Heifetz's Bach continued

September 25, 2008 at 04:49 PM · Wow, guys, I leave town for five days, and look what happens.

I'm not going to go into a play by play summary of what I think about the original discussion, but a couple points which stand out to me.

Marc's points about resonance and polyphony are well thought out but ultimately incorrect. The recording quality I have is not enough for me to hear finely the resonance which Heifetz has, but I will say that he does have extremely sophisticated control over the different melodic lines and polyphony. As far as I can tell (hear), he does make the violin resonate in the way Marc says he is supposed to, but I am not here to discuss the difference between our ears and recordings. What I KNOW that he does do is that he brings out the polyphonic material through subtle manipulations of tone (especially in the movements with only a single line, he does these simply extraordinary changes in tonal color between certain notes, i.e. a note in the soprano voice and then in the alto) and time.

On a related note, he pays very close attention to the motific design of the architecture and keeps a continuity even through different sections (e.g. by playing a slight variation on a previous motif in exactly the same manner to show the connection).

A number of people I noticed said that they just don't like the Bach (in the same way that they don't like eggplant, I think it was). I have two thoughts about this. First of all, it's perfectly reasonable and acceptable to say this. Personally I think that it's completely ridiculous, because tastes are just acclimations and you should always push your boundaries. Unless I think a food is disgusting, I will not go out of my way to avoid it - and in fact, as I have begun to enter adulthood I have lost disgust for nearly all foods, and for that matter do not even dislike that many. Second of all, you don't have to like something to appreciate it. For example, I don't particularly like Ehnes' Bach (and Hilary Hahn's Bach, but she recorded it when she was seventeen - which was IMHO a mistake - so I cut her some slack). I think they are both far too dry. However, I do recognize the merit in all the different aspects of their playing, especially in the musical and artistic aspects.

...I'm bored of writing, maybe I'll add some more later. So, happy discussion again. Although, do try to keep conversation more productive and less venomous this time. I was moderately disappointed by most people's behavior on the original thread.

Replies (39)

September 25, 2008 at 09:12 PM · My question on the 'hidden polyphony' thing: isn't it the hidden polyphony of the violin that Marc should have been referring to? Not the hidden polyphony of Bach per se. To suggest that Heifetz didn't understand how to get a violin to ring with other tones is nonsense. To suggest that he may have chosen NOT to create that in preference for something else makes more sense to me.

Who here knows for sure what Bach thought he was creating when he composed. Maybe he liked how the notes looked on the page.

September 26, 2008 at 02:39 AM · the over and undertones created by the violin are very well known and no "secret".

Furthermore, they don't have anything to do with polyphony.

They are the result of simple physics.

Under/overtones can enhance the actual notes you are playing depending on your intonation, but this does not create any kind of polyphonic effect that marc was talking about. The undertones you get when you play most double stops in tune do not at all create any extra voicing, they simply make the double stop sound more "pleasing" to the average listener. so, most of what marc was writting is just uninformed writing, unfortunately.

September 26, 2008 at 03:50 AM · When you play two notes at the same time, there is a third tone present (the so-called "tartini tone"), but these tones are so faint that it's extremely hard to hear them unless you're very close to the instrument.

September 26, 2008 at 04:51 AM · Marc was right when he said

A. Bach's music was polyphonic

B. violin had natural resonance spots and violinist should take full advantage of them.

But A doesn't equal B.

violinists know that, in any given phrase, you have a few strategic notes that you need to highlight or stress, normally governed by the harmonic change.

Let's say a phrase is in the key of A-flat, and we need to stress the note A-flat (the tonic)to highlight tonality. If we follow Marc's theory, this becomes problematic, because we know the note A-flat is not a natural resonant point on the violin. the closest resonant point on violin is the note G. Should we stress G instead?

The right way is to highlight the tonic note A-flat, not the leading tone G.

It is the same when some violists tune their viola half step higher when they play Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, which is in the unfriendly key of E-flat major. They are doing this to get the maximum resonance out of their instruments.

Hope this clarifies my point.

September 26, 2008 at 01:16 PM · marty,

actually there are a whole series of notes present, not just a 3rd. that 3rd notes is just the most easily heard of a series. the more in tune you play (in tune meaning the overtones are more inclined to line up), the louder the over/undertones

September 26, 2008 at 01:34 PM · i like bach, but will reserve judgement on heifetz and eggplant to a later date.

September 26, 2008 at 01:40 PM · Sometimes when I hear a performance, I will say that I don't necessarily agree with the interpretation, but I admire the level of playing.

September 26, 2008 at 06:59 PM · I think M. Kurganov still believes I am Marc "the drummer"...when he writes "...most of Marc writing is just uninformed writing, unfortunately.

Why assuming such presumptions ? I have read Geminiani's " The Art of playing the violin", Tartini's treatise "des agréments de la musique or in German, Rieman's " Die objektive Existenz der Undertöne in der Schalwelle ". Lets be more specific.

A: I am not speaking of two simultaneous tones giving rise to a third lower sound...

B: I am not talking about artificial undertones produce by vibrato...

C: I am speaking about the natural ringing tones of single notes in relation to others...

A good example is Milstein on his DVD by EMI where he plays the E major prelude: This is what I mean, a MIRACLE of natural sounds and resonance giving the impression at the end that the piece was entirely polyphonic...There is such a symbiose there in between the player and the violin that we can call this miraculous... This is what Locatelli,was seeking in a different way in his study the " Labyrinth"

Now, I disagree with the assumption "Its all keyboard music afterall." Many in the 1930's thought that way . This caused great prejudice to Bach as being unviolonistic and favoured a dry approach of his music.

On the contrary, Bach was fascinated by the sustaining sound of string instruments. He was much inclined to transcribe string concerti for the keyboard. Both his violin concerti were transcribed for the piano. He did same for his double concerto for violin. , the one for violin and oboe....ect...Bach himself transcribed for keyboard movements from the Sonatas and Partitas.

Now , starting from Ferdinand David, Joachim , Kreisler, Szigeti, the very important contribution of Heifetz, Grumiaux, Szeryng, Kremer, all of these individual players contributed to the great experience of discovering Bach music... Historians now make it clear that Bach favored the sound of sustained instruments and that he treated the violin as polyphonic per se. That is why I favor a more sustained approch like Ehnes does, and Hahn does...It is closer to Bach intentions. It does not mean that others are not valuable... It is just a point of view that deserves to be discuss in a friendly and constructive way.


September 26, 2008 at 07:36 PM · Marc - Beware of the A-415 crowd. They will be after you for some of your statements, particularly your praise of Ehnes and Hahn.

September 26, 2008 at 08:26 PM · Thanks Tom...here in Canada, disturbances are found in subsection 175 of the cr, code... and soon , we will have a new section for "Cyberintimidation".Maybe I am in fact a "Drummer ", but of another kind !I will avoid all of this and focus on something else, like picking all the aples left in my garden...Automn is there already.

September 26, 2008 at 08:17 PM · If you're going to argue for sustain as an aspect of Bach's esthetic preferences then don't forget his focus on the organ as another possible factor.

But then you'd have to ask yourself why he seemed to move away from the organ into more and more vocal and instrumental composition? Perhaps these other forms gave him something which the organ lacked, i.e. articulation.

Perhaps the question about sustain is not really important once you focus on baroque ideas about phrasing.

As to "watch out for the 415 crowd"--that game was given a label back in the 1960's, it's called "Let's you and him fight". ;-)

September 26, 2008 at 08:43 PM · Marc,

Sustaining the sound from the frog to the tip is a modern concept, I have worked with quite a few baroque specialist, some of them from Canada, Bernard Labadie, Jeanne Lamon from tafelmusik and British chaps such as

Nicholas McGegan , robert King and Roger Norrington, all of them stress the decay effect when you play baroque music. Jeanne lamon plays a transitional baroque bow. I have played on it and with that kind of bow, it is not possible to sustain notes.

September 26, 2008 at 11:03 PM · MARC- Aha! You are Canadian and a drummer! I knew you are Neil Peart all this time!!!


I love your lyrics they're so intelegent & stuff!

September 27, 2008 at 06:55 AM · Zach, Marc isn't talking about the sustaining of notes using the bow, he's talking about sustaining using intonation and ringing of the instrument. He is quite right that Ehnes, and to a lesser extent Hahn, are very good at this. However, I argue that Heifetz in fact does this as well, and that Marc has not noticed it for any number of possible reasons. He is quite right, though, about Milstein. Milstein plays with exquisite cleanliness (unlike, say, Hahn's cleanliness, which was until recently just dry :P).

And it is keyboard music. Bach didn't know how to write for anything but the keyboard ;).

September 27, 2008 at 11:21 AM · I just read an interview of Hélène Grimaud. She recently recorded a Bach concerto and a few solo works, including transcriptions of the Chaconne and E minor partita. In her opinion, Bach almost exclusively composed with the violin or the voice in mind..!!

September 27, 2008 at 11:36 AM · Bach's instrumental music is "vocal" in nature; his vocal music is "instrumental" in nature. That transcendent quality is one of the things that makes his compositions so appealing, and perhaps explains why so much of his music can be played on all kinds of different instruments (even voice) and still sound "right."

September 27, 2008 at 11:59 AM · Daniel, have you heard Murray Perahia's recent recording on the piano of the concerti? I is played (like Heifetz or Milstein) at quite fast tempi and it is very well played, very clean.

September 28, 2008 at 02:18 AM · Perahia and Schiff have done the best recordings of the keyboard concerti on the piano. Interestingly, I find his sonatas for violin and keyboard do not sound well with piano, and even someone like Oistrakh who epitomized a certain kind of violin playing recorded them with a harpsichordist.

September 28, 2008 at 02:34 AM · Tom,

The recording of his violin/keyboard sonatas by Glenn Gould and Jaime Laredo are really something. It's funny that you say you don't like it with piano, because I dislike them with harpsichord because the balance is all out :P. Oh, well.

I also idolize Gould and think his Bach piano concerti are genius. Then again, I have not heard either Perahia or Schiff. This probably makes me a complete rube, but that's something I can live with.

September 28, 2008 at 05:42 AM · Most "baroque" people HATE gould. I personally think he's a genius...Gould's recordings with menuhin and shumsky are much better than the la-re-do. check them out!


I never said anything about you being a drummer, and only respond based on things you actually type.

I think you're trying to sound scientific with very vague and non-scientific terms...which doesn't work in the realm of acoustics and the physics of the string and resonance, etc

you talk about "dry" sound. Hahn's bach sounds like one of the driest to me. can't compare it to someone so magical as heifetz...but that's not anything i want to discuss.

Also, they put so much reverb and effects into these modern recordings, they can make your violin sound like a polyphonic instrument! don't be fooled.

If you have hilary hahn record Bach's preludium from partita 3 in a small room with NO effects, you will not hear any of this wonderful "hidden polyphony" - just the notes on the page.

September 29, 2008 at 01:12 PM · You are the scientific , not me...Hahn and Ehnes dry????????? Your problem is about discrediting other persons on this wedsite, and about "ego", your own ego. I heard Hahn in Montreal in the worst Hall you can imagine... She played the praeludim of the third partita and it was pure magic... Idem with Ehnes about 6 years ago, in salle Maisonneuve ( the acoustic is also very dry there and it sounded like a dream...)

I think I have lost to much time discussing with you. I wont reply anymore to your statements because they are dishonnest.

September 29, 2008 at 01:57 PM · mr kurganov, what is missing in your own playing that is preventing you from reaching international stardom or lasting legacy? now, i am not being facetious but rather curious, that you seem to know so much so well, what is holding you back as a player? some claim that critics by nature are not good players, i beg to differ because there may be exceptions.

i hope you can give a candid answer so that other students can learn something from it. to me, there are many types of players and i will single out 2 groups:

1. don't know what; don't know how.

2. do know what; don't know how.

sounds like you are in the second group. you know and can appreciate differences but remain for the time being where you are, meaning i have not bought a ticket to see you play or bought a cd to hear you play.

is it a matter of time? not enough practice? not enough luck? not the right environment? not enough talent as a player? etc

you seem to be able to dispense your opinions quite frankly, so i hope you take these questions with some personal detachment.

or, if you feel like it, you can simply ignore the questions which nonetheless may serve a purpose or two to others.

September 29, 2008 at 01:55 PM · here is a sound clip of a young heifetz...a simple piece highly recommended for any audition,,,if played like that.


September 29, 2008 at 03:00 PM · Al,

Those very questions should be posed for someone else (no names) instead of Mr. Kurganov. DK plays professionally and studies with one of the foremost violinists and pedagogues in the world. That would give him a background and knowledge of the violin over someone who has never performed professionally or went to school to study the violin seriously, right?

September 29, 2008 at 04:32 PM · I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I'm following this discussion because I find it fascinating and want to hear more about the topic.

So can anyone who is involved in the name calling, ego bashing, and other totally unproductive, unprofessional behavior please, please, knock it off.

If you have something interesting to add by all means share it.

But if you feel the need to pick a fight - please do it in private and don't subject the rest of us to this embarrassing behavior.

Regretfully - Deborah

September 29, 2008 at 05:00 PM · Debra Wade- I do not think that you are alone regarding your post. However, as long as "Thread Highjacking" is tollerated it's left up to whom ever can dominate to dictate whether a thread will remain relavent to the topic or not. And this is an all too often and regreatful example. Even I'm guilty of this and have been trying to not do it. Buri sometimes jumps in with a "Prune" post, but even now it seldom will jump a thread back to the topic.

And October is just a few days away. This time of year Male animals are feeling the surges of their hormones and it's called the "Rutting" season, but for humans such as the Thread Highjackers it's called Mid-life crisis! And so the marking of the territory and agression in such is just a natural process that makes the History chanel and Discovery chanel interesting and the late night TV show, "Mansers" a true meaning. I hope this helps.

September 29, 2008 at 05:02 PM · Marc,

Like I said, I didn't want to discuss which violinist I like and don't like. You exemplify my point exactly, your "scientific" arguement is supported by words like "magical" and "dream". I'm glad you had a nice time, but its not support for any kind of arguement about science.


No, there is nothing holding me back. Thank you for your concern.



September 29, 2008 at 04:59 PM · does one of the foremost violinists and pedagogues in the world teach how to describe fellow contemporary colleagues' playing styles with more restraint? :)

September 29, 2008 at 05:22 PM · Royce stated: And October is just a few days away. This time of year Male animals are feeling the surges of their hormones and it's called the "Rutting" season, but for humans such as the Thread Highjackers it's called Mid-life crisis!

LOL!!! Thanks Royce I needed that reminder! I've gotten heated under the collar myself, but I did choose to stop.

Oh well - C'est la Vie!

September 29, 2008 at 05:31 PM · Debra... You are more than welcome! Anytime! We're a 'string' family and we bicker! And I'm not as insecure about my...male short comings either.. Take Care. ;)

September 29, 2008 at 10:41 PM · Greetings,

we`re sensing the end of patriachal domination /abuse and its making us nervous.

I`m off for a sex change.



September 29, 2008 at 11:11 PM · BURI-.......Dito! The razorblades are sterile! And I'm intoxicated with good Islay malt Scotch! May the Changing BEGIN!!!!~ Since I was the only Navy COPSMAN with my Marines I shall drink a Saki toast too those I lost Durring Oporation Deserrt Sheild, Somolia, and the Ugoslavia fiasco.

Who do you, Al Ku drink too?

September 30, 2008 at 05:41 AM · lol...

Back to Marc's comment for the moment. I don't think that Hahn and Ehnes have dry tone - quite the opposite, in fact. I do think they have dry interpretations, however.


Sex changes are for the weak.

September 30, 2008 at 05:06 AM · Greetings,

on the contrary it would take great chutzpah to have the baroques removed,



September 30, 2008 at 05:59 AM · I didn't know they had chutzpah over there in Japan :P.

September 30, 2008 at 06:52 AM · how else could one not gag on squid sperm and other delicacies?

September 30, 2008 at 02:29 PM · Please, let's keep the discussion to prunes! (urp)

November 12, 2008 at 04:22 PM ·

     To respond to the original topic of the discussion :) , which was Heifetz playing Bach , I will dare to say he was one of the violinists who best understood Bach  ( and played it accordingly).I also know he favored Bach's compositions and kept them in high regards , because of their complexity (technically , and most important musically ) .  I believe that Heifetz's Bach is deep and beautiful and I also strongly  believe that people who say the contrary didn't listen hard enough .



November 15, 2008 at 07:44 PM ·

People use to say that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder...” but I don't know if it's true. What IMO is 100% proven is that the “hidden” polyphony is in the ears of the listener... BTW much better ears than mine: I'm sorry I can't compare the “ringing” from recent live performances or hyper-super-duper new digital recordings to 50 (or 100?) years old testimonies... And so I rest my case: Even without being my favorite as a whole, Heifetz's Bach is polyphonic enough for me... And in the fugues / chaconne there are many spots where the music and the “voice conduction” is made understandable in an unique way. And one question: If I find Ehnes (as I have listened recently) rather dry, what may I comment? Would “Wet” be polite and PC enough?

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

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

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com 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 Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine