Heifetz-bad Euro pean reviews?

March 13, 2007 at 04:24 AM · Greetings,

just bene reading interviews with cellists and came across the following:

Do you have any idea why Piatigorsky is not mentioned as much as other cellists of his time?

>DM: After World War II Piatigorsky performed less and less, which probably has a lot to do with it. Both, he and Jascha Heifetz had toured Europe and received very bad reviews. Finally, they both refused to perform in Europe, which means they lost the entire European market. From then on Piatigorsky became so disgusted that he just played with Heifetz in the famous Heifetz-Piatigorsky concerts in Hollywood. After a while, he started playing a lot of chamber music and began concertizing, but not as much as before the war. His career lost a lot of momentum

Does anyone have any perosnal knowledge/experience or thoughts about this?

What kind of bad reviews did he get? Who from? Why? etc.

Nogt interested in dissing anyone. Just curious.





Replies (101)

March 13, 2007 at 06:47 AM · Well, Heifetz didn't stop touring Europe :)

He was in Sweden quite a lot, and other countries to, but it is true about the reviews. Many of the more techinique oriented voilinist had a tough time in europe after wii. Kubelik was dead and even Prihoda had a hard time.

There was a lot of other violinist that got favoured before Heifetz in europe, Milstein, Menuhin, Oistrakh, Bobesco, the young Ferras, Francescatti, Gertler and so on.

Later on, during the late 50's even Milstein got bad reviews for being to technique oriented.

March 13, 2007 at 11:54 AM · All I can say is that Europe lost out on a beautiful thing. Heifetz perfect technique probably was too much for them!

March 13, 2007 at 01:38 PM · "too much for them..." it's called different taste, Rick. Nothing against Heifetz at all, but he sounds like a very "American" violinist to me, being very precise and rigorous. (Szigeti is the other end of the spectrum, and firmly planted on the other side of the Atlantic. :))

March 13, 2007 at 02:26 PM · Well, Heifetz didn't stop touring Europe. A family friend (Professor Konig in Germany) saw Heifetz numerous times during the 60's and 70's play in Zurich and France amongst other places. I never really heard about these bad reviews.

March 13, 2007 at 03:06 PM · I say the following not to start an argument, but rather to allow another opinion (mine) to be included here:

When someone characterises Heifetz or Milstein as "a technique oriented violinist" I view it as other than "different taste". This characterisation reveals a failure of perception on the listener's part, similar to that of someone who, looking at a Rembrandt portrait and completely missing the profundity and depth of expression, damns it with faint praise, saying: "He had tremendous brush technnique".

March 13, 2007 at 03:16 PM · for the record I did not intend to damn Heifetz with faint praise....but apparently once again my foot is in my mouth.

March 13, 2007 at 03:48 PM · Hi...Mattias

Did you get my email i sent few weeks ago?

anyway, Heifetz would not care what they say about him...technique oriented or not.

Nobody should.

Music is music...but your level of playing has to do with technique oriented...^^

Eun Hwan

March 13, 2007 at 04:32 PM · Having lived from the mid-70’s to the mid-90’s in Europe, I really can’t remember "echoes" of especially bad critics or critical gossip about Heifetz, and absolutely not about Milstein.

It’s not bad to remember that the 70’s and early 80’s, at least in Europe, were a kind of violinistic “dark Middle Age”… To be labeled a “virtuoso” was rather bad news, and I can also remember a certain negative bias in critics of violinists like Rosand, Ricci and Accardo (only as an example) “because they (can) play Paganini & such stuff”…

Regarding Heifetz, I think much has to do w/ his refusal/unwillingness to play in Germany, one of the biggest European markets. Another issue was that the RCA LP’s were all US imports, expensive and difficult to get in Europe. The advent of the CD, all the reissues and the globalization of the record market did a lot to “recreate” Heifetz’s fame as it is today.

March 13, 2007 at 06:37 PM · Dr Bai - No, no email. Please try again!

March 13, 2007 at 08:17 PM · Claudio, I don't believe Heifetz was the only artist to boycott going to Germany. Stern did for many years too.

March 13, 2007 at 08:46 PM · I'll go with that Oliver.

March 13, 2007 at 08:43 PM · A violinist whose performances are so controlled that they lack spontaneity, and whose interpretive style does not vary significantly between composers, might fairly be termed "technique oriented."

Neither Heifetz nor Milstein was guilty of either flaw. It was their relatively suave approaches and lack of stage gymnastics that fueled the (mis)-perception that they were "technique-oriented."

March 13, 2007 at 10:14 PM · Nate, for instance a lot of people did boycott Germany after WWII. I've only made the remark because it can be one of the reasons for JH's reduced popularity in Europe through the 70's.

March 13, 2007 at 11:08 PM · Greetings,

I suppos eone thing to keep in mind is that Heifetz retired relatively early from the big solo stuff although he did really push chamber music into the limelight. Thus if would be quite hard to suggest Heifetz had a reduced career in the `70s or even the 60`s at least as far as live concerts are concerned.



March 13, 2007 at 11:33 PM · Dear...Mattias

Can you send me yours to

baieun@hotmail.com ?


Eun Hwan

March 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM ·

March 14, 2007 at 09:23 PM · I think Heifetz went even so far as to threaten one local critic in New York - Virgil Thompson who called his style "silk underwear music" - with legal action, so apparently he ~did~ care what people thought, and he also hired PR agents. And after the war, when he changed his billing to just 'Heifetz', he was out to establish himself as the world's no. 1.

I've also seen Francescatti described as "Europe's answer to Heifetz", suggesting a clear distinction.

March 14, 2007 at 11:27 PM · Virgil Thompson wasn't just a critic, though. That's a really below-the-belt assault, and coming from one of most respected composers of that generation it's pretty destructive. Not just a case of "local reviewer vents personal frustrations at expense of visiting violinist."

March 15, 2007 at 02:12 AM · Greetings,

whta I have just found that interests me is the Wikipedia entry for Jascha Heifetz. Wikipedia is fascinatingg becaus e it appears to be aglobally cooperative work with a self correcting mechanism rather like the original Unix .

AS it currently stands there is the following

There is very little factual basis for this claim as far a si know and the see below point suggests a tangible connection between this injury and the shoulder problme which I think is false. Nor did Heifetz use that high a bow arm as has been noted on this forum recently.

Haivng seen photos in which he is struck on the forearm, and heard many discussions about his `shoulder problems` and opertaion I cannot see why this was written. It perhaps accounts for the recent influx of requests for clarification about the attack that put Heifetz out of the busines sthat seems to be springin up lately.

It also says that Kreilse rmad ehis famous comment about breaking fiddle swhne Heifetz was 12 in Berlin. I think this is wrong. It was, as far as i know, a private part in America when Heifetz wa s sixteen or seventeen.

Perhaps someone like Sherry Kloss could say something aboutt his and request Wikipedia update its information.



March 15, 2007 at 03:40 AM · Well I assume he refused to play in the Soviet Union as well, along with some of the other musicians mentioned. I don't know how much is considered Europe as opposed to Eurasia, but combined with Germany you are left with considerably less area and audience. Erick Friedman also met considerable opposition in the Soviet Union, particularly at the Tchaikovsky competition, because of his strong affiliation with Heifetz, who urged him not to go there.

I believe Kreisler said that after he accompanied Heifetz for the Mendelssohn concerto on the piano at a party following one of Heifetz's premieres.

March 15, 2007 at 03:46 AM · Thompson's comment has been discussed here a couple of times. He respesents an extreme version of a fairly common critical view of Heifetz -- that, as the NY Times commented in reviewing the Heifetz Collection in 1976, "there was always less to be said musically." Thompson's criticisms of Heifetz's Mozart and and (I think) Bach, are particularly brutal. But they are typcial of a common theme.

In spite of what's been said on this forum a few times recently, very few people liked Heifetz's Bach (I remember a well known violinist telling me once that "no one" liked it but that's an exaggertion). That and his Mozart were considered superficial and shmaltzy. And many people complanied that the Bach lacked the fluidity of a Szerying, say (I'd argue that's somewhat true and function of his high shoulder and inability to play comfortably at the frog, but we'll leave that one). You may not agree, but that is what many crtics said and Thompson is probably the flag bearer for these people.

Thompson was much nicer to Milstein, by the way.

As for what Heifetz thought of this...well I think there is a place in "Heifetz as I Knew Him" where the author relates that Heifetz complained that he was "the worst marketed violinist in history"or something like that. So he wasn't happy about something.


March 15, 2007 at 04:01 AM · Brian, yes, and according to what I read, Kreisler didn't have the sheet music. I want that CD!

March 15, 2007 at 04:06 AM · Greetings,

>In spite of what's been said on this forum a few times recently, very few people liked Heifetz's Bach (I remember a well known violinist telling me once that "no one" liked it but that's an exaggertion).

How does anyone know this?

What Bach? I have heard very intelligent muscians express admiration for his Chacconne which he performed thorughout his life and he wa snever a fool about what people were and were not enjoying. Perhaps that wa s an example of one piece of Bach that an awful lot of people did/do like.

>That and his Mozart were considered superficial and shmaltzy.

Says who?

I`m not in to thoughless adulation of Heifetz these days but this seems more inaccurate than the comments about Bach. I do not think it is posisble to find a majority of people either then or now who said that about his Mozart. He came to England to play Mozart a number of times and very knowledgeable players and students from the orchestras and colleges in London were absolutely awed. Frankly I would suggest these people were in a minority simply because playing of that quality and thought is neither scmaltzy or superficial.

>And many people complanied that the Bach lacked the fluidity of a Szerying, say (I'd argue that's somewhat true and function of his high shoulder and inability to play comfortably at the frog, but we'll leave that one).

Just too many `many people` and not enough evidence that such was the case for me. I was hoping this threa d wasn`t going to go this way, but then that`s the power of the word `Heifetz` for you.



March 15, 2007 at 12:53 PM · Buri, I agree with you.

How can anyone listen to his recordings of the Mozart 4th & 5th Violin Concertos and not hear the warmth (not to mention the exquisite subtleties)? So maybe he played it the same way over the years, so what. It's what he put into developing that interpretation in the first place that is astonishing.

I think that Virgil Thompson's problem is that he was partial to "Denim Overalls Music" or "Raggedy Bluejeans Music." However, if you've never heard Thompson's Cello Concerto, give it a listen. It is absolutely beautiful. I think there's only one recording of it (Luigi Silva), and I don't think it has been put out on a CD yet.

A few months ago at a family dinner, my brother-in-law played a new CD and asked me to identify the violinist. It was the Chaccone. The performance was great, though a little edgy. For almost a page and a half of it I couldn't figure out who it was (which is unusual for me). Then I realized it was Heifetz. I think we need to listen to Heifetz's Bach through fresh ears.

Cordially, Sandy

March 15, 2007 at 12:52 PM · A decent person would not try to criticize a genius like Heifetz regardless how one thinks a piece should be played. There is a difference between an opinion and criticism. I can't respect a person like Thompson, nor do I value his poor taste. My opinion gang.

March 15, 2007 at 02:11 PM · Who knows, maybe somebody bribed Virgil Thompson to write that, it just seems so illogical. I remember reading the review, he was even critical of how Heifetz played the Strauss Sonata and I believe a Bruch concerto on that program. What a buffoon!

Someone did point out earlier how Heifetz was opposed to the Soviet Union. That is true, he was completely against communism, however he did visit in 1933 to give a concert tour; he played in Moscow and St Petersburg among other major cities.

March 15, 2007 at 02:58 PM · ...maybe Virgil composed something for Jasha, and Jasha did not like the piece, and then, Virgil became nasty, very nasty.

March 15, 2007 at 03:02 PM · I seem to remember reading about a Los Angeles concert in 41 or 42 to benefit the Russian war effort. It was unusual because both Heifetz and Horowitz appeared on the program, although I don`t think they played together.

March 15, 2007 at 03:05 PM · Thomson was very hard on Horowitz also...

March 15, 2007 at 03:05 PM · But Rick, Heifetz's assaults on composers of Thompson's generation (and persistent refusal to champion their music) were considerably more damaging to the music world in general and to those composers than Thompson's (vicious) petty insults were to him.

March 15, 2007 at 03:09 PM · Jude: this is probably the real issue...

March 15, 2007 at 03:08 PM · Heifetz is one of those complex characters. In some ways he was so supreme and likeable, in other ways he was, um, yeah.

You have to read between the lines when it comes to Heifetz criticisms. Many are due to musical preferences, but just as many are due to personality clashes or professional jealousy.

March 15, 2007 at 03:31 PM · "A decent person would not try to criticize a genius like Heifetz regardless how one thinks a piece should be played. There is a difference between an opinion and criticism."

I really do not understand what you are saying here. Are you saying that no decent person would ever say something like "I don't think Heifetz played that the way it should be played" or "I don't like Heifetz's playing"? Since when is someone's taste in violinists a measure of their morality and decency of character? I really hope I've just misunderstood something here.

March 15, 2007 at 03:41 PM · The public use to love those short pieces...in the time of Kreisler, it was the "pop" music and done with great taste...Everybody knows here about my opinion concerning Bach and Mozart as played by Jasha, but as I mentionned before, he and Kreisler were supreme in short pieces...and the recordings of Heifetz in between 1917 and 1924 are incomparable. It is very infortunate that there exist no violinist composer's anymore, since Kreisler past away in 1962...

March 15, 2007 at 03:49 PM ·

Hi Maura (Rick can correct me if I am wrong), I think what Rick meant to get at, more so than anything else, was the way in which Virgil Thompson wrote that review on the Heifetz recital. The review was absolutely vicious, it was not really a critique, it was written more for show. If somebody has it, please post it.

I think your theory Marc is quite plausible. Heifetz probably didn't want to play one of his pieces, and Thompson took it personally. The tone of the review really sounded as if he had a personal vendetta against Heifetz.

Jude wrote, "But Rick, Heifetz's assaults on composers of Thompson's generation (and persistent refusal to champion their music) were considerably more damaging to the music world in general and to those composers than Thompson's (vicious) petty insults were to him."

Korngold, Walton, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Miklos Rosza, Gershwin, Howard Ferguson, Prokofiev among others who's music Heifetz played regularly were all contemporaries of Heifetz and Thompson, were they not? Heifetz did not play pieces from the 2nd Viennese School of composing he preferred playing good music (i.e. music with a tune). I remember the pianist Richard Goode telling me over dinner how he felt all the 2nd Viennese School composers’ works to be mathematics - rather than music! I couldn’t agree with him more.

March 15, 2007 at 04:11 PM · Certainly there were great modern composers Heifetz did not play or champion. Even if he didn't personally like them, how could he not play Bartok or Barber? But, remember, he also went out of his way to play and champion Sibelius and Prokofiev when they were considered too much for modern ears. So, it's a mixed picture. But give the guy a break. He was, after all, only human.


March 15, 2007 at 04:31 PM · It sounds to me Maura you're taking my opinion of something personally. Everyone has the right to their opinion of course, no matter what subject it may be. However, criticizing, finding a fault in something most likely out of jealousy is a form of being vicious, which to me is not decent. By the way I never said Heifetz was a perfect human being, but then again who is. Hey Nate you are on target, thanks for trying to clear things up. Have a good day gang.

March 15, 2007 at 05:07 PM · Huh?

Right, so the only reason I didn't like Heifetz's interpretation of the opening of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky concerto when I heard it on the radio a few weeks ago is....jealousy? And if I say I didn't especially like it, I'm being vicious?

Just a general comment, I've noticed occasionally on this site that some violinists are completely fair game for criticism, while with others, even a mild expression of dislike will get you practically hounded off the site. For example in a few previous discussions I have read some frankly cruel and very dismissive things said about my two favorites, Maxim Vengerov and Joseph Szigeti, but say that Heifetz isn't your favorite and all of a sudden there's a big scandal.

March 15, 2007 at 05:30 PM · Talk to my lawyer.

:) Sandy

Actually, we're getting to be so careful with our language that pretty soon we're going to be calling dead people "organically challenged."

March 15, 2007 at 05:41 PM · No, I would think that would be an opinion on your disapproval of Heifetz's opening. Even if you said I don't care for Heifetz style, but still considered him a great artist would be more opinion that criticism. For example, I'd rather listen to the old masters than current players any day of the week, but I wouldn't criticize any of todays players. Maura your forgetting it is my opinion on a topic, thats all. I know you didn't here no cruel remarks from me about any of the violinist you admire. I am a Heifetz fan and a Szigeti fan too.

March 15, 2007 at 06:25 PM · OK, I guess we just had a little miscommunication--maybe the word "criticize" is different to each of us, I understand it to mean "express a negative opinion," no malice or rudeness necessarily involved.

March 15, 2007 at 07:02 PM · Ok maybe decent was a little harsh of word, will go with Nate's illogical. I'm trying to find the Thompson review about Heifetz, if I locate it I'll post it. Have a good day everyone.

March 15, 2007 at 07:42 PM · Maura ,you are right, about criticizing Heifetz on this site... it is scandalous and some have not been very nice to me...but I forgive, because every comment is important to my point of view and everyone has his or her preferences...I like Szigeti's intelligence more than Heifetz's...

I have been watching Heifetz's videos of his masterclasses and found that no interesting comments are made about music and interpretation...He seemed to be obsessed by technic...And he retired early...

I remember, and Heifetz was alive and knew about that publicity, that during the 70's ,RCA reissued his numerous recordings and it was always written on top ; "The violinist of the century"...I felt sorry for all the others, like Oistrach...do you think that Oistrach would have authorize some publicity about him saying something like the "King of violinists",or Milstein, "The Prince of the bow..." That publicity about Heifetz was like "brainwashing" and it kept going on for years, and years...

I am so grateful to have lived and learned out of the Horowitz and Heifetz influence...thanks to my teachers and parents...

March 15, 2007 at 07:22 PM · I believe that "Professor" Heifetz's approach to his students would be highly direct, blunt, and critical where he found that necessary, and complimentary where he found that warranted. Perhaps the rest of us are allowed the same lattitude. There is something to be learned from both sides, no?

There is one point during one of the famous Heifetz master classes where he is illustrating the kind of sound required in one section of the Chausson Poeme. He says something like it has to be "in the air," and makes a sweeping open gesture with his arms and grimaces briefly. I think that one gesture conveys perfectly both the emotional mood of the piece and technically the kind of sound one has to have to play certain parts of it. He couldn't have done it better if he had gotten all emotional and spent 15 minutes explaining the details.

I think that if you listen to those master classes carefully (cause it goes by pretty quick), you can hear plenty of "musical" advice and coaching, but his focus seems to be on using the technical to achieve the musical. I think he assumes that if you do the right technical things, the musical essence will come through. That may be why he seemed to be such a technician first.

But, objectively, there are many, many, many of his recordings where if you listen without the preconceived listening habits we all bring to Heifetz, you hear an incredible sense of passion and (dare I say it) warmth.

And that's my opinion. And I have found all of the contrary opinions and differences about this particular violinist quite thought-provoking and stimulating. So, keep up the controversy.

Cordially, Sandy

March 15, 2007 at 07:39 PM · I have seen the Chausson...

March 15, 2007 at 07:47 PM · ...he was hot...for sure

March 15, 2007 at 10:31 PM · Yes I have that masterclass on video too. Well in regards to his personality ,he is a little too strict for me. However, what about when he starts to play a little of that Chausson, come on, that is more than just technique speaking there. Heifetz to me always played with a lot of emotion.

March 15, 2007 at 10:48 PM · "A decent person would not try to criticize a genius like Heifetz regardless how one thinks a piece should be played."

That is one of the most outrageous statements I've ever seen here. I happen to share Virgil Thompson's view of Heifetz's playing, and I think he simply found a colorful way to put it that shows a lot of creativity in expressing his opinion. Heifetz leaves me cold.

March 15, 2007 at 11:15 PM · Heifetz leaves me cold...now thats outrageous.

March 15, 2007 at 11:31 PM · Rick, you're going to love this:

Excerpts from "Silk Underwear Music", The New York Herald Tribune, Oct. 30, 1940:

"...Jascha Heifetz's whole concert rather reminded one of large sums of money ... If I ever heard luxury expressed in music it was there. His famous silken tone, his equally famous double-stops, his well-known way of hitting the true pitch squarely in the middle, his justly remunerated mastery of the musical marshmallow were like so many cushions of damask and down to the musical ear.

"He is like Sarah Bernhardt, with ... her mastery of the wow technique. First-class plays got in her way; she seldom appeared in one after thirty. Heifetz is at his best in short encore pieces ... where every device of recitative style, of melodic phrase turning, and of brilliant passage work is laid out, like the best evening clothes and the best jewelry, for Monsieur to put his elegant person into. No destination, no musical or emotional significance, is implied.

"...Of his Mozart, the less said the better. It is of the school that makes a diminuendo of every feminine phrase ending, that never plays any phrase through with the same weight, that thinks Mozart's whole aim was to charm, that tries so hard to make out of the greatest musician the world has ever known (those are Josef Haydn's words) something between a sentimental Pierrot and a Dresden china clock that his music ends by sounding affected, frivolous, and picayune. If that is Mozart, I'll buy a hat and eat it.

"...he sacrifices everything to polish. He does it knowingly. He is justly admired and handsomely paid for it. To ask anything else of him is like asking tenderness of the ocelot.

"Four-starred luxury hotels are a legitimate commerce. The fact remains, however, that there is about their machine-tooled finish and empty elegance something more than just a trifle vulgar."

March 15, 2007 at 11:39 PM · Good one Jim..lol..Thanks for posting it.

March 15, 2007 at 11:46 PM · Just to be sure, I didn't make it up :) It's really Thompson. It's pretty interesting to me. You recognize some things he saying, from a different perspective. I'd like to know what circles Thompson was in. That might tell you something. To me he sounds sincere.

March 16, 2007 at 12:05 AM · Heifetz once said, a good percentage of the people come to his concert to hear him make a mistake, do you think Thompson was one of them? LOL

March 15, 2007 at 11:56 PM · Sandy,

Sorry, no breaks for comments like "I occasionally play works by contemporary composers for two reasons. First to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven." (from www.jaschaheifetz.com)

Gershwin, Korngold, Castelnuevo-Tedesco, and Walton were all far from modernist in style; the particular pieces by Prokofiev that Heifetz played were highly accessible and somewhat backward-looking. His avoidance of the music of his contemporaries was thorough.

This is not to suggest that he was not a great artist or to slander the memory of a towering figure, but simply to explain the bitterness of his very accomplished contemporary Virgil Thompson.

March 16, 2007 at 12:02 AM · This Thomson discussion reminds me of a charming little story Horowitz told. After a concert a lady said to Monteux, who just had conducted a Haydn symphony: "You know maestro, I don't like these Haydn symphonies" to which Monteux answered "Madame, it doesn't matter". And Horowitz added: "An opinion, just an opinion". So were Thomson's words: Just the expression of an opinion.

March 16, 2007 at 01:04 AM · Well, well, more disagreement. Every time the subject of Heifetz is brought up, there is disagreement. I happen to think that the famous Virgil Thompson review is spectacularly well-written and well thought out. It represents a point of view that is widely shared about one of the most visible and influencial violinists in the history of the art form. It reminds me of the sort of attitude Spohr had towards Paganini.

Anyway, I have never understood why Heifetz did not chose to apply his art to the true "modernists." All I was saying was that he did not ignore contemporary composers altogether. I do think it is an irretreivable loss that he did not embrace Bartok or Barber or Shostakovich or Hindemith or Stravinsky or Schoenberg or Berg or whoever.

But, getting back to Virgil Thompson, I think that the Thompsonites are doing what Thompson accuses Heifetz of - paying more attention to the polish than to the jewelry being polished. Heifetz had as much integrity and vision for what the music is as any great artist. Heifetz idolized Beethoven and Bach and Brahms, not as "vehicles" for his technique, but as truly great composers.

You'd better believe that he spent a good deal of his life studying scores and experimenting with musical and technical devices to enhance the music, not just as a vehicle to show off his technical gifts.

Time and time again, he will play a theme, turn a phrase, attack a difficult passage, play something in a certain way that is so inimitable, so musical, so clearly voicing yet another vision of the composer, that you never forget it. I'll bet that even if you hate Heifetz completely and without any reservations, you can hear his playing in your "mind's ear" as if it's the voice of an old friend.

Virgil Thompson's problem is that he does not understand Heifetz's aesthetic, an aesthetic grown and nurtured in an artistic world most of us can hardly imagine. The young Heifetz, whose talent and personality was very likely forged ruthlessly into a rigid mold at a young age, did not have the advantage of recordings of the greatest violinists from all over the world. He did not have the advantage of the greatest teachers from a Julliard (Don't forget, by the time the child Heifetz started studying with Auer, he was already a fully-formed artist). He apparently did not have the advantage of a home in which emotions were freely expressed, shared, and appreciated (He has described his childhood in guarded, unhappy, and stark terms).

If you are willing to hear the Heifetz voice as his vision of the music, you do hear the emotionality and depth that was (I believe) driven out of his personality and allowed expression only in his violin playing, and even there indirectly.

So that's still my opinion. If I've convinced you, great. If not, then I hope you at least think about it. I think about the other side, too. Heifetz was a figure of almost Shakespearean proportions. There will never be unanimity about him, and maybe there shouldn't be.

In the meantime, I still find all this discussion and difference good for the soul.

Cordially, Sandy

March 16, 2007 at 02:20 AM · Sandy, do you really think he didn't understand it? That his reaction can't be justified? Maybe we don't understand Thompson :)

March 16, 2007 at 03:11 AM · In my opinion, it seems like Heifetz (and probably a lot of other artists of his day) did a great deal to cultivate his character and public image, going as far as some of the famous quotes he said. A harsh statement like

"I occasionally play works by contemporary composers for two reasons. First to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven."

may be offensive to some composers, but it's certainly more memorable than something like

"there are some contemporary composers I like, but there are many that do not appeal to me." To me, reading that quote really gives a personality to Heifetz that I can imagine long after he's gone. It's not the best, most amicable personality, but it's a definite character.

Heifetz also was supposed to have said something to the extent of "If I don't practice for one day, I can tell. If I don't practice for two days, the critics can tell. If I don't practice for three days, the public can tell."

But in this book called Violin Mastery http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15535/15535-h/15535-h.htm#Page_78

he says something about the danger of practicing too much.

I don't think Heifetz was just outright lying, but I do think that he carefully calculated everything he did and said to project the public image of what Sandy called a figure of Shakespearean proportions.

I don't agree with everything Heifetz did, but what I do find facinating about him is how everything he did along with everything he played seemed to be very calculated. It takes a lot of dedication to pull that off.

March 16, 2007 at 07:18 AM · And here is another charming little story.

Once upon a time there was a very clever German Professor who absolutely disagreed with the theory of relativity from his collegue Einstein. The very clever and learned Professor began one of his lectures as follows: "Everything is relative. Only one thing is absolute: the stupidity of Mister Einstein!"

March 16, 2007 at 12:31 PM · Yes, Heifetz was calculating. Everything he did -- personally, publically, and artistically -- was carefully calculated, and then repeated over and over. The only changes he seemed to make over the years was to refine his initial vision of the music more and more and more. Menuhin said of this, "It is a valid approach, but it is not mine."

But as a violinist, what went into Heifetz's interpretation was passion, emotion, incredible sensitivity, and a brilliant musical mind. Once he decided on an interpretation, however, he stuck with it, clung to it, forever. Hence the criticism of a mechanical kind of repetitive, calculated, and curiously unemotional performance of the music.

As to his public image -- calculated, yes; effective, no. I believe he never really understood how to project his better personality qualities publicly. His inner sensitivity and vulnerability as a person was so repressed and hidden behind that callous exterior that he perhaps could scarcely allow himself to even acknowledge it. I believe that he tried all his life to achieve in reality his idealistic image of the Great Heifetz, the very personification of musical and human perfection. Those very, very rare instances in which he allowed a genuine spontaneity to surface, musically and personally, are like a breath of fresh air.

In the meantime, we have to almost look past the calculated perfectionism and stylization in his playing to glimpse the emotional passion underneath. All I have been trying to say in my own wordy manner is that I believe that underlying emotional passion is there for all to hear, and that it marks one of the great all-time artists. And Thompson missed it.

Cordially, Sandy

March 16, 2007 at 12:30 PM · Hi,

Just for the record, composers like Gershwin, Korngold, Castelnuevo-Tedesco, and Walton - add to that Respighi, Bloch, Grunberg, Rozsa and many others WERE contemporaries of Mr. Heifetz. They were successful especially in America and England during the 30's though 60's, some like Korngold and Rozsa being the founders of American Film Music. No, they were not part of the second Viennese School or some of the more avant-garde composers of the time, but nonetheless they were active.

If I remember well, Mr. Heifetz did try concertos like the Bartok (apprarently buying a copy a couple of times) but did not feel a personal connection with the work, so he chose not to play it. That is something else.

To be the devil's advocate for a moment, Mr. Heifetz did perform a very large body of works of a lot of composers of his time. He just didn't play all of them. I guess one cannot learn everything ever composed for the instrument...


March 16, 2007 at 12:27 PM · "He is like Sarah Bernhardt, with ... her mastery of the wow technique. First-class plays got in her way; she seldom appeared in one after thirty. Heifetz is at his best in short encore pieces"

I love how Thompson tries to make this correlation and state this opinion of his as a fact. He clearly did not listen Heifetz, I'm sure he had a prewritten script even before the concert started. If you read the entire review you'll notice not much of it actually talks about the recital in which this review is for!

March 16, 2007 at 01:09 PM · Sander, I appreciate your thoughtful and level-headed comments, I agree with about 90% of them. I disagree with one point though (and you are by no means the only person I've heard express this view, it seems to be a rather common one): that if someone isn't crazy about Heifetz's playing, then they just don't understand it or are missing the point. Isn't it possible to understand something and still decide it's just plain not to your taste?

March 16, 2007 at 01:44 PM · I agree with Maura. This reminds me of all of the threads on solo Bach where people have similar opinions about Szeryng. It is quite possible not to be moved by a particular interpretation while appreciating the artistry of the musician. I like Heifetz for some things more than others (Naxos has a CD out with what I think are two of his best - the Brahms Double with Feuermann and the Scottish Fantasy).

March 16, 2007 at 02:53 PM · Heifetz seemed to use the shorter works and adaptations for self expression. The musical and personal aspects of his playing are very prominent.During his playing lifetime,I think his dominance among his colleagues and the public,attracted some and put off others.Tiger Woods in golf is a good analogy.

March 16, 2007 at 04:45 PM · "I'm sure he had a prewritten script even before the concert started"

Nate, that might be true, but it could just as easily not be, with Thompson or someone else. Not a good defense :) You have to take Thompson at his word, try to get inside his head, and then refute his conclusions. Or you can just grant him his opinions.

March 16, 2007 at 05:02 PM · Why not so much in Europe? According to a video source (Yehudi Menuhin, in fact) Heifetz tried to establish a US soloists trade union right after Second World War. The clear goal of this "organization" was to keep all! overseas (read non-US) soloists out off US stages. Heifetz even tried to talk Mehuhin into this union as key co-founding member. Menuhin - for quite understandable reasons - refused bluntly. Now, let's assume Menuhin and quite a few others Heifetz might have approached, too, leaked Heifetz' intentions to some influential European musicians and presenters. Menuhin certainly "leaked". Do we need to know more?


PS Maybe this info should better go into the "The Dark Side of Classical Music" thread, shouldn't it?

March 16, 2007 at 05:02 PM · Good point Frank.

March 16, 2007 at 05:08 PM · "Heifetz leaves me cold...now thats outrageous."


With all due respect, you're missing something key here, and I would hope that Sander would back me up on this: People's emotional reality is what it is, and cannot be judged one way or the other as right or wrong. I made a statement, that while admittedly provocative :-), is an absolute reality for me. I once went to a counselor who addressed this very thing with this: "The proper answer to a question like 'Why don't you like strawberry ice cream?' is simply, 'I just don't!'"

(Actually I love it but prefer banana.)

March 16, 2007 at 05:15 PM · That's true of strawberry ice cream, but not of say the blueprint for the space shuttle. I guess there are aspects of both here?

March 16, 2007 at 05:29 PM · Heifetz may not have been silk underwear, but he's closer to strawberry ice cream than the space shuttle. Man, this thread has gotten weird.

March 16, 2007 at 05:33 PM · Interesting comparison. I guess I would say that, though possibly artful in its design, the shuttle is not meant as a work of art, thus, people's emotional reponse to it is sort of moot.

Of course I follow your line of reasoning in pointing out that there's a huge pile of technique to consider in Heifetz' playing, and, arguably, there's nothing subjective about technique by itself, but the finished product, his music, is what is left to judge or respond to, not the way he produced it. (Walks out to end of limb, begins sawing.)

March 16, 2007 at 05:35 PM · The councelor's problem is he didn't realize there are connoisseurs of strawberry ice cream:D

March 16, 2007 at 06:03 PM · "According to a video source (Yehudi Menuhin, in fact) Heifetz tried to establish a US soloists trade union right after Second World War. The clear goal of this "organization" was to keep all! overseas (read non-US) soloists out off US stages"

Frank can you cite your sources? Where's this video? Did this "organization" ever materialize? I know Heifetz and a few other musicians (rightly so) refused to work with Nazi supporters like Karajan and Furtwangler among others, and signed petitions that prevented them from concertizing here. Maybe that is what you are referring to.

March 16, 2007 at 06:03 PM · I have the DVD carrying the accusation in my possession. And I know at least 20 others in person who watched this movie and know about this incident. In addition I happened to know Mr Menuhin personally. After several hours of personal meeting (in Düsseldorf, just the two of us) I have no reason to believe Menuhin did not tell the truth in that video.

Even worse that Heifetz did NOT mention nazi soloists, he talked along the lines "There will be lots of hungry and poor musicians in destroyed and devastated post-war Europe, they will all want to come over here (US) and will take jobs from us..."

It was about as nasty as one can be. I suspect even (but do not know for sure) that Menuhin's decision to give numerous concerts for displaced people in several European countries right after war might have been triggered by Heifetz' outrageous approach.

No, the "Heifetz union" never came into life.


March 16, 2007 at 06:19 PM · Right, the "Heifetz union" never came about, and if he wanted a "union" (something he was against btw if you know about Heifetz), Heifetz would've had the clout to start one, don't you think? Sounds like a lot of slandering by a bunch of jealous people. I find it rather amusing you are putting quotations around words you probably made up passing them off as something that Heifetz said! That is called slander, I don't know what you guys call it over there.

March 16, 2007 at 06:20 PM · Nate, that "bunch" is Yehudi Menuhin. Feel free to doubt his honesty and intentions. Who says a great soloist needs to be a great person?


March 16, 2007 at 06:22 PM · It is not only in the video, but also written and commented in Menuhin's book ( Unfinished Journey)...I never heard about Furtwangler being supportive of the nazis???

March 16, 2007 at 06:24 PM · I really don't think you have anything to back up your statements Frank. When you're putting quotations around what Heifetz supposedly said, it just sounds ridiculous. Heifetz was a very generous person.

March 16, 2007 at 06:31 PM · Well Furtwangler (although he claimed to be against the Nazi regime) stayed and supported the Party along with Van Karajan, Schwarzkopf, and others. Obviously lots of musicians like Bruno Walter, Toscanini, Adolf Busch left Europe.

March 16, 2007 at 06:31 PM · Nate: it is totally the truth...Mr. Fisher is right...if you do not have the video, read the book I was referring to...

March 16, 2007 at 06:34 PM · Nate, there are a couple of different things: facts, written statements and your outcry "I really don't think..."

Even lawyers would accept the kind of triple evidence available :-) Fortunately this is a forum, no courtroom.


March 16, 2007 at 06:34 PM · "a mere critic" Henry Fielding

March 16, 2007 at 06:33 PM · It does not mean, because you did not leave, that you were supportive to the nazis...

March 16, 2007 at 06:42 PM · In fact, Mr Fisher is quoting exactly what is written in Menuhin's book, word for word...

March 16, 2007 at 06:42 PM · Marc - I suggest you read the part in Michael Kater's book, "The Twisted Muse" about Furtwangler and his dealings with the Nazis. You also might wish to see the film "Taking Sides" about the same topic. Furtwangler was a mixed bag, protecting some Jewish musicians for a time and helping (and giving legitmacy to) the Nazis to some extent. Szymon Goldberg, who was concertmaster of the BPO at the time Hitler took power and was always Furtwangler's exhibit A for how he protected Jews in his orchestra, remarked once that he spent his life defending Furtwangler against those who attacked him and attacking those who defended him.

March 16, 2007 at 06:39 PM · Marc,

there is a lot to say about the dark and light sides of Furtwängler. Another thread, since he was for sure no violinist?

I am just plainly shocked how "untouchable" Heifetz is for some people. Surreal and dangerous. Such unreflected fanatism did lead to major catastophies in our history when brought forward to politicians instead of musicians.


March 16, 2007 at 06:44 PM · Thanks Tom...these times were so much confusing...Even the Kreisler's had a "Nazi flag" hanging out at their house in Berlin just before the war...It is stated in Amy Biancolli's biography about Kreisler...

March 16, 2007 at 06:46 PM · Nate, in my admittedly brief studies with Erick Friedman (six months), I heard him reminisce numerous times about Heifetz. I heard his respect for his former teacher and his respect for a towering figure in the musical world. I never heard him say, or insinuate, that if one dislikes Heifetz one is somehow less of a musician. And I certainly never heard him say that Heifetz was a generous person. In fact, two stories stand out in my mind that illustrated precisely the opposite: an instance where JH poached a girl EF was trying to chat up at a party after an EF concert and an instance when JH and EF played ping-pong. With Friedman's long arms and height, Heifetz's basement ceiling was an actual obstacle and so Friedman couldn't play his best game. Heifetz was upset because he suspected Friedman of throwing the game (until Friedman explained the ceiling issue) and he wanted to beat Friedman at his best. Not, you'll note, that he wanted to enjoy a friendly game of ping-pong. He was in a full-fledged competition even in his own basement.

(Still have to answer your sr post, but I've been lazy. Promise, promise, promise.)

March 16, 2007 at 06:58 PM · FMF, I have tasted the same medecine a while ago...

March 16, 2007 at 07:06 PM · Marc - Kreisler was half-Jewish but his wife was a notorious anti-semite. She told everyone in sight that he did not have a drop of Jewish blood in his veins to which Leopold Godowsky replied, "Well Madam, he must be very anemic."

March 16, 2007 at 07:13 PM · Tom, I read that one ( it is a well-placed reply) and share the same dilemna as Fritz...half- jewish, half- violinist, half- composer.BTW,at the end of their life, it seems that a catholic priest was always at home to instruct Fritz...

March 16, 2007 at 07:40 PM · A chick blocker! That says it all.

FMF, what were the circumstances of your meeting with Menuhin? I think I remember you saying you're a journalist? What did you learn?

March 16, 2007 at 07:50 PM · It was a private and very personal meeting, no journalism involved. There were a few details to discuss around Julia's first performance with him as conductor and it developed into a lengthy, very friendly chat and some handwritten correspondance between the two of us later on.


March 16, 2007 at 07:48 PM · Frank with all due respect, this is turning into a little bit of a he said she said game. You are taking the word of one man Menuhin. Obviously he did not publish this book during Heifetz's lifetime due to the fact he would be libelous for these accusations! The fact is no union was started by Heifetz to prevent artists from coming here. In fact \he did itry to start a union (unsuccessfully) to help provide artists from getting taken advantage of by recording companies.

Haha Emil, I’m glad you brought up that ping-pong story. Yes Mr. Heifetz was a very competitive person. I did however get a different vibe about Heifetz from Mr. Friedman. He related to me how generous Heifetz was with students.

March 16, 2007 at 07:48 PM · Frank with all due respect, this is turning into a little bit of a he said she said game. You are taking the word of one man Menuhin. Obviously he did not publish this book during Heifetz's lifetime due to the fact he would be libelous for these accusations! The fact is no union was started by Heifetz to prevent artists from coming here. In fact \he did itry to start a union (unsuccessfully) to help provide artists from getting taken advantage of by recording companies.

Haha Emil, I’m glad you brought up that ping-pong story. Yes Mr. Heifetz was a very competitive person. I did however get a different vibe about Heifetz from Mr. Friedman. He related to me how generous Heifetz was with students.

March 16, 2007 at 07:51 PM · It seems obvious that Thompson for whatever reason had an axe to grind with Heifetz. Sometimes the bitterness of a critique can undermine its credibility.

March 16, 2007 at 07:53 PM · Nate: you do not know much about legal procedures...the estate could have made a law-suit if they wished to... but, there is no case...because the statements made by Menuhin are simply not libellous, not at all...

March 16, 2007 at 08:01 PM · Heifetz' heirs could have taken Menuhin to court. I did not know actually, Nat, that autobiographies can be written long before someone (Menuhin in this case) is old enough to look back. But you gave us the insight: Write autobios late enough so everyone mentioned in there is dead, excluding yourself, in order not to get into libel trouble.


March 16, 2007 at 08:01 PM · the biographie has been published in 1977, during Heifetz's lifetime...BTW, Menuhin was not the only one who recieved that famous call from Heifetz...FMF, there is no case if Menuhin is quoting the conversation he had with Heifetz... unless Heifetz would have pretend that is was entirely false...and he did not...

March 16, 2007 at 07:59 PM · I always suspected JH was ladies man(sensuous tone,intense, passionate), this confirms it! To take a girl from Friedman (tall,handsome,40 years JH`s junior)was a real coup.

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