memories of Jascha

May 26, 2016 at 01:59 AM · I was going through some old files, and I found this, which I wrote years ago. I hope you get a kick out of it, and perhaps can add a few "memories" of your own.




Twas the concert eve rehearsal, and all through the hall,

The tempo was dragging; it was down to a crawl.

The music was placed on the stands with care,

In hopes that the audience soon would be there.

In the midst of the Beethoven, I heard such a clatter,

That I rose from my stupor to see what was the matter.

From the very back aisle came the ghost of Jascha,

Striding along like a magnificent pasha.

I noticed that when Jascha entered the hall,

That contrary to myth, he wasn't that tall.

The entire orchestra was frozen with fear.

The conductor looked like he could use a beer.

Jascha leaped to the podium, his Guarnerius in hand;

It was clear from the shock, that this wasn't planned.

He pointed out the orchestra's mistakes and such,

And he shook when he laughed (which wasn't that much).

"The tempo is wrong; you're playing too slow,"

He shouted, "I will show you how this thing should go."

He demonstrated by playing the Beethoven so fast,

That the notes flew by like a jet engine's blast.

Then he said, "Now you play it at the tempo I take."

The orchestra tried, but it was clearly a mistake.

"This is terrible," said Jascha, "Don't give me any flack.

I've had it with you; I'm going back,

To be with artists whom I get to pick,

To play with Fritz and Pablo and Nick."

And we heard him say as he disappeared out of sight,

"Have a good concert, all, though you won't play it right." ?

Replies (35)

May 26, 2016 at 03:52 PM · He was musical, but he was affected by unchanging vibrato and going too fast if in the recording studio.

For his realistic sound, listen to the live performances on yt. :)

May 27, 2016 at 04:07 AM · There are many violinists who were and are disrespectful/abusive. Some are great, others not that much. I love nice people, but it seldom has anything to do with being or not being a great musician.

Wholly disagree on the musical thing. His playing was plenty inspired-and I don't believe this is even subjective (you may like many others more, but a bad musician... really?)

Frankly, I doubt most great living violinists, regardless generation, agree with this notion that Heifetz was an unmusical, selfish, abusive jerk not worth giving one thought. Most players still seem inspired by his incredible legacy, whether they agree or not with his interpretations and/or violin performance ideas.

As for personality faults, again I state, there are some other apparent jerks that we still respect as great artists and/or teachers today. I personally abstain from judging Heifetz in that manner, especially considering his background and generation.

May 27, 2016 at 06:12 AM · I agree with Alderberto. I would also respectfully suggest that the comment about unchinaging vibrato is not true. Just as one example listen to the opening of the Brcuh Scottish Fantasy and compare it to what he does in Mozart.

Incidentally, Flesch pointed out that it would be vrather difficult to identify great violinists if they all paye dbehind curtain without using vibrato. This , i think establishes the significance of vibrato. So , referring back to the coomment about unchanging vibrato, are we then going to make the argument that The most esential part of Heifetz's art was somewhat mediocre? I don't think so. And all the naysayers , (many of whom are often unfamiliar with most of his recordings in my experience) have never been able to explain why Oistrakh , Szeryng , Perlman , Steinhardt et al place him at the pinncale of their artistic taste. Milstein once told me that Heifet was his ideal sound (although he smiled an dsaid he liked his own, too) Did those players have faulty ears and alack of musicla undertsanding?

One reason, in my opinion, these greats revered Heifetz was I think because they could percieve things in his playing that were beyond the capabilities of the majority and they extende dacross the board. These included not onoy technical aspects of his playing but innate musical things we are not always aware of until we hear a lesaer artist trying to do the same thing. In particular, his sense of proportion across a phrase wa suncanny. A typical player cannot make a really smooth and subtle speed transition over a very long pharse whevere it might be needed. I have neve rheard anayone do that better than Heifetz.

True he was what Ricci described as ,a racehorse type' which meant he wa sbetter suited to some kinds of music and sometimes abused his virtuostic gifts. But if one is going to pick on him for this with the unspoken premise that other iolinsts dont play badly; rush; use a weird style or whatever then what is the point of making the criticism? Isnt it just a back handed compliment of sorts?

Sure, I dont have Heifetz as my fisrt choice for a lot of repertoire unless I am comparing stuff for research. But I know which works he played in which he towered above the rest of his peers and in many cases is still unmatched.

Incidentally, a point about the humility that did, in my opinion, exist in his torfured soul (try being the icon of the century in any field before attacking someone for being a meanie. Most of us are like that. we just dont get to do it in public...). Heifetz collaborated with other artists with great energy in his determination to bring chamber music to the forefront of the musical world. Writers of the time have given him agreta deal of credit with regrad to encouraging chamber music as a mainstream art. The Heifetz chamber music collection does actually contain some definitve and unmtached performancea that will make your hair stand on end. To hear such a player striving to collaborate with the like sof Rubenstein and Piatigorsky is awesome and the results often transcend respectble recordings by groups that ake their living doing trios and the like and not much else.

Sure we have moved into a new world of violin playing in many ways, but it has never been a linear jump and for many people it is not even that much of an improvement. I know plenty of serious violinsts who say their favorite violinsit by far is Heifetz, Kreilser or Oistrahk.

Rambled on long enough,

Think im going to spend an evening listening to Jascha. No better ay to learn about truly great iolin playing. Goes well with prunes and donuts, too.



May 27, 2016 at 08:22 AM · I find Heifetz's playing was subtle and refined in gentle music, fiery and thrilling in energetic music.

Musically? His small-scale vignettes are often magical; For concertos I prefer him in Korngold, Brahms or Bruch, rather than Tchaikovsky or Sibelius; I like, strangely enough, his Bach Sonatas & Partitas, but strongly dislike his Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven concertos, where he just sounds bored to my ears.

May 27, 2016 at 12:35 PM · My goodness. I didn't realize when I posted my attempt at a good-natured little poem that it would stimulate such an outpouring of passionate responses (both critical and appreciative) about Mr. Heifetz.

As a person, Mr. Heifetz's interpersonal issues are certainly well known. But let us not forget his many acts of genuine appreciation of others, his recognition of the importance of teaching a "perishable art," his unselfish sharing of his art with soldiers (in the field and in hospitals) during World War II, his fidelity to the score, and his understanding that his unique gifts gave him a sense of responsibility as a "model" for the highest artistic ideals. This, too, was Jascha Heifetz.

Historically, I believe that Jascha Heifetz is the one person who has had the most profound influence on music performance of almost any kind in the last 100 years. His bursting on the world scene as a teenager created virtually a new standard of musical performance, akin I believe to the revolution that Paganini represented a hundred years earlier.

Whether one likes or does not like a particular Heifetz performance is not the only issue (although, I, too, think that he "nailed" many pieces emotionally as well as technically).

Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, once said, "We will chase perfection. While perfection cannot be attained (because we are all human), we will catch excellence."

Jascha Heifetz "caught" excellence at an exalted level that few human beings, in any field of endeavor, ever did.

Bravo, Jascha.



May 27, 2016 at 01:01 PM · Listen to yourself. And when You're not sure, listen to people who mean no harm :)

May 28, 2016 at 11:27 AM · Have you been smoking something naughty?

May 28, 2016 at 12:14 PM · You guys may be a little too young to remember, but for decades the name "Heifetz" was generally used in society as a synonym for perfection and the highest levels of performance in almost any area of endeavor.

He was very well aware of this reputation and the burden it placed on him everywhere and at all times.

In fact, Heifetz was once quoted as saying, "You think you've got problems? I've got to be Heifetz every day."



May 28, 2016 at 07:28 PM · Grretings,

that is so truevSander. Axelrod, I think, pointed out in his book that 'to play like Heietz,' became the professional axiom for decades. When i went to the RCM in the early eighties , whether or not Heifetz was your coce of player, he slipped into so many discussions and conversatios about playing, by the teachers there. He was just 'there' somehow. but on the other hand, i remeber walking past a music shop in Soith Kensington and there was a big sign in the window 'Heifetz has died.' I was so unexpectedly overwhelmed with sad ness I wandered around for hours doing nothing. Then i went into the RCM and mentioned it to some of the other new students and in most cases they looked at me blsnkly and said 'so?'

I think this reflected the violin plaing situation in England to some degree. There has never been the same overall level of specialization or resources for young talent to focus on the instrument from a young age which is why our overall technial level has always been lower rhan the usa for example. i think hand in hand witht that was a genuine ignorance about violin playing of the past. Violin students were simply not fanatical and had no idea about Kreisler, Menuhin or Heifetz in many cases. Record companies were pushing ASM this week so tgat is what the younger students were kistening to. I think some of them had never even heard any of his recordings.

I dont think it is wrong for the recording industry to prote the modern greats by any means. I dont know how one promkotes both the past abd present.....

One thing i have noticed is a tendency to discover and release ,new' Heifetz recordings that Heifets I guess, didnt want released. For some reason the acoustics, venue, personalities didnt work and the whole thing was quite rightly buried. it does noone much service to promote those.

Finally, I rememer a lesson i had at RCMwith a student of , cripes i fogot thename. Great brtish violinist who recorded Elgar. My teacher told me tha the great man actually showed him a letter that Heifetz had written to him.

Dear Mr x,

I am currently preparing the Elgar concerto. After listening to your recording I have a much better idea of how to approach it.

Now that is an example of quiet humility and respect between artists.



May 28, 2016 at 07:45 PM · Maybe Albert Sammons? Superb, sensitive, virile playing. One of the Greats.

May 28, 2016 at 08:08 PM · Buri - I am not surprised by the letter about the Elgar concerto. I believe Adrian is right, and that the violinist to whom Heifetz wrote was Sammons. He was not only a great violinist, but he actually performed the concerto under Elgar's conducting, so he would have known how to approach it.

May 28, 2016 at 09:01 PM · yes, it was Sammons. My teacher gave me a great Sammons quote once:

`Master the heel and you`ve mastered the bow.`



May 28, 2016 at 11:03 PM · Stephen, was your teacher by any chance Kenneth Piper?

May 28, 2016 at 11:07 PM · nice story :)

May 28, 2016 at 11:44 PM · Ron,

yes. My first reL teacher. Wonderful human being. I think he liked Heifetz nearly as much as me....



May 29, 2016 at 01:15 AM · Hi Buri,

Very interesting--I had lessons with Ken Piper after he moved to Scotland. Both of my children did as well. Visited him a couple of times in Scotland and once after he moved to Cheltenham. A very nice gentleman indeed. I remember his admiration for Sammons who was his teacher if I remember correctly.

May 29, 2016 at 11:51 AM · Heifetz was also good in table tennis :)

May 29, 2016 at 04:35 PM · Yes. When Heifetz was touring during WWII to entertain the troops, he preferred to bunk with the enlisted men because they tended to be better at table tennis.

May 29, 2016 at 09:17 PM · hehehe

May 29, 2016 at 09:18 PM · You just cannot be better in everything :)

May 30, 2016 at 12:29 AM · Stephen, Could you elaborate a bit on the " Master the heel and you've mastered the bow."


May 30, 2016 at 04:17 AM · Greetings,

well Ive kind of lost touch with Sammons these days. However, I think it is fair to say that the heel area of the bow is akward. One has to control all that bow weight . Sammons's point is that becaus ethe area is ectreme, if you can do all the millions of possible bowing variations there, then when yu come to do thme in another part of the ow they will be easy ion comparison. Ken made me do loads and loads of se cik bowing exrcises at the heel Nd the benifits wee enormous. Personally I dont teach this way. I use Kreutzer numver two at the heel. The other thing is the bow change. He strongly believed that the most important thing was for the fingers to continue the bow in the up stroke while the arm changed direction. So i spent thousands of hous opn this technique. Now I think w eundertsand that the idea is somewhat flawed. It is -extremely- diccicult to match the difernet bow speeds going on by focusiing on the finger s when at the heel. Rather one should look at what the bow itself is doing and ensur ethat that speed is constant or that ther eis an infenistismal slowing down before the bow changes direction. If you use a sexy looking finger action the bow will usually speed up actually.... If one focuse sin this way then it really doesnt matter that much how one changes bow. Actually the teache ri had after ken at college told me that the bow changed direction and then the weigyht of the descending arm caused the relaxed hand and fingers to collapese. That is xompletley differnet but he also had a good bow change which rather onfims the point.


May 30, 2016 at 04:19 AM · Incidentally, Hugh Bean tild me that he onserved as a concert master, that Heifetz didnt like to play at the heel of the bow until he was thprpughly warmed which could be a fair way into a cocnerto sometimes...

Didnt seem to be aproblem; h



May 30, 2016 at 07:25 AM · I heard that too about Heifetz, but I think that's not really true.... isit?

So, then learning the heel would imply a good bow... does bow weight influence this somehow?

May 30, 2016 at 08:04 AM · Greetings,

well Hugh Bean was one of the most gifted violinists ever to emerge in Europe, a hugely respected pedagogue, concertmaster of the best British orchestras etc. etc. And not prone to saying stupid things so....I would respectfully suggest his analysis of the situation, especially since he was only a few feet away from Heifetz , was probably 100% accurate. Take it or leave it.



May 30, 2016 at 08:12 AM · i think I'll take it :)

May 30, 2016 at 10:05 AM · Stephen, Hugh was one of the nicest most generous people as well. I played with an amateur orchestra in Hornchurch conducted by Dennis Clift. Hugh came and played the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos with us. I gather he wouldn't take a penny from the orchestra - not even his expenses. Marvelous performances, of course, and such a lovely guy to work with. This would have been in the late 60s

May 30, 2016 at 12:12 PM · Well this discussion certainly touches a lot of bases with me. Not only did I have lessons with Stephen's teacher, I also knew Hugh Bean. When he played here in Canada many years ago, he stayed with us. I can certainly confirm the kind things that have been said about him. He even let me play his Guarneri. His recording of the Elgar concerto is outstanding.

May 30, 2016 at 11:57 PM · Stephen, Thanks for the informative reply. You covered it all very well,

and I believe you are correct on all counts.

May 31, 2016 at 03:04 AM · Greetings,

as a teacher Hugh had a unique way of looking at things and finding out what works for people without being a slave to the offical party line. I remeber when he oached our ollege orchestra and he wanted a more intense sound so he said with a grin 'You know, the simplest way to make your vibrato faster is to press a little more with the finger on the string.' John Ludlow told me of a concert where Hugh wa splaying the Larrk ascending and everyones eyes wer glued on Hughs left han for fingering hints. That night, Hugh decided to play a third finger on every note of that passage as it wandered into the nose bleed area. As he wa stelling me that he laughed and commented 'why the hell not? It sounded marvellous!'

June 3, 2016 at 07:28 AM · Greetings, the whole psychology of what people get from performance is fascinating. Very often people seem to interpret excessive nd emotive body language , movement as the music itself and come away peofoundly moved, through the vehicle of the eyes when they haven't really heard what they were actually listening too. Very often the performer feels moves too becaus ethey have taught themselves to think that excess of body movement equates with expressivness. When somebody blocks that moevemnt they are often completely convinced their playing has become dull and expresisonless. Whereas if the blocking is done with the aid of n Alexander teacher , for example, the actuall sound coming out represents the true emotional message of the player and is ofyen profoundly moving.

Heifetz himslef explained that smiling would be a watse of time since it would not project past the first few rows anyway. Their are exceptiins but most of the greta player movement relates to good playing mechanics, and even in the as eof someone like DuPre it wa sstill clear to see that she had excellent alignment of the head and spine most of the time. Joshua Bell is the same. He looks an ugly player to me but his movemnts have always been well rooted which is pa of his genius. The wannabes who copy external movements of player slike Bell without understanding what is happening do end up on the scrap heap.

June 3, 2016 at 08:14 AM · I hate to say this but it's true, most listeners do need visual cues as to when they need to feel something (joy, sadness, anger, etc) and it helps them get into it. That's why people love watching others dance and why most pop musicians have dance routines set to their music.

But for the most part (Joshua Bell being the first exception that comes to mind) it detracts from the performer expressing the emotions through sound (the music).

June 3, 2016 at 11:37 AM · Heifetz was generous enough to state that Kreisler was the greatest violinist of all time. I'm sure I've read that somewhere. The slightly negative stories about Heifetz are probably exaggerated, but many of them make good stories and jokes. In my opinion there are few if any that can come up to that level of technique and musicianship, in this day and age. But there may be one or two around who I'm unaware of. Just a personal opinion. I still think his Sibelius concerto, the Walton and the Korngold, as well as the Symphony Espagnol have never been any where near equalled by anyone and many other works as well.

I only worked a tiny amount with Hugh Bean but I was aware of his sense of humour and his many jokes. A wonderful player.

June 3, 2016 at 05:44 PM · He was also a great teacher, which showed his "giving" qualities. Look at his "students" who turned out to be phenomenal violinists, and there are many, including Eugene Fodor, Erick Friedman, Varoujan Kodjian, Sherry Kloss, Ayke Agus, and many others. With Erick Friedman, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish his recordings from Heifetz. Heifetz was also a tremendous chamber music musician. Nobody's perfect, and he did at times exhibit a vulnerability, softness, generosity, and humor.

June 3, 2016 at 11:05 PM · Yes, Heifetz's chamber music recordings are absolutely superb. And he he and Piatigorsky were careful, on the whole, to complement rather than compete with Casals's work.

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