seven, Groucho answered, “And I suppose before that you were just a bum.”
Technique and timbre
Heifetz is considered to be one of the finest violinists of all time. Heifetz’s technical command of his instrument — his physical ability to play the violin with stunning precision — is regarded by many critics as unequaled. That physical control enabled Heifetz to produce a distinctive tone quality, intense and shimmering, that came to be regarded as his trademark. Yet, from time to time his near-perfect technique and conservative stage demeanor caused some critics to accuse him of being overly mechanical, even cold. Virgil Thomson called Heifetz’s style of playing “silk underwear music”, a term he did not intend as a compliment. Other critics argue that he infused his playing with feeling and reverence for the composers’ intentions. His style of playing was highly influential in defining the way modern violinists approach the instrument. His use of rapid vibrato, emotionally charged portamento, fast tempos, and superb bow control coalesced to create a highly distinctive sound that make Heifetz’s playing instantly recognizable to aficionados
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. The violinist Itzhak Perlman, who himself is noted for his rich warm tone and expressive use of portamento, describes Heifetz’s tone as like “a tornado” because of its emotional intensity. Perlman also said that Heifetz preferred to be recorded relatively close to the microphone; as a result, one would perceive a somewhat different tone quality when listening to Heifetz during a concert hall performance as opposed to a recording.
Memorial Tablet in Vilnius Center, foto Henning Høholt
In creating his sound, Heifetz was very particular about his choice of strings. He used a silver wound Tricolore gut g-string, plain gut unvarnished D and A strings, and a Goldbrokat steel E string medium including clear Hill brand rosin sparingly. Heifetz believed that playing on gut strings was important in rendering an individual sound.
From the official home page
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More than a century after his public debut, the name Jascha Heifetz continues to evoke awe and excitement among fellow musicians. In a performing career that spanned 65 years, he established an unparalleled standard of violin playing to which violinists around the world still aspire.
The day after the 19-year-old Heifetz’s London debut, George Bernard Shaw wrote him a now legendary letter. “If you provoke a jealous God by playing with such superhuman perfection,” Shaw warned, “you will die young. I earnestly advise you to play something badly every night before going to bed, instead of saying your prayers. No mortal should presume to play so faultlessly.”
Heifetz is widely considered to be one of the most profoundly influential performing artists of all time. Born in Vilna, Russia on February 2, 1901, he became a U.S. citizen in 1925. Fiercely patriotic to his adopted country, he gave hundreds of concerts for Allied service men and women during World War II, including tours of Central and South America, North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany, often playing from the back of a flatbed truck in dangerous conditions.
In 1928, he published the first of dozens of acclaimed violin transcriptions. Many, including his arrangements of selections from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” are now part of the standard repertoire. Using the pseudonym Jim Hoyl, he even wrote a pop song that became a hit in 1946.
In his later years, Heifetz became a dedicated teacher and a champion of causes he believed in
. He led efforts to establish “911” as an emergency phone number, and crusaded for clean air. He and his students at the University of Southern California protested smog by wearing gas masks, and in 1967 he converted his Renault passenger car into an electric vehicle.
As a result of his vast recorded legacy, Heifetz’s violin playing is no less influential today than it was in his lifetime. To legions of violinists he remains, quite simply, “The King.”
Jascha Heifetz plays Paganini Caprice No. 24: