Mr. Passion Personified: Jascha Heifetz

November 18, 2016 at 01:53 AM · This You Tube performance is a fine example of the well deserved opinion that Jascha Heifetz was the most passionate of violinists.

Read the comments and find out why audiences were awed by the magnificent nuances exemplified in this particular Heifetz rendition of Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen.

Replies (61)

November 18, 2016 at 03:34 PM · In spite of the decades of praise and indeed controversy about Mr. Heifetz for the past 100 years (literally), and including endless discussions on and elsewhere about his strengths and shortcomings as a violinist and a person, one thing, I think, is certain.....

When this century ends, and the question will be asked - Who was the greatest violinist of all time? - two names will stand out:

Niccolo Paganini, who changed not only the technique and scope of violin playing forever (as well as being a much better composer than he is usually given credit for),


Jascha Heifetz, who set a standard - a ideal - for artistic performance on any musical instrument that changed forever the level of technical and musical excellence we expect from a performing artist on any instrument and in any musical genre. His influence in this regard is clear, no matter what one's preferences may be and no matter what one's criticisms of him may be.

I heard Heifetz in person once, in a recital in Chicago's Orchestra Hall in the late 1950's (when I was in high school). It was an unforgettable experience.



November 18, 2016 at 04:36 PM · He may have raised the standards, but there were plenty of violinists in his time that were his equal, and forgotten about. Especially since the current generation is under the mistaken impression that if it's not on Youtube it doesn't exist.

Such pronouncements as "world's greatest ever" in the realm of art are meaningless because they are not quantifiable. It's not baseball, and we're not counting RBIs or home runs.

It all comes down to taste in particular works. Do you like Heifetz's recording of the Beethoven Concerto--or Stern's or Francescatti's? Personally, I like the young Stern's. Do you prefer Heifetz's Bach, or that of Tezlaff? Many people claim Michael Rabin was the challenger to Heifetz (have you heard his Paganini?). Menuhin may not have lasted into maturity, but his Caprice Basque is astounding. Do you prefer the Mozart of Heifetz or Grumiaux?

November 18, 2016 at 07:13 PM · Ah, the Zig. Pure schmaltz. If you ask me, Heifetz's musicality is much better showcased in the Bach D Minor Chaconne.

Sometimes I wonder if the main theme of the opening part of the Zig was borrowed from Spohr No. 2?

(Note: violin enters at 2:38, orchestral intro is very long. Very full-bore violin playing.)

November 18, 2016 at 10:47 PM · After hearing a recording of Heifetz playing the Chaconne about a year ago I can not stand to listen to another. (My own taste of course)

November 18, 2016 at 11:20 PM · I love his solo Bach. But not the concertos, where he sounds bored, to me....

November 20, 2016 at 08:03 PM · I would have thought that a consideration of greatest and most influential couldn't overlook Fritz Kreisler.

November 21, 2016 at 04:18 AM · Take a look at this old thread:

Chris Meyer

Milstein or Heifetz?

July 23, 2007 at 07:11 PM · Which of these two legendary violinists do you prefer and why?

November 21, 2016 at 02:20 PM · Ah, I see we've succeeded in starting yet another "I-Love/Hate-Heifetz" thread.

Well, I must repeat myself. Yes, I prefer other violinists on certain pieces or for certain reasons. And, yes, there have been many violinists from long before Heifetz up through the present who deserve the title of "greatest." And, yes, I do not expect everyone to agree with me on this, nor am I trying to convince anyone of anything.

But I do feel the need to at least share my opinion. Jascha Heifetz was an extraordinary talent. He came along just at the right time with the right "stuff." He captured the cultural attention of the world at that time, and did have an incredible impact on musical performance worldwide before he was 20.

And many may not remember that in his day, the name "Heifetz" meant the pinnacle of perfection and excellence in almost any field. You would hear people saying that so-and-so "cooks like a Heifetz," or "drives a truck like a Heifetz" (I actually heard that one once when I was a kid). If you wanted to recognize anyone for being at the very top of their profession or activity, you'd hear the name "Heifetz."

And it's not just an historical footnote. Jascha Heifetz, by his example and the subject of worldwide attention that fell on his shoulders in 1917, did have an incredible impact on musical performance standards worldwide.

Maybe no one would have made such a fuss over Paganini had he come along in a different era.

So, like it or not, we're stuck with Jascha Heifetz as at the pinnacle of the art. We may not always like it, but I believe we'll have to live with it.

Personally, I'd rather listen to Zino Francescatti than anyone else. Is that wrong?

November 21, 2016 at 02:43 PM · For sheer beauty of tone in the ultra romantic style Zino Francescatti must be ranked at the very top. Listen to this seamless tone and sense of capriciousness and reckles abandon.

Here Heifetz must be humbled by such violin playing

November 21, 2016 at 03:55 PM · Sander, first of all I don't see any posts on this thread bashing Heifetz or even close to that.

When you say that Heifetz came along at the right time, I'm not sure *you* mean, but I know why *I* agree with that statement -- it's because Heifetz came along during the emergence of quality permanent recordings. One reason I don't like to listen to early Heifetz recordings is because the quality of the sound is not very good, so in terms of hearing the orchestra and the violin together, it's just not a really great listening experience. On the other hand even the earlier recordings are good enough for the violin enthusiast to appreciate the styling and interpretation that Heifetz applied to the music that he performed. And I believe that combination of excellence and timing -- having recording careers that crested during the 1940s and 1950s, when listening to recorded music became a mainstream middle-class experience -- is why the recordings (and therefore the interpretations) of Heifetz, Milstein, Zino Francescatti, and Oistrakh (all of whom were born ca. 1905, give or take a few years) established a certain standard by which subsequent violinists were inevitably judged.

Even though many people listened to recorded music in the 1950s, a hi-fi set and good recordings were still fairly costly items, so ordinary folks would maybe only buy one recording of a particular violin concerto, and that's a situation that tends to limit notoriety to a smaller number of violinists who were getting air-time on the radio, etc.

So, I think everyone would agree that Heifetz was an extraordinary violinist. Nobody can take that away from him. But in terms of his legacy, it was also dumb luck that he was born when he was, and that his career therefore crested between 1940 and 1955. (Interestingly, those are the years of his two great recordings of the Beethoven VC. Columbia introduced the LP in 1948).

November 21, 2016 at 04:46 PM · Hi, Paul:

Thank you for your reply. If you look back over the last 15(?) years or so on, I think you'll find many threads in which the Heifetz legacy is vigorously argued, pro and con. And it is his legacy I'm talking about - not his current standing. It's his impact, in the same way we look back at the "impact" of Paganini on the world of not only violin playing but the role of the solo performer {It has always seemed to me that Paganini was the first "rock star" in the modern sense).

Remember, when Heifetz came along (as you so accurately indicated), the recording industry was still in what today we would consider its infancy. But that's not what the people in that era considered it; to them it was state-of-the-art. My grandparents (and my parents) kept those old 78's of original recordings by Heifetz and Elman and others as family treasures (my wife and I still have several of them). And the sound ain't that bad at all.

Anyway, it is really an interesting topic. I can't think of too many areas of performing arts where one name has dominated the landscape for so long.

Incidentally, David Oistrakh was once asked who he thought was the greatest violinist. With his usual modesty, he said, "There is Jascha Heifetz; then there is the rest of us" (or something like that).

And isn't it great there there are so many different artists with so many different technical and musical strengths in what I believe to be one of the single most difficult things there is to do in this world - play the violin.

Have a great Thanksgiving.


November 21, 2016 at 06:36 PM · Did someone actually compare Tetzlaff to Heifetz above? LOL

November 22, 2016 at 01:38 PM · They both have a "z" in their name, Nate. Geez -- some guys need everything explained to them...

November 22, 2016 at 02:08 PM · Heifetz was my childhood inspiration. I first saw him in 1939 in the movie "They Shall Have Music" when I was still 4 years old. I remember turning to my father and asking "Is that a real man?" But I don't recall if I was asking because there was this 20-foot tall man on the screen playing the violin, or because of the way he played - I had gotten my first violin for my 4th birthday less than a year earlier so I could appreciate somewhat what he was doing.

We had a few 78 rpm concerto recordings at home - all Heifetz - Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, maybe more. Since it required both sides of at least 3 disks for a single concerto one was not likely to have much more than that. My father played the violin and practiced these concertos himself all my young life. When after the Mozart concertos I started on the Mendelssohn and later the Beethoven and the Tchaikovsky I used Heifetz as my example. I attended a Heifetz performance of the Beethoven with my father for my 16th birthday present - I had been working on it for 6 months by then. I was blown away to hear that the balance of violin and orchestra was as strong as it was on the recording. The 3rd movement pizz sounded like pistol shots.

My father had attended Heifetz's 2nd performance in New York - and had other listening opportunities as well as a youthful usher at Carnegie Hall.

As I matured I found I preferred different interpretations of many works to Heifetz's but I could never deny his technical perfection and that incredible downbow staccato. In fact it was hearing others play it that really opened up my musical appreciation of the Tchaikovsky.

Unfortunately, my hero worship took a hard hit in my 30s when I purchased recordings (LPs by then) of Heifetz performances of the Mozart concertos and the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. Nevertheless, when I search for Heifetz in my iTunes collection I find 68 hours of recordings.

November 22, 2016 at 03:26 PM · "Did someone actually compare Tetzlaff to Heifetz above"


I'd rather listen to T's Bach. I can't stand Heifet;s anymore.

November 22, 2016 at 04:01 PM · I'm with Scott. Tetzlaff set a new standard for Bach, and opened my ears to what period performers are trying to do. As much as I love Szeryng's and Milstein's and Shumsky's renditions of the S&P (also Heifetz's and Stern's Chaconne) their tempos, their gestures, their style seem anachronistic, as do some recent interpretations (Ehnes, Chung) for current ideas about Bach. Still, to me, they're all great artists each in their own way. One more thing about Tetzlaff, he's capable of playing the most exquisite, haunting, poignant, tender, heart wrenching pianissimos I've ever heard live. Quite compelling.

Re. the original post, I think the topic endures because these larger than life artists endure in our hearts and minds (I'm not convinced they will last this century, the way culture is shifting.) But there do seem to be several layers, levels of discussion, everything from a sociocultural analysis of the 20th century and personal encounters, to the equivalent of "my super hero is stronger than yours." The former are at times thought provoking and always interesting to read, especially stories from those who've heard these legends in person, the latter, well, juvenile.

November 22, 2016 at 06:53 PM · So Milstein, Szeryng, Shumsky etc. sound anachronistic, maybe dated and old-fashioned? Well, by definition, so-called period-performers are trying to be as anachronistic as you can get. They are musical reactionaries. Even if they are accurate - and so many of them have so much of it so wrong - they are the equivalent of today only wanting to do Shakespeare in the Globe Theatre in the afternoon, with boys playing women's parts - just because that's how they did it then.

BTW - I don't consider CT's especially "period". He certainly has his own approach, as does everyone. But he uses modern set-up, pitch, vibrato, etc.

November 22, 2016 at 08:13 PM · Hi Raphael, I don't consider Tetzlaff's Bach period by any means, but I think it's informed, I'm guessing by similar scholarship HIP people refer to. I have no evidence of that. Just my hunch. But he did open my ears to be able to accept HIP performances, though I still don't necessarily enjoy HIP interpretations of the S&P (sometimes I do, usually after a few week's work in a noisy pit.)

From past posts I take it you are staunchly anti-HIP and all that it represents. I was too, pre-Tetzlaff S&P. So his recording, which to me feels more scholarly than say Heifetz's interpretations of Bach, which feel idiosyncratic, were an ear/mind opener for me, as I think it was for many.

When I say the old guys are anachronistic (and I can't repeat enough how I love their playing, their idiosyncrasies, their unique tone qualities, their virtuosity, etc.) I'm talking about how their sensibilities and priorities compare to the new status quo, the current tastes, which is the culmination of 20th century trends toward accuracy in interpretation and scholarship. I know you don't think it's authentic along with many a critic, but I'm arguing it is the new establishment. So HIP cannot as yet be reactionary, since they were part of the movement which brought about this change, from the focus on individual interpretations to the focus on composers' intentions and fidelity to the score, amongst other things. It doesn't really matter that some composers, indeed whole eras, might not have cared about such fidelity. I'm suggesting this is the new normal.

To resist change, or to want to roll back to the previous status quo, is to be reactionary. So if over the course of the next 50 years a new Romantic movement should reinstate the primacy of the hero-soloist individual, and prioritize individuality over the letter of the score and historical correctness, and should some long haired hipster HIPpers decide to resist such a new movement, then they would be the next set of reactionaries. I know it's not so neat and tidy in reality, but that's how my postmodernist mind sums it up. Maybe the grandchild of some postmodernist musicologist will be the next Zarathustra to herald in the new lightning, a new era.

November 22, 2016 at 09:57 PM · 'I'd rather listen to T's Bach. I can't stand Heifet;s anymore.'

Ignorance is bliss..

November 23, 2016 at 01:37 PM · Jeewon - it's possible that we're actually not all that far apart but stressing things differently. It also hinges on how we define "reactionary". I actually agree that HIP is "the new normal" - or almost so. Where we may strongly differ is that I feel that this "new normal" is a very bad development in classical music. It would be hard to find a review in say, the Strad now-a-days of someone playing Bach in what I would still consider a more modern, mainstream way without the reviewer feeling constrained to begin that 'well, it's not HIP but...' Burmese pythons in South Florida may also be the "new normal" by now, but that's still not a good thing.

HIP, or whatever names it's been variously called, including for a long time - and scandalously so - "authentic" - began as a reaction to excesses of Romanticism. But it quickly developed excesses of its own, many of which have been repudiated by later generations of HIP-ers. Nevertheless, the desire to go back as far as possible to reproduce late Baroque music the way it was supposedly heard in its time seems pretty darn reactionary to me. That is certainly wanting to roll back to an earlier status quo - a much earlier status quo of about 300 years ago! If that's not reactionary, I don't know what is. I would also agree that HIP somehow goes with the zeitgeist of Post-Modernism. I also feel that it has somehow and relatedly swept political correctness to its side, whereas as those in the Milstein-Szerying-Grumiaux camp for Bach - to say nothing of Heifetz - are looked at by many as conservative. That's why I like to point out the irony of the current zeitgeist in classical music where it's somehow politically correct to be reactionary.

There's a lot more I could say but I don't want to clog the current thread. Anyone interested in more details of my views re HIP can email me and I'll send them a lot of material.

Now back to Heifetz: I similarly didn't want to clog the current thread by rehashing a lot of good material that has been posted by myself and others, which is why I merely made reference above to a couple of good threads from the past. But two points to the current thread:

1. The OP opined that Heifetz is the most passionate of all violinists. I actually don't necessarily agree with the "most" and there are different ways to express passion. His great colleague, Toscha Seidel springs to mind. But I'm nevertheless glad to see that opinion, since in his day, Heifetz was often criticized for dispassion - and even coldness! Heifetz's passion came out through the f-holes of his violin, not in any facial grimaces or body gyrations. His was a concentrated, white-hot passion that Joseph Silverstein compared to a blow torch.

2. Then in the first reply, Sander made the assertion that the two greatest violinists of all time were Paganini and Heifetz. If the list is to be limited to two, then I feel that these two are a slam-dunk. No one can be all things to all men and while Heifetz is my own overall favorite, I would indeed prefer say, Grumiaux's Mozart and somebody else's something else and at different times, depending on my listening mood. Every artist scratches a different itch - and aren't we incredibly lucky to have such an embarrassment of riches? But in terms of unprecedented technique, a uniquely powerful interpretive voice (whether one likes it or not), tremendous influence on colleagues, general audiences, students, historians and fans of the violin - just being a part of the public imagination and as metaphor for ultimate achievement - there is just no question that it is those two. I think of Paganini as the Isaac Newton of the violin and Heifetz as the Einstein of the violin.

And yes, deep down I do believe that my super hero could beat up your super hero! Is that juvenile? I don't think so, but anyway I'm hungry and my breakfast awaits. It's Cap'n Crunch! Or is it Lucky Charms with extra marshmallows? ;-D

November 23, 2016 at 01:45 PM · Hi critics and champions of the modern early 20th century Romantic Style of violin playing: Here is Ricardo Odnoposoff playing the Bach Chaconne with a full vocal rendering of the tune and stressing its singing quality. Ricardo Odnoposoff was a violinist who gained fame in the 1940s and 1950s but is now almost forgotten.

November 23, 2016 at 04:34 PM · Take a step back and realize how lucky we are that we can even have this kind of debate. There are so many great violinists, and they play so differently, that we can compare, contrast, agree, and argue just endlessly. And all you need to do to start a very heated discussion is to say "Heifetz." Was he the greatest? Well he sure is the greatest at inspiring verbal fisticuffs!

When I was studying Partita No. 3 there were a few movements where I thought Heifetz's recording had the most elegant style. To my ear they are all extremely perfect technically, so I can't really discriminate among them on that basis.

November 23, 2016 at 04:50 PM · I'l temper my statement from "I can't stand listening to H's Bach" to "I've listened to Heifetz my whole life (I have the entire collection) and want to hear something different."

I have Bach recordings of Millstein, Grumiaux,Szering, Kremer (too fast), Mintz (wish I had that $$ back, don't know what the hell I was thinking), etc. Many people tout some of the above as the "best Bach," especially Szering.

So you can call me "ignorant" for not bowing down to Heifetz if you want, but I don't have to prefer every interpretation of his over everyone else. That's just hero worship, which Nate has copiously displayed in many of his past posts, including his insistence on using gut strings and no shoulder rest.

I like Glenn Gould's Bach, but I wouldn't call someone else ignorant if they wanted to listen to someone else playing it (and nor would I insist that a "real" pianist would never use anything but a Steinway, which is Nate's position on shoulder rests).

November 23, 2016 at 05:09 PM · Come on Nate, you're not even trying anymore.

I have my doubts about Tetzlaff in general - Some stuff of his on Youtube made me write him off as a sloppy player with some occasionally interesting ideas, but after listening to his Bach Fugues, it's a pretty clean, light-on-it's-feet approach. I don't really find anything particularly objectionable, certainly nothing as idiosyncratic as Gidon Kremer (shudder). I'll still probably stick to Szeryng, Grumiaux, Hahn and Papavrami for my Bach.

November 23, 2016 at 07:46 PM · Many period performers were inspired by Kuijken's 1990 recordings of the Bach Sonatas.

You can point out technical flaws and mannerisms (just as you can cringe at some of the portamenti in Heifetz's bach), and you can also just dismiss period performance, period, as has done Zukerman. But for all those who were influenced by his approach, it's not fair to just call them "ignorant."

November 24, 2016 at 12:58 AM · Scott, the piano equivalent of not using a shoulder rest is not using the damper pedal. Okay for Scarlatti, but not for Scriabin.

November 24, 2016 at 01:41 AM · No, the piano equivalent is using a fixed bench, one size for all--no padding either. Or how about Gould's chair? Isn't it more natural to have cheeks hanging than all squished against a flat surface? Or better yet, get rid of the bench all together. Who needs all that scaffolding?

It's funny, I took Nate to mean his own Heifetz bliss, being ignorant of Tetzlaff's Bach. But I get stuff backwards all the time.

November 24, 2016 at 01:41 PM · Funny stuff Jeewon. I always enjoy your posts. Actually I prefer the non-padded piano benches. The padded ones have no "edge", and I like to sit on the edge. Same in orchestra, I prefer a plain chair that has a well-defined edge. But, then, I seem to have plenty of my own padding.

Gould was weird to bring his kitchen chair around with him to perform, but in a way less weird than Horowitz who brought his own piano.

November 24, 2016 at 01:54 PM · Why not? I bring my own violin with me. Most pianists are so lazy!


Speaking of Thanksgiving and Heifetz - see how I got back on topic? - H once said to a colleague: "Violinists should always be happy."

"Are YOU happy, Jascha?" replied the colleague

Ignoring that, H continued: "Violinists should be happy because they are playing well. If they are not playing well, they should be happy because it will soon be over!"

November 26, 2016 at 02:03 PM · In an even more interesting twist, Horowitz's piano continued touring after his death!

November 26, 2016 at 04:21 PM · ...and so did Heifetz's violins...

November 26, 2016 at 04:52 PM · instruments migrate!

November 27, 2016 at 01:53 AM · There was some kind of official "tour" of Horowitz's piano where it went round and was played by several people. At least that's what I'm remembering. Too lazy to look it up.

November 27, 2016 at 04:29 PM · Raphael,

HIP could also be spelled as HAP - Historically Approximate Performance. It is indeed fascinating how the outcasts become their own nemesis - youngsters in the 60' are now de facto establishment, approaching retirement and reaping the benefits of new normal.

Music, being human activity, seems to be unable to escape the faith of a religion, or just any form of written inheritance asking for interpretation.

Sooner or later, there will be "revisionists", "reformers" "protestants" or "fundamentalists" claiming that they have the only monopoly on truth or interpretation of written score.... and that everyone else got it wrong.

If music is indeed the mirror of society, the whole HIP movement could be observed as a refuge from 20th and 21st atonality. Perhaps not so authentic, but good enough for our ears, eh?

November 27, 2016 at 04:40 PM · So, Rocky, anything that is not historically accurate would be HAPless?

I think any such "movement" is fine but their outcomes -- like those of any movement -- will eventually be moderated as they are absorbed into the broader context.

Your analogy to religion is apt.

November 28, 2016 at 02:01 PM · If I may introject one further comment.

My belief (and it is a belief - not a fact) is that in the future (2087?), musical history will view Paganini and Heifetz not necessarily as the "greatest" violinists of all time, but as great violinists who had the the greatest impact on musical performance. I haven't yet seen, heard, or read anything that changes that belief.

And if anyone thinks the evidence proves otherwise, then the evidence was obviously rigged (...That's a joke, or at least an attempt at a joke).

Hope everyone had a great thanksgiving.



November 28, 2016 at 03:02 PM · Sandy, I'm voting in favor of your proposal. (Fraudulently, of course.)

Likewise I believe Suzuki will be recognized as having the greatest impact on the teaching of young beginners, whether one cares for his methods or not.

November 28, 2016 at 03:51 PM · It's always "paganini this paganini that."

Ernst wasn't chopped liver either.

November 28, 2016 at 04:35 PM · huh, not according to Google:

November 28, 2016 at 09:02 PM · Scott, Ernst blew it by waiting until the age of 9 to get started ...

From Wikipedia: "Later in Frankfurt in the spring of 1830, Ernst met Paganini again. There, Ernst gave a concert where he played Paganini's Nel cor pìù non mi sento with an accuracy that stunned both the audience and Paganini himself. This work, as with most of Paganini's compositions, was unpublished at that time, which meant that Ernst must have learned it by ear at Paganini's concerts. "

November 28, 2016 at 09:20 PM · There are so, so many instances of truly great violinists in musical history, that it is hardly possible to know where to begin. I've been fortunate in my life to have heard a couple of them.

One was a concert by a 22- or 23-year-old Michael Rabin at the Robin Hood Dell in Philadelphia. He played the Paganini 1st Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

After all these years, I still have that sound ringing in my ears and in my memory. He played it better and more spectacularly (musically and technically) than ANYONE I have ever heard - live or recorded. In fact, that performance surpassed his own terrific recording of the piece.

I also heard David Oistrakh on 3 separate occasions (all in Chicago) playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. Each was recognizably Oistrakh. Each was a truly great performance. And yet, each performance was a noticeably different interpretation. I've always wondered how much of the phrasing might have been improvised - in the spirit of the moment - and still a valid interpretation. He certainly had the technique and musicality to do that.

November 29, 2016 at 01:19 AM · I agree-many great performers, but I disagree with the notion that only the old masters are worth our attention (not that all posters above me believe in that). It can lead to the "why play this or that work if no one can surpass blank performer?" fallacy. I doubt these great violinists wanted every other violinist to play just like them as a manner of adulation-in my opinion, they would have wanted each performer to have their own voice and say in any given work's interpretation.

While I don't particularly love some of the rather strict notions of "modern" interpretation based on supposedly following the score "as the composer intended", there are many younger great musicians nowadays that still sound very individual and have very high musical integrity. To deny them their due just because of the historical existence of the great violinists of years past is not only unfair, but something I highly doubt Maestro Heifetz, Milstein, and most others would have wanted.

In short, there's place for the type of musical passion Heifetz indulged in, as well as that of many living performers.

November 29, 2016 at 05:30 AM · Paul, I just have to dismiss what you wrote about Ernst and Nel cor piu...

Carl Guhr wrote a transcription of Nel cor piu (in collaboration with Paganini) and sent to publishers in 1829. Guhr was a friend of Ernst and lived in Frankfurt.

It is just a myth that Ernst learned it by listening solely to Paganini concerts.

There is so much misinformation published about this period. Perhaps I'll find the time in the future to publish something.

November 29, 2016 at 05:46 AM · Okay, Paul, we may actually have to step outside this time.

LOL just kidding, but....Heifetz completely owns Zigeunerweisen for me. There basically is no other. Possibly Sarasate himself; I appreciate his no-nonsense country-fiddler-killing-time-on-the-porch interpretation. Even still, though, I think I would ultimately have to call it Heifetz's piece. I happen to love Zig, and grieve how it's frequently dismissed as dopey salon music. For me, Heifetz finds just the right balance between expression and restraint for the piece. I won't name names, but too often it is egregiously overplayed.

November 29, 2016 at 06:08 AM · Mattias -- I sincerely appreciate knowing what is really true. I only looked on Wikipedia, so there's always a chance that what one reads there will be "fake news." The idea that Ernst could learn Paganini's pieces by listening through the walls of a hotel room and such -- that did seem rather spectacular.

Sarah -- Heifetz can have the Zig forevermore. I don't care a whit for that piece. I think it's trite rubbish.

November 29, 2016 at 06:16 AM · Yes, yes, I know. I'm used to being the pariah for defending it as real music. ;) I think a lot of soloists play it like it's rubbish, though.

November 29, 2016 at 11:52 AM · Come on - Zig is a wonderful piece! Not everything has to be the Bach Chaconne or a late Beethoven quartet. And for those who can, it's an exciting challenge to play, and marvelously expressive.

November 29, 2016 at 01:46 PM · Hello Paul: Such a drastic dismissal of Zigeunerweisen and similar Gypsy music is not shared by many of your musical compatriots. For instance Johannes Brahms:

Brahms showed an early interest in Hungarian gypsy music, to which he had been introduced by his early acquaintance with the violinist Eduard Remenyi and his continuing friendship with Joseph Joachim, whose background was similar.

Whatever the derivation of their rhythmic and melodic material, some of it, remembered from the playing of violinist Eduard Remenyi and heard in casual cafe performances, the early Hungarian Dances are unmistakably stamped with the musical personality of Brahms who included many of their melodies in his chamber music.

November 29, 2016 at 03:45 PM · Just a quick note. I recall many years ago reading a review of a concert with (I think) Mischa Elman (or someone of that generation), and (referring to one of the encores) the reviewer wrote: "Then there was the usual Ziguenergarbage." I love the piece, but that was a funny line.

December 1, 2016 at 12:13 AM · Hi Ted, yes, I dismissed the Zig. I did NOT dismiss Gypsy music. You pinned that on me without any justification whatsoever. Gypsy music is a form of folk music, and I recognize its value. Now, writing "serious music" that is based on folk music is another matter entirely. That is something that can either be done well -- as Brahms and Bartok and Copeland and many others have -- or not.

December 1, 2016 at 01:53 AM · Of course it's not authentic "gipsy" music. It's Sarasate-gipsy, made to appeal his audiences back then, and still effective to this day in its original intent. Heifetz himself playing many of these types of works is decent proof that they are not to be indiscriminately deemed as a mere waste of time.

More showy violinist-composers' music isn't invalid just because it isn't Brahms behind the pen. One may not like or enjoy everything, but they are still worthy works to explore, depending on your approach.

I find the general modern concert hall stubborn adherence to "serious composers only" rather boring-violinistic showpieces can be a lot of fun (though of course, Sarasate's certainly not the least popular.) Musical depth and integrity are always welcome, but should be balanced by brilliant, more light-hearted works, in my strong opinion, whenever applicable, of course (perhaps not so much for a Solo Bach recital.)

December 1, 2016 at 02:07 AM · Well, there was a fellow named Leopold Auer, who knew a thing or two about music (as the original dedicatee of the Tchaikovsky concerto, which contrary to urban myth, he did NOT pronounce unplayable) and violin playing (as the teacher of Elman, Zimbalist, Heifetz, Milstein, etc. etc.) - and even about being Hungarian (which he was) - and here was what he had to say about Zig:

"...deserves to be called the most brilliant piece on Hungarian airs ever written. A born Hungarian... I am the first to admit it, for Sarasate's composition fully justifies its title. It is written absolutely in the style and character of that original type of music which one may hear played at its best in the large cafes and restaurants of Budapest, the Hungarian capital...Sarasate, in his 'Gypsy Airs' adheres absolutely to the style of the tzigane originals as he had heard them played; no son of the Hungarian soil could have improved upon him."

- "Violin Master Works and Their Interpretation" by Leopold Auer, p.157-58

And Carl Flesch, the almost equally renowned pedagog and also Hungarian: "Flesch called “Zigeunerweisen” “probably the most popular and most grateful virtuoso piece of all time.”

- "Sounding Authentic" by Walden

December 1, 2016 at 02:13 AM · Those types of pieces are just fine as encores. An encore does not have to be a Bach Sarabande. Maybe the program was already heavy enough. After all many of Kreisler's pieces were written specifically for this purpose and they're musically very light-weight indeed (for example "Sicilienne and Rigaudon"). Hopefully, though, such a work will be short. The S&R is about 3.5 minutes but that's only if you take all the (gratuitous) repeats (I say gratuitous because the piece is already plenty repetitive.

On the other hand, I was struck by Aldaberto's comment, "Heifetz himself playing many of these types of works is decent proof that they are not to be indiscriminately deemed as a mere waste of time." If that's not "damning with faint praise," I don't know what is. If Auer thought the Zig was a great piece, well, that is something, I do admit. But as a living legend, Auer would have been in some trouble to dismiss a piece so popular among violinists .. as a rank amateur I do not suffer the same constraint.

That reminds me of a joke: How do violin teachers get paid? (By the Auer).

December 1, 2016 at 02:28 AM · Oh, I assure you that violinists dismiss Zig all the time. I think it's more socially acceptable to dismiss it than to love it at this point.

December 1, 2016 at 02:32 AM · Zig is too long to be an encore. It's perfect as a finale show stopper before an encore. I closed my last recital with it and got a standing ovation. And I just might have a chance to perform it with orchestra in the not-too-distant future.

Now, I don't know about all violin teachers but as a violin 'grandson' of Auer (he taught 2 of my teachers) I do feel justified in charging an "Auerly" rate!

December 1, 2016 at 02:35 AM · Sarah - that's news to me. Maybe those are violinists who can't play it.

December 1, 2016 at 02:39 AM · Nothing inherently wrong with utterly despising Sarasate's famous piece, or even Heifetz's playing or and/or interpretations, but I must disagree about "damning with faint praise" comment regarding the great master. One doesn't have to like Heifetz to see a lacking representation of the shorter virtuoso works in the modern concert hall-he was one of their latest advocates years ago, and one can rest assured he also thought highly of Mozart, Bach, and Brahms.

I just disagree in the false dichotomy between serious music loving vs virtuoso showpieces, as if one had to totally eschew the latter in order to really appreciate the former.

No offense to all of you who disagree-my point of view is hardly popular in this day and age. I do still listen to modern performances, so I am not just being an "old school faithful" or anything similar. It's just that not everything old/new must be better/worse.

December 1, 2016 at 03:27 AM · Perhaps I just know too many cynical people!

December 1, 2016 at 04:19 AM · Many years ago (1950s) I was taking violin lessons with one of Leopold Auer’s pupils Paul Stassevich. Going to one particular lesson I heard Stassevich playing Jeno Hubay’s “Hejre Kati” . As I entered the lesson room. He stopped playing and innocently remarked to me: “Kruzich, I know it’s trash but, I love it”. So you must conclude that there are opposing differences of opinion in the best of families.

Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen was well patterned on a three movement scheme: the 1st movement is an expressive and free episodic Melos or Lassu.

Then comes a middle interlude (Un peu plus lent) based on a Hungarian love song Csak egy szép lány van a világon (There’s Only One Lovely Maid in the World).

Finally comes the Friss: a fast and furious romp towards the end. In essence, a well rounded composition with a wealth of emotional contrast.

Here is a tribute which I recorded to my dear and beloved violin teacher Paul Stassevich:

December 2, 2016 at 02:02 PM · Here is an excellent Zigeunerweisen performance by Michael Rabin:

December 2, 2016 at 08:05 PM · We can be moved greatly by different aspects of a performer's gifts. Some possess great communication skills and inspired artistic imagination, while others may move us because of the impressive level of technical ability. Both (and all things in between) are good, in my opinion. We can appreciate many different things.

Anyway-- I think it interesting that Heifetz spent so much of his energy composing or arranging encore pieces. I suspect he did this because their popularity with the general public brought many, many people into contact with the violin. Certainly, he deserved thanks for having done this.

Of course, his technique was marvelous--- astonishing reliability! But also--- just listen to his performance of his "Porgy and Bess" arrangements. There was such passion there! Remarkable!

I suspect Heifetz may have grown reclusive and somewhat difficult in order to protect himself from ill-informed judgments by others who could not even dream of approaching what he was doing. In a way, given all of that, I think it highly commendable that he kept his cool under such attacks, and stayed on the high road as much as he did... :-)

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