Tribute to the Irving Berlin-Jascha Heifetz 'White Christmas'

December 14, 2016, 11:27 PM ·

I admit to being somewhat of a Heifetz junkie. I think it was Itzhak Perlman who stated that Heifetz is the first violinist that all budding and aspiring violinists recognize aurally. Well perhaps that was in the old days…now I see many students who don’t know Heifetz or can’t be bothered to listen to performances of artists from yesteryear or only watch videos.

That was not the case for many of us. I cherished every lp, cassette and CD that I ever got. I could name the pieces on the CD’s and tried to absorb every nuance. Of course at the end of the day, I was never going to reach the heights of a Milstein, or a Heifetz…but it was sure exciting listening to them again and again.

I grew up in London, where my father worked next door to RCA. He made friends with some of the people there and managed to buy many of the Heifetz lp’s that I listened to again and again. I thought I knew the discography pretty well when in 1988, two CD’s came out from MCA. I didn’t think of MCA as a classical recording company but they were able to reissue some long out of print Heifetz recordings that he made for Decca. I was thrilled to hear these performances. The two discs were separated into one of traditional encore type pieces and the second had a more American bent to it. Hexapoda Suite by Bennett, Gershwin Porgy and Bess Suite and at the very end an orchestral version of White Christmas with Heifetz as the soloist.

The Strad Magazine even had a yellow flexidisc insert that featured White Christmas and Grasse’s Waves at Play. Looking at the flexidisc it is amusing that they have printed on it that the recordings are available on CD and Cassette tape....but not LP

It was a glorious recording with a sticky orchestra in the background that might have been a little too much big band for my liking. In the middle section where the horns blared, I always imagined it was the theme from the Honeymooners! I noted with some lament that there was no arrangement available on the back of the Carl Fisher Heifetz arrangements that I had carefully been collecting.

Fast forward a number years. I was working for Zera Musicland in Fairfield, CT and noticed that Carl Fischer was preparing a volume of unpublished Heifetz transcriptions. I was indeed overjoyed and excited. I asked our agent to find out what was to be included and in the fax (yes FAX) that came back I saw that White Christmas was to be included. I was excited but also understood the vagaries of the music publishing business. It was highly unlikely that CF was going to pay the rights to the Irving Berlin estate and whatever fee the printing giant Hal Leonard would want. When the book was finally released it came as no surprise that White Christmas was absent. Maybe one day…..

The world became a very small place in the span of a decade. A friend of mine found online a hand written copy of a Heifetz arrangement of White Christmas. I believe the original is stored at the Library of Congress so that scholars can study the works of Heifetz. I was ecstatic till I read it. It was quite different and much more adventuresome in its modulations. This was a piece that was obviously dear to Heifetz and he had arranged it and then decided to revise his arrangement. In the intervening years he had moved away from that original version and now had something that was far more exotic.

I had this version put into music notation software and pondered its meaning to me as a violinist. It just did not satisfy my youthful wish.

It's now 2016 and I have been doing my fair share of arranging. Usually it is for groups that I play with or pieces that I have admired and decide to perform. I knew that the only way to get this done would be to do it the old fashioned way: write it out myself. So I took out the original vocal sheet music and wrote out a basic structure of what was going on in the recording. Then I sat and listened again and again and again until I had what I thought was a pretty good reduction of the orchestral recording. I took that and I inserted some of the ideas Heifetz had used in the hand written score from 1979.

My goal was not necessarily a slavish exact copy but somewhere between homage and an arrangement that fit my own tastes. When I had written it out to my satisfaction, I started showing it to pianists. Any pianist who was willing to take the time to read what I had put on paper I am eternally grateful to (and yes you all will get lunch soon enough).

Then I began to work with my friend pianist and composer Barbara Mayer. We sat and played it section by section till we fixed all the little things that we could. Sometimes we added notes….sometimes we subtracted notes. I am ever mindful of Ayke Agus’ book and discussion regarding how Heifetz worked on his arrangements. It was becoming more and more obvious with each and every time through that what I was doing was never going to be what Heifetz would have done but in a way it was a gift to be able to revisit this small period of my youth where the wonder of a new piece was like the opening of a present on Christmas morning.

It has been a labor of love and something that I hope brings you as much joy as it has me.

Happy Holidays

You might also like:


December 15, 2016 at 05:53 AM · What a nice vibrato you have Darwin! Nice arrangement, and nice video. I'll ask what I'm sure a lot of people will want to know: Are you making your version available to the public; can we download it it and/or purchase it somewhere?

December 15, 2016 at 02:56 PM · thanks Laurie. I have admired your work here and in Strings Magazine so it is indeed a pleasure to hear from you! I have not really thought about that and admittedly this version is not yet been put into musical notation software. Once I have done so I will figure out what I wish to do with it. But YOU will be the first to know! Happy Holidays!

December 15, 2016 at 03:33 PM · Do keep us up to date about it, thank you for sharing your arrangement!

December 15, 2016 at 03:51 PM · bravo!

December 15, 2016 at 11:03 PM · Wow that was nicely played. And you sure do look dapper in that white jacket.

December 15, 2016 at 11:55 PM · Wonderful! Thank you for your post and the video. Happy Holidays!

December 16, 2016 at 01:45 AM · A really great rendition!!

December 18, 2016 at 11:16 AM · I can only guess at the hours you put into your arrangement. Your love shows. Perhaps it was the camera angle, but your violin looks smaller than 4/4. I'm sure it's not, right? Beautifully arranged and performed. I hope you can offer it for sale by next Christmas

December 18, 2016 at 01:25 PM · That was lovely! Thank you! :D

December 19, 2016 at 05:32 PM · What a beautiful rendition! Your passion, musical integrity, and love of Heifetz are inspiring. I hope your holidays are magical Darwin. Looking forward to more of your work. ~ Veronica

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine