My father-in-law Joe was stationed in London during World War II. On a cold and rainy night in 1945, he had the good fortune to hear Jascha Heifetz play a special concert for the troops. I know this only because my son recently found a letter Joe wrote to his then-fiancé. I’d been married just a year when we lost Joe, so I never had the chance to hear this story from him personally. I’m so glad he wrote the letter, which began simply with…
"On a bare stage, dressed like a G.I., Heifetz played the audience into a reverie. No need to be a musician to realize how brilliantly he played. The lyric flow of the arm and the bow, the delicate way his fingers danced over the strings – both were of a visual beauty apart from the gorgeous sound he produced."
According to the letter, the program started with The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the Queen. Heifetz then spoke to the audience: "My first selection will be Bach’s unaccompanied Preludio in E Major. This piece is like spinach. You may not like it, but it is good for you."
Following the Bach, Heifetz played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Tchaikovsky’s Melodie, A. Benjamin’s Jamaican Rhumba, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Hymn to the Sun, V. Herbert’s A la valse, and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen.
If that weren’t enough, his encores were Bach’s Air on the G String, Tchaikovsky’s Intermezzo, Dinicu’s Hora Staccato (which Heifetz jokingly referred to as the "Horror Staccato"), and Schubert’s Ave Maria.
While some of this music is unaccompanied, other pieces clearly are not. There is no mention in the letter of a pianist. I suspect there was none. There is just the reference to Heifetz entering on a bare stage. Whether he was alone or part of a duo, there is no question that his music made an impact on young G.I. Joe.
"In the midst of these atrocities, hearing this wonderful artist play this glorious music was a blessed reprieve."
My father-in-law’s letter ended simply with...
"Bravo, Jascha, bravo."
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