February 2nd - Birthdays of Heifetz and Kreisler

February 1, 2008 at 07:19 PM · February 2nd is the birthday of both Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler. There has been enough written on this website to fill 10 volumes on each of these violinists. Any additional thoughts or birthday greetings? (If they're up there in heaven, Heifetz is probably listening to you, ready to disagree. Either that or he's practicing. Kreisler is probably reading the paper and having a cup of coffee.)

Replies (30)

February 1, 2008 at 08:39 PM · Ahh, lovely images now coming into the writer's side of my mind...

"Fritz sipped contentedly at his coffee and turned the page of the newspaper. It was a lovely day in Heaven, peacefully overcast yet unseasonably mild, with flower buds already beginning to form on some of the trees.

The clock chimed twelve noon, and immediately there came a knock at the door. Fritz grinned. Punctual as ever...

He opened the door and grinned even wider. "Jascha! Wonderful to see you again!" Jascha, holding his violin in one hand and a bottle of fine wine in the other, returned the smile. "A very happy birthday to you, good Fritz!" "And to you, my dear friend!" replied Fritz. "Please, come in!"

"I hope you don't mind if I excuse myself for a bit," said Jascha apologetically, setting the wine down on the table. "I've been agonizing over the Mendelssohn again lately for the newest recording--well, with Mendelssohn himself conducting the Heaven Philharmonic, it's GOT to be perfect this time, right?--so if you don't mind I'd like to go practice for a few minutes more..."

"Of course, be my guest!" said Fritz amiably. "You know I love hearing you play. I'll come get you when all the guests have arrived."

"The whole gang is coming today, then?"

"But of course!"

Jascha hurried off to the back room with violin in hand, and Fritz settled back down to his coffee and turned the page to the arts section. Hanslick was in fine form as usual, hurling the most finely-honed invective at whomever did not meet his standards, but (Fritz noted with some interest) he had finally brought himself to say some good words about Liszt, whose recent sonata recital with Josef Hassid had been a revelation to all present. Paganini was beginning a new concert tour exploring the works of Bach, with Bach accompanying him on the harpsichord when necessary, and Schubert's "Finished Symphony" was to receive its premiere under Mahler's baton the following week. Afterlife was good.

A brief knock at the door announced the arrival of more birthday guests. Not bothering to wait for Fritz to open the door, Jóska Szigeti and Zoltán Székely let themselves in. Stefi Geyer and Béla Bartók, reconciled at last, followed close behind their compatriots, accompanied by Jenő Hubay, János Bihari and Gabor Ormai.

Fritz, delighted to see so many of his friends but nevertheless feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sudden Hungarian takeover, called for Jascha. Jascha duly appeared, looking irritated and dissatisfied as usual with his playing, but the sight of the cheerful crowd brought a smile to his face again.

The doorbell rang again and in burst another mirthful gang of celebrants: David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Henryk Szeryng (he brought the vodka), Josef Hassid (fresh from his concert tour with Liszt, who unfortunately was going to be late to the party), and Henryk Wieniawski all piled through the door at once, contributing to the joyous linguistic cacaphony by adding the exuberant rhythms of Russian and Polish to the lilting cadence of Hungarian. (This being a supernatural realm, everybody understood everybody else in their native languages.) Mstislav Rostropovich, new in town and still wide-eyed with amazement over everything, arrived with Dmitri Shostakovich, whose characteristic nervous temperament had relaxed considerably now that political pressures had disappeared from his life.

When all the guests had arrived, Jóska took the floor and raised his wine glass in a toast.

"My dear friends," he proclaimed, "Today is the birthday of two of our most esteemed and wonderful colleagues, Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz." Applause, cheers and much clinking of glasses spread across the room. "Today we have all gathered here in celebration of their friendship to us but also in appreciation of their great artistry, both so different and yet so alike. For these two gentlemen are like two sides of the same coin, the coin of violin playing itself. Neither can exist without the other. Jascha here has reached perhaps the highest heights of virtuosic brilliance, and Fritz has always been known as the epitome of charm, intimacy and warmth. Some may prefer one to the other, some may even detest one or the other, but let no one say that either of them is not a bright shining star in our firmament of artists!"

Hurrahs and cheers burst forth from all assembled, and everyone poured themselves a third or fourth glass of wine. Russian-style bear hugs were exhanged by all and sundry, and birthday gifts were presented. (Bartok had presented the tour de force: a new double violin concerto, the ink scarcely dry on the page.)

Later in the evening Oistrakh, fond as ever of interesting mechanical gadgets, fixed up the telescope-and-microphone contraption that they all used to keep tabs on the musical world of the living, and before long a good-natured argument broke out over which quartet was better, the Emerson or the Takács."

February 1, 2008 at 08:59 PM · Yes. To both, "Thank you"

February 1, 2008 at 09:26 PM · Mara, that's brilliant! Such a great image in my head now...

February 1, 2008 at 10:03 PM · Yes, but I should have been practicing... :)

February 1, 2008 at 10:39 PM · Mara: Wonderful post.


February 1, 2008 at 11:01 PM · Mara:

El Tremendo ^^^^^

February 1, 2008 at 11:34 PM · Mara - you have such a wonderful imagination. But, I wonder about some of the musicians I would have expected to find there like Menuhin, Joachim, etc. Did they all go to h*ll? Also, your heaven seems to include a disproportionate share of Hungarians, to which some folks might object. Now, go practice.

February 1, 2008 at 11:55 PM · Very witty, Maura - a great depiction of Gulag Himmel

Though I hear the first thing Jascha said when introduced to God (who was already begging for his autograph):- "Ai hearh uv bin impershonatain-mhi?"

February 2, 2008 at 12:50 AM · Nice work, Maura - very entertaining!

February 2, 2008 at 01:15 AM · I've heard some people say "Brava" at concerts & Operas.

Is "Brava" Italien ?

February 2, 2008 at 01:21 AM · What are some other familiar terms to sound off with when you are overwhelmed [in a good way] with the music you are attending ?

February 2, 2008 at 02:48 AM · Tom--the ranks of the great violinists include a disproportionate number of Hungarians (including Joachim.) Menuhin was late to the party (as was Paganini.)

February 2, 2008 at 03:21 AM · Yes, Ma(u)ra - good job! Do you not want the "u", anymore?

I've seriously thought to propose (-to whom, I have no idea-) that Feb. 2 be officially proclaimed "VIOLIN DAY". I hope that its coincidence with "groundhog day" wouldn't make it seem like a joke.

February 2, 2008 at 03:59 AM · I purposely dropped the "u" from my first name (for *several* reasons) a few months ago. It's unofficial, but I still prefer it the way I have it now. Are we all clear now?

Brahms and Tchaikovsky have the same birthday as well--May 7. I'm May 13 but the only famous musical person with that birthday is Sir Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan...

February 2, 2008 at 04:08 AM · Oh Mara____I like you better as 'Maura' !

February 2, 2008 at 04:26 AM · Can we not get into another discussion of my name, please?

So, back to Heifetz and Kreisler...

February 2, 2008 at 04:38 AM · I loved reading that Mara. Mind if i make an addition?

Elman and Nathan Milstein both came in late also. Elman had held them both up at Heaven's violin shop, asking about his soundpost, and Milstein had been a little too polite and avoided telling him to get a move on.

Shostakovich greeted both of them at the door, and they were immensely cheered to see that Shostakovich was in such very good spirits. Not long after Elman and Milstein arrived, Shostakovich was suddenly reminded of something he had seen recently, and he relayed to the whole gathering the story of how on his way to the party he had caught a glimpse of something very strange, as if he had seen it all within a dream:

On his way up the main street he saw what he took to be a former enemy, sweeping out the drains down a side road, far away and down a sloping, cobbled alley. The sweeper stopped sweeping every now and then to straighten his back, and stroke his moustache thoughtfully, muttering to himself about how he once was like steel (somehow Shostakovich could hear him speaking. It was an insistent whining, just under the breath). A despondent work colleague, terminally bored with his lot, laboured silently nearby, also with a moustache, though a stumpy one, and smiled grimly to himself all the while, but ignored his co-worker totally, and swept the black shock of hair away from his eyes with a hand flattened in salute to nothing but himself.

Retelling the story, somehow Shostakovich knew that the vision he had seen would never ever again be repeated, and that he was now free to forget it forever.

The happy gathering went on and on.

February 2, 2008 at 05:07 AM · Jon, that's brilliant.

February 2, 2008 at 08:32 AM · But who adjusted Elman's soundpost? Was it Stradivari or Guarneri?

February 2, 2008 at 08:42 AM · Interesting that they were both Aquarians - trailblazers...

February 7, 2008 at 04:29 PM · This is a true story told to me by Ramon Gurvin an old Chicago violin teacher.

For many years Fritz Kreisler had his violin arrangements published by Charles Foley of Carl Fischer Inc. In the early years, circa 1920 or so, their New York publishing office was staffed by Charles Foley.

Kreisler had a wife named Harriet who was constantly seeing that Fritz ate right and she steadfastly held back on his alcohol consumption.

One day Fritz Kreisler burst in to the store and told Charles Foley:

“I told my wife that I was going for a short stroll, but if she calls here, tell her that you haven’t seen me all day . However, can I ask you to do me a great favor??

Go to the deli downstairs and get me a grilled braunschweiger on a dark rye bun. Have them put on plenty of strong mustard and also get a large bottle of dark beer. When you get back, lock me in your inner office and pull down the shade.

In about 20 minutes let me know if the coast is clear, let me out and I’ll pay the deli bill.

Ted Kruzich

February 7, 2008 at 05:10 PM · Sandy:

Great idea!


If there is such thing as "love at first sight", then may I respectfully add that this is - for me - "love at first read".


He'd never have gained admission (even as a street sweeper). He's most certainly in the other place along with his moustached good buddy from Braunau am Inn.

February 7, 2008 at 05:24 PM · Great story (about Kreisler hiding from his wife). From what I've read about his marriage, it is probably true (or close to it).

Someone once also told me a story about Kriesler that just after WWI, he gave his first post-war concert in Carnegie Hall. The reviews were great, but one reviewer (still smarting from Kreisler's stint as a medic in the Austrian army) said that they only reason Kreisler sounded so good was that he was playing on a Stradivarius. The next night (so the story goes), after the first piece, there was wild applause. Kreisler took a bow and then dramatically smashed his violin on the floor into a thousand pieces. The audience went into shock. Kreisler then announced, "I shall now play my Stradivarius."

I don't know if that's really a true story, but I hope so.


February 7, 2008 at 10:49 PM · Greetings,

Milstein wrote that Kreisler often palyed on a fairly average English violin which he called the Parker Stardivarius. The maker was Parker and he calle dit a Strad because he liekd the sound...



February 8, 2008 at 06:08 AM · I've been burning the candle at both ends and just saw this, LOL, Mara!

February 8, 2008 at 06:09 AM · Robert just asked, violinists get to go to heaven? Paganini was there? ;)

February 8, 2008 at 06:16 AM · Life is hell. We deserve a change of scene.

February 8, 2008 at 02:08 PM · I'm not sure about Heaven or Hell being automatically in store for violinists. But I think that any musician should be able to get out of Purgatory. Just make a recording, and listen to the playback - that should count for quite enough Purgatory! ;-)

February 19, 2008 at 05:16 PM · There is a good website which contains some free to listen to Heifetz and Kreisler recordings:


Ted Kruzich

February 19, 2008 at 09:57 PM · No, Kreisler is drinking a beer. His accompanist once said he had never seen a man become so happy at the sight of a pitcher of beer as Kreisler.

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