Heifetz or Oistrakh?

November 5, 2005 at 08:38 PM · I know that there are MANY violinists out there who love the sound of any Heifetz recording, but I just want to know why. When I heard my first Heifetz recording, I thought, "Wow, he's playing so fast." Then I picked up and Oistrakh recording and compared the two. I realized that I could actually hear parts of the Sibelius and Tchaikovsky concertos that I never heard with the Heifetz recordings. I also found that Heifetz's playing sounded a bit sloppy and sometimes out of tune for a very hailed concert performer. I just have to know, do people like Heifetz because he plays fast?

I don't mean to rag on his playing because I can't play the way he did, but his playing just didn't appeal to me because of clarity and sometimes a sound that sounded a little emotionless.

Replies (99)

November 5, 2005 at 08:55 PM · Exactly what notes in the Sibelius are missing? And which notes are out of tune?

November 5, 2005 at 08:58 PM · Heifetz, out of tune.......?

well, I think in that case I might stop playing ;)

November 5, 2005 at 09:01 PM · Josh wrote: "I just have to know, do people like Heifetz because he plays fast?"

I love Heifetz's playing for its musical integrity and its emotional depth.

November 5, 2005 at 08:54 PM · In my opinion quality lies in smooth phrasing (for which you need perfect bow control and a continuous vibrato. There mustn't be dynamic droppings between each bow), in the ability of showing the structure of a piece and it's character and I might forget lots of things. In Heifetz' case, I think no aspect is missing. His playing might not be very emotional (however I must disagree with this), but he shows in any case the right character. I also would be very surprised if his intonation would have failed once. About his tempo: To be honest, I also don't see the reason for playing so fast...

It's worth also comparing recordings with Szeryng, Grumiaux, Milstein... Pay attention to their vibrato. They all have a different type.

By the way, if you want to hear the 'contrary' of Heifetz, listen to Elman ;-)

November 5, 2005 at 09:06 PM · Listen to Heifetz's Scottish Fantasy if you think he's emotionless... It's pretty much gorgeous.

Although, yes, he can play very very very very fast. And sometimes it does feel like a little bit too much:


Oistrakh is great, but I don't think Heifetz is messy at all. And his Sibelius is probably the best recording of it out there, listen to his 3rd movement and compare it to any other violinist, Heifetz's cleanliness and electric technique is ridiculous.

- Wenhao Sun

November 5, 2005 at 11:02 PM · http://www.thirteen.org/publicarts/violin/heifetz_vid.html Somehow I'm not sure that's really representative and certainly the video is NOT at the correct speed (look at the heads of those in the background) which also goes someway to explaining why it sounds pretty bad.

As for Heifetz or Oistrach, my question is why the "or". I love them both!


November 5, 2005 at 11:25 PM · I am definately not among the ardent Heifitz zealots on this website, but one of the things you can certainly not accuse him of is poor intonation...

November 5, 2005 at 11:28 PM · I have a problem with calling Heifetz "messy".

The whole reason people (or at least me) are fascinated by his playing is because it is fast and clean.

And btw, I have a recording of Heifetz playing the Brahms violin concerto from 1939, and he takes it at a normal tempo, so not all of his recordings fast. I also have a recording from the '60s of heifetz playing Brahms and it is really fast.

November 5, 2005 at 11:30 PM · Pieter, I too am not among the die-hards, and you are correct. His intonation was spot on al the time, and even when it was off, it wasn't really. Sometimes it was a color he was striving for.

I am not a fan of Heifetz recordings only because of his ideas on mics. He liked the mic right next to his violin, and thus you hear all the bow noise that in a hall wouldn't sound at all. I'm sure that, had i lived a generation ago, my views on his playing would be changed by seeing him live.

I think Oistrakh had many different sounds, and to categorize him so narrowly is quite shallow. Just listen to him on Sibelius and Mozart - the sound is immensely different. His Mozart is clean, elegant, and very classical. Yet at the same time, his Sibelius is quite large and warm (a little to warm for me, but that's besides the point) His Shostakovich is to die for, though.

Before making such narrow statements, I would advise all to consider why a certain sound may be. It could sometimes just be the limits of recording technology, as in the case of Heifetz. Or it could be the way they played, as in the case of Oistrakh.

November 5, 2005 at 11:48 PM · Heifetz out of tune? Messy? Woah... I think you insane now. Sure, he is a bit fast, but all his notes clear and crisp and not "messy". Personally, I like fast for most pieces. The reason I like Heifetz is because of his fantasic technique. Left finger pizz, spiccato, double stops, intonation, etc. I disagree that he is emotionless: He just doesnt show it physically. emotionally, he shows emotion. Wow, do I make any sense? I don't know what I just said. o_O

I also agree with Wenhao Sun, Heifetz's Scottish Fantasy is simply amazing.

Just a random question: Anyone here ever wonder how Heifetz plays at such a speed without ever perspiring? I would be sweating up a lake at that speed. Or maybe it's just me. =P

November 6, 2005 at 01:36 AM · I don't want to repeat here all that I said about the Heifetz/Oistrakh comparison (see the Eric Friedman thread about his Prokofiev #1, if you're interested). However, I consider myself fortunate to have heard both of them live (Heifetz once and Oistrakh about 6 times). There's no question that the Heifetz noises disappeared beyond the first few rows in a hall, and it sounded great to me. There's also no question that Heifetz played many pieces (not all) faster than anyone else and with an ability to add all of those myriad of subtleties and nuances (and his intonation was indeed incredible), but that was his aesthetic. And Heifetz never claimed to be "perfect," but he did say that he always strived for perfection, which is a very different thing. Oistrakh was very, very different from Heifetz of course, and wonderfully great, but I once heard Oistrakh screw up badly (2nd movement of Prokofiev 1st Concerto). He atoned for it by re-playing that movement as an encore at the end of the Concerto, and the replay was fantastic, better than anyone else. But you're comparing apples and oranges. I remember years ago one of my teachers telling me that he heard all 4 Heifetz performances of the Beethoven Concerto in New York on successive nights. My teacher said that the first performance was fantastic, and that each successive one was better and better, but that he (my teacher) "wouldn't play [interpret] it that way."

There is no recording process that can possibly capture all of the overtones that a violin produces, and microphone placement and the nature of the equipment is another critical factor. So, recordings are one thing, and live performance is another. And don't forget, Heifetz's formative years were not in the era of recordings. I read somewhere that Zino Francescatti said that he played very, very differently in a recording studio in front of a microphone than he did in a concert hall where you have to project your sound to the last row.

In my humble (very humble) opinion, Jascha Heifetz (whether you like him or not) is a pivotal figure not only in the world of violin-playing, but in the world of musical performance. His justly famous premier recital in New York in 1917 introduced an entirely new standard of technical and aesthetic performance, and I believe his example has affected every kind of music and every performer since. Do you think that being out of tune and not keeping the beat and playing or singing "sloppy" is tolerated in popular music? No way. That's the Heifetz impact, like it or not. As a result, I believe that the average violinist today is quantum steps better than the average virtuoso a hundred years ago. Maybe there's not as much individualism and uniqueness of voice today, but you can't argue that musical standards are far higher. It's not just the advent of recordings to thank for that -- it's Jascha Heifetz. So, even if you think he plays too fast, too sloppy, and out of tune, you still have to recognize that without his ground-breaking performances (live and recorded), we'd all be living in a different musical world.

PS. I don't think he plays sloppy or out of tune. Yeah, sometimes he's fast, but sometimes it's nice to hear things played that way, too. And, rather than being "cold" (which is what he's usually accused of), I think his playing is very, very passionate, and often very, very emotional and "warm" (as long as you listen and not look).

November 6, 2005 at 01:14 AM · Josh,

I do wish you all the best for your future but

I think you do not realize that Heifetz was perhaps the only one who played the Leopold Auer version of Tchaikovsky concerto, which is somewhat different in several sections.

Heifetz's Sibelius recording is among the most exciting ones. It is not spliced like the modern recordings are.

I do like Oistrakh's very much as well.

If you look at some old videos and new DVD's that discuss Violin Playing, Heifetz and other violinists, you will see that the whole world was spellbound when Heifetz came on the scene and stayed on top for over 60 years. That is something that no other violinist has done. Heifetz had his incredible sound in whatever music he played. And because he was such a genius and so dedicated, he found a way where he was able to produce maximum with least amount of effort.

Most other great violinist of past and present agree that when they heard Heifetz live, they were ready to break their fiddle across their knees and go on to do something else. Even Fritz Kreisler said the same thing, although Heifetz adored Kreisler and looked up to him.

Oistrakh is a different breed of player. I love Oistrakh as well and have heard him live as a child in Soviet Union.

But the difference for me is that Oistrakh's playing (as great as it was)had earthy beauty whereas Heifetz's is heavenly perfection.

If you try to get the complete Heifetz discography, you will see how amazing he was already at age 7 and then when you here him in his prime, he truly was a god among mortals.

His playing was truly vocal and had a taste of 19th century romanticism. Oistrakh was truly a modernist, and eventhough early on he tried to sound like Kreisler (in his 20's and early 30's), he evolved into a very individual persona with a very modern outlook on slides and other means of expression in the bow-arm. He became a champion of new music as well. Most of the great early 20th century Soviet music was premiered by Oistrakh, works such as Shostakovitch concertos, Khachaturian concerto, Kabalevsky con., Miaskovsky concerto, and so many many more. Oistrakh inspired his students immensely. Gidon Kremer loved him dearly and carries on the same love for new music as did his teacher David Oistrakh.

My old teacher Aaron Rosand (who teaches at Curtis), and he himself studied with Efrem Zimbalist (L. Auer student), said that first there was Heifetz and then there was everybody else.

Heifetz had raised the bar for everything in violin playing. And as for variety of playing styles: VIVE la Difference!!!

It is good to use your power of observation, but do remember that we owe a debt of gratitude to the previous generations and the great artists of the past. If it wasn't for them, classical music would have been extinct.

November 6, 2005 at 01:17 AM · Every violinist has their tastes in recordings, those that they like more or less. They all, however, seem to worship Heifetz

Regarding mistakes, I believe that Heifetz refused to have his recordings cleaned up with editing tricks? Every note he played is in the recording.

To be honest...when I first heard Heifetz I didn't really like it (OO, how embarassing to admit). Since it's an older recording there is distortion and I have been spoiled by the warm modern recordings. I never felt that he was out of tune though...

*goes to ask his teacher if Heifetz sounds out of tune*

*gets slapped*

Ahh...there we have it ^^U

About that website, is that REALLY Pagannini playing? IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE!!?!?!?!?


November 6, 2005 at 01:51 AM · About that website,


I believe it is Alex Markov playing.

November 6, 2005 at 03:13 AM · Yeah, it sounds like Markov's live recording to me. He recorded all 24 live, I believe.

November 6, 2005 at 03:18 AM · Maybe what sounds messy is the surface noise from his rough playing which is captured on recordings (and which is needed to project in places like Carnegie Hall) but for me it's not at all the speed. The speed in itself is something to marvel at but that's the least important thing in Heifetz's playing I think. What makes it is his brilliance, excitement, fire, singingness, talkingness, almost always perfect taste and I everything else that you can't describe.

November 6, 2005 at 06:53 AM · I certainly do not believe that Heifetz's playing was messy or his intonation flawed. In fact, some critics have said that Heifetz's playing was technically perfect but cold and unemotional. I certainly don't agree with that, either. His recordings convey the deepest emotions to me. They can be wrenching or uplifting or anything in between, but they always move me very deeply. Given the imperfections of the Heifetz recordings, I just can't imagine how wonderful he must have sounded in person. Also, I don't believe that one has to choose whether Heifetz or Oistrakh was better. They're both at the very top of my list.

November 6, 2005 at 03:37 PM · They're both on top of my list, too, and I could probably add a dozen others --- all different from each other, all great in their own way. The one time I heard Heifetz live, what came through was the "voice" and the heart of the music. Just in terms of tone, the sound had a completeness and a roundness and a fullness to it. And more than that, it has (on records, too) a vocal quality. It doesn't just "sing," it "speaks." There's a story that supposedly when Frank Sinatra was asked how to learn to phrase a song, he suggested that you could start by listening to Jascha Heifetz. That's one thing I think the older generation of violinists had that the present generation does not -- the quality of a unique "speaking" voice in the playing. They are all instantly recognizable, much more so (in my opinion) than today's violinists.

Oistrakh was a giant (not physically; he was of average height). There's no room here to describe hearing him live, but it was incredible. Three of those live performances I heard were of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And although if you closed your eyes, they were all recognizably Oistrakh, all three were different somehow. Unlike Heifetz, you never quite knew how Oistrakh would phrase something.

Anyway, Heifetz (to me) still stands at the pinnacle of the art. Like him or not, he stands in front of all violinists, showing them what is possible, challenging them to reach for a dream of perfection -- not just perfection of technique or vibrato or speed, but perfection of the ability to project the singing voice straight to your heart and your brain and your guts. If you listen to Heifetz and you can't HEAR that, if you can't FEEL that, you are missing 90% of what you COULD strive for as a violinist and what you COULD experience as a listener.

November 6, 2005 at 03:31 PM · Hi,

I am no fan of this kind of discussion, but I would advise people to listen to live concerto recordings of Heifetz from the 1940's and then some by other artists around at the time, like Adolf Busch, Jacques Thibaud, Albert Spalding, Stern, and even Milstein. Then, one can truly appreciate the phenomenon that Heifetz was in his time frame.

Oistrakh is a wonderful artist, but represents a time past Heifetz. Someone said that their sounds represent different aspirations, and I think that is true. It is not a question of the greater artist. Both are great, but represent different dimensions and a different search in musical expression.


November 6, 2005 at 09:16 PM · Christian: You're right. It's a different era, but there was something unique about the Heifetz example that is, I believe, still relevant. All of those violinists who were inspired and awed by him were (with the exception of Milstein) those very contemporaries of his -- Spaulding, Stern, Oistrakh, Kogan, Kreisler. Some of them, like Menuhin, who clearly did not like his approach, still acknowledged the example of Heifetz.

That being said, I think that overall, if you listen to any of today's violinists, so many have rivalled the "ancients" in technique, tone, and musicianship, that I believe that TODAY is actually the "golden age" of violin playing.

What the older violinists had, I think, were individual uniqueness (due mostly to the absence of the recording phenomenon, greater musical isolation in their formative years, and a less universally agreed approach to the instrument) and the presence of Heifetz, who was the model and I think still is. I don't think he was just another one in a short list of great artists. Therefore, whatever his shortcomings, I believe that there is much to learn and consider in his legacy. As I look at what I have written on this thread, I think that I have been speaking here as more as a listener than as someone who plays the violin.

November 6, 2005 at 11:19 PM · Greetings,

interesting Marcus. In her recent Strad interview Camilla Wicks argued quite forcibly thta todays players do have less technique. However the kind of technique she refers to evolves or is concomitant with paying immense attention to the relationship between individual notes and placing thta in the framework of the whole. (A very good description of this can be found in Vivien Mackie`s book `Just Play Naturally` where she talks about how Casal`s worked on her.) Camilla Wicks argues that today`s players tend to only pay attention to long lines and producing a big sound. I am inclined to agree with her.

Another way of looking at it would be to suggets tyhta the art of Bel canto violin playing is very much in abeyance. Milstein was the last truly great exponent of that I think.

I also suspect the k9ind of strings now being used have a lot to do with it.



November 7, 2005 at 12:59 AM · Jasch Heifetz out of tune? I dont think so. In my opinion his Tchaikovsky 1st movement is one of the most fantastic recorded pieces of violin playing ever. His timing, energy, rhythm, phrasing, and building up of excitement and tempo at the end never fails to amaze me. In one take! Dont forget perfect technique, but you take that for granted listening to most of his recordings. Ok the sibelius has the odd intonation flaw, but the excitement of his performance makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end! Id rather listen to that recording than some boring numbnut who has done 100 takes just to get every note in tune. The thing that strikes me about his playing is the incredible attention to detail. There is always something new to find when you go back to a Jascha Heifetz recording. Once you get past the bad recording technology, you can really begin to appreciate his art.

November 7, 2005 at 01:21 AM · Greetings,

I think Heifetz once said `I hit wrong notes the same as everyone else- I just correct them faster.`



November 7, 2005 at 01:18 AM · The only time I think he's playing out of tune is that first open G string in his Beethoven 2nd movement... it's sharp...

November 7, 2005 at 01:37 AM · nah, its cos he tunes to tempered tuning, it sounds the same in the sibelius. Hes not out of tune, the orchestra is. Discuss!!

November 7, 2005 at 01:44 AM · Greetings,

I belive he used bad-tempered tuning.



PS joking apart, I don`t think you mean that....

November 7, 2005 at 02:22 AM · Josh, find a copy of the DVD "The Art of the Violin." Besides the performances of Heifetz, check out the comments of other great players as they discuss the man, his playing and his career...it may leave you with the feeling that perhaps you're missing something that you may "get" later. Or, perhaps you'll never care for his playing, I don't know--I'm just saying that maybe the problem is on your end, and if a little more exposure or saturation is what it takes it will be well worth it. I listen to a lot of players and music now that I did not care for some years back.

Also, Mr. Brivati, "it's so nice to have you back where you belong."

November 7, 2005 at 04:01 AM · I definitely like Heifetz's playing on "The Art of Violin", and he definitely is precise, which I like, but I find on the recordings I've heard that he's always a bit ahead of the orchestra, which is annoying. I suppose perhaps the conductor rather than Heifetz himself is to blame for that?

November 7, 2005 at 10:06 AM · Hey guys, just wondering if there is a video tape or DVD available for the complete Heifetz Tchaikovsky concerto available??? those bits in Art of Violin make me wonder if there is a complete one.

I looked around the net, the movie Carnegie Hall has its first movement, is it true??? 1st movement uncut?? I will get hold of one even if it's just the first movement

November 7, 2005 at 11:01 PM · I had the pleasure to attend the last Heifetz concert Oct 1972,about 20 rows from the front.I also have the CD`s of that concert.Of course,the sound of the live performance is unique and superior although, each time I listen to the CD,I can relive the concert experience.What I most remember about the concert was the Bloch and Debussy played back to back.The contrast of the two,the sonority and control, was incredible.I don`t believe we will ever see a violinist like Heifetz again.

November 7, 2005 at 11:28 PM · You Tell them Christian!!!!!!!!!!

November 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM · Edwin, you're right. I second.

I heard Heifetz in around 1958 or 59 in Chicago. To my eternal regret, the only piece I remember him playing (both by name and by my musical memory) was the Franck Sonata. It was fantastic. I was way way up in the Gallery at Orchestra Hall, but the sound carries there incredibly well; you hear every nuance. And every nuance was worth listening to. There's an interesting biography of him by Wechsler-Vered. You never get the feeling about him as a person that you really know who he is inside, and the biographer didn't capture it, either. But it has plenty of insights and events and commentary. Well worth reading.

November 8, 2005 at 05:25 PM · The Heifetz question, it appears,

Has gone on for a hundred years.

Was he a godly oddity?

Or an ordinary commodity

(Like you'd find at Macy's or Sears)?

November 8, 2005 at 06:45 PM · heifetz AND oistrakh - for me the universe would be incomplete without both

November 8, 2005 at 07:13 PM · i can't believe this discussion is even going on. HEIFETZ IS THE GOD.

November 8, 2005 at 08:10 PM · Can't choose between the two... Go Isaac Stern... something in the middle... "just right"

November 8, 2005 at 08:18 PM · Heifetz is the best in our life memory. You can like or not like. But Heifetz is here forever.

November 8, 2005 at 11:42 PM · Bad tempered tuning lol! I have missed those priceless quips. Nah I dont mean it, the G isnt even out of tune in the Beethoven. That cadenza in the first mov. takes the biscuit!

November 8, 2005 at 11:53 PM · It is also amazing to me that the very question of the Heifetz supremacy is even raised. But there has been one good thing about it. It seems to have cause everyone (at least everyone on this thread) to question aspects of the Heifetz genius we have perhaps taken for granted (e.g., Heifetz out of tune? Heifetz missing notes? Heifetz having lousy bow control?). Guess what? I read all of the re-examinations on this thread, and my conclusion is....Heifetz still reigns supreme in the world of violin playing.

However, I can't imagine the world without Oistrakh, either.

November 9, 2005 at 12:30 PM · What about Szeryng? And all the other great artists?

November 9, 2005 at 01:11 PM · I think it was Oistrakh who said something like, "There are us violinists--then there is Heifetz." Szeryng referred to Heifetz as "The Emperor." Perlman stated flatly (and I saw him say this years ago on a TV program) that Jascha Heifetz is "the greatest violinist who ever lived." Kogan idolized Heifetz and modeled himself after Heifetz after first hearing him as a young man. If this is the opinion of such great, great, great artists (and I heard Kogan and Szeryng and Oistrakh live, and I don't see how anyone can possibly play any better than any of the three of them, not to mention a myriad of others), then who are we to quibble?

November 9, 2005 at 03:51 PM · "...who are we to quibble"

The audience. Presumably the only opinions that ultimately matter.

November 9, 2005 at 04:58 PM · My former violin teacher Paul Stassevitch was about 5 years older than Jascha Heifetz when they both studied in St. Petersburg in Leopold Auer’s violin class. At one group lesson Heifetz was called upon to play the Prelude to the E major partita by J.S. Bach.

In the 1950s, during my violin lesson, Stassevitch related to me that, on that particular day, the entire class listened in astonishment as the young Heifetz played the Prelude from memory with faultless precision and at an incredible speed.

About halfway through the movement, a frustrated Leopold Auer threw up his arms and muttered to a few of the listeners “Doesn’t he know you can’t play it that fast !!”

Ted Kruzich

November 10, 2005 at 01:03 AM · Hi, Eric: Written in haste, perhaps "who are we to quibble" isn't exactly what I meant. Of course it is the audience who ultimately decides (I hope). All I meant to imply was that when one person in a certain field is recognized the best by that person's best peers -- most of the others who are considered the best -- that opinion is based on an evaluation that has to be considered seriously. At the moment I can't think of a parallel in another field -- maybe Michael Jordan in basketball, or Shakespeare in playwriting.

November 10, 2005 at 06:46 AM · With all our nostalgic feelings we tend to forget a simple fact: neither Heifetz nor Oistrakh had a chance to express their opinions about violinists who did not yet perform during the lifetime of these two great violinists. One of the safest ways to kill classical music is to praise the dead performers over the living ones without even giving the living ones a fair chance (not just by listening to their recordings, but also by going to their performances).

How can one dare to compare a performer whose record companies produced tens and hundreds of records easily and cheapy accessible to most of us to someone "new", where most of us do not have enough first hand information to judge? I am sure noone is naive enough to assume that artists are "worse" since they produced little or no records.

Do not kill the future of violin and classical music, please, especially not in this forum.


November 10, 2005 at 11:40 AM · Greetings,

you do see to be assuming a priori that poeple here are not going to living concerts and buy the cds. I go to all the living ones and I have yet to see a player who could touch Heifetz, Oistrakh or Milstein although Perlman comes close at times. I buy the cds up to a point, give them a fair listenign and over time they go to the back of cupboard.

I"m afraid it ain't just nostalgia,



November 10, 2005 at 12:27 PM · Do you think your personal preference is more valid than someone else's? If so, why?

November 10, 2005 at 12:47 PM · well well... i'm definitely a big Heifetz fan...i like Oistrakh too, but he will never EVER have Jasha's sound...

i love Heifetz because he has an amazing sound, because of his vibrato,his glissandos...the way all the notes are played from the verry bottom of his heart and soul...

Oistrakh is for me a great musician, but a bit too...eee... perhaps "scare". lets say he's BIG, long phrases...thats great too...but something is missing for me.

i have to recognize that Heifetz didnt always play in tune, that he also had sometimes( once in on million) a LITTLE problem, but personaly,i dont care at all... i'm not listening to that when i hear someone play.

anyway guys i have to go cause i have concert tonight...Glazunov concert!

all the best for Heifetz and Oistrakh fans:))

Lods of love


November 10, 2005 at 01:41 PM · Please go play the Glazunov concerto while square wheels defend dead people on the internet. I hope you get a standing ovation :)

P.S. if you've never heard Sashenka play, you should.

November 10, 2005 at 01:35 PM · Those people don't need defense. And they'r still alive. At least for me.

November 10, 2005 at 02:36 PM · I actually appreciate reading all of these different opinions. I'm speaking here just for me, not for anyone else. It has made me re-evaluate some things I have just taken for granted for a long time. In the final analysis, I'm still "traditional" and I still think Heifetz sits atop the art form. Maybe one day a "new Heifetz" will probably appear on the scene, someone who most can agree is the "model."

However, that opinion is no longer written in stone. And I don't think it's 2 groups: The older ones and the newer ones. I see now a continuum over the recorded history of violin playing.

And the advantage of appreciating all of the differences is that it's not just a difference in technique or vibrato or musical phrasing. It's hearing each composer through a different voice, and therefore hearing a different facet of the composer and the music.

I read somewhere that when Brahms first heard Ysaye play his Violin Concerto, he said, "So, it can be played that way, too." I would hope that I can listen that way to all the violinists I hear -- past or present.

November 10, 2005 at 03:10 PM · Is anybody else with me on my opinion that Leonidas Kavakos must SURELY be up there with the greatest violinists of all time?? He has a PHENOMENAL technique, with a huge tone and beautiful clean playing with such passion and no fake extravangance that one tends to hear from musicians these days...

I have personally been blown away by the two performances of his that I've seen (Mendelssohn and Sibelius concerti).

I also recently heard his Ysaye sonatas, and they are soooo beautiful!

November 10, 2005 at 03:19 PM · After reading all your comments I've come up to the conclusion, or maybe just the mind-trap, that now there's something different with violinists. All masters from the golden age, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Milstein, had their own very personal technique. It's hard to find similarities in their way of playing - it was really personal. It was impossible to mistake Heifetz as somebody else, or the other way. But now there's a "school of violin". We've got some teaching models of technique. The strict bowhold, strict hold of violin, strict fingerings, everything is more standarized and therefore the sound and aura of today's violinist is less customized and less varied. Don't you think? I can listen to many violinists of our age and think, that they are really similar in the case of sound and phrasing. Of coure - there are many with their own feel of playing, but it's more solid. Maybe that's the problem of not finding a "God" like Heifetz again? Maybe players should revise the school of playing once more and try to do something special, something personal with their technique?

Best wishes,


November 10, 2005 at 03:53 PM · I disagree, I can recognise most major violinists today after hearing only a few notes.

November 10, 2005 at 04:04 PM · But none sound as good as the legend,

JASHA HEIFETZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

November 10, 2005 at 04:30 PM · Maybe we can enter some Heifetz records in the next big violin competition. Oops, none of them are younger than 30.

November 10, 2005 at 04:47 PM · This one is now going around in circles. Time to move on folks.

November 10, 2005 at 06:39 PM · Yeah, I can easily recognize Perlman, Kennedy, Bell, Ehnes and few others - but there are many violinists who are not easy to recognize by only few notes.

November 10, 2005 at 07:02 PM · If anything, once again we see the huge majority of members hold Heifetz in high (or highest) esteem. We are talking about a group which goes all the way from rank amateurs to quite accomplished pros, spanning all ages. Josh, does that tell you anything?

November 10, 2005 at 07:59 PM · Stephen:"I go to all the living ones ..." Where would a younger violinist have to perform so his concert would be part of your "all the living" ones? Or do you live basically in an aircraft touching down for live concerts occasionally? ;-)

As far as I could gather some statistics here in this forum I am under the heavy impression that contributions about records and recordings outnumber the ones about live concerts by far.


November 10, 2005 at 08:41 PM · As great as this debate is, and as great as Heifitz was, you're living under a rock if you think he's head and shoulders above every other mere mortal to walk the planet.

If you want to talk faultless playing nearing perfection, I offer you James Ehnes. I've seen this guy in concert about 3 times, playing a wide variety of repertoire. Any person without some sick, psychotic Heifitz fan boy syndrome will have agreed that his performance (in at least a technical sense) equalled that of any other. Musically speaking, he has a gorgeous tone and superior command of the musical language.

What I'm trying to say here is that Heifitz was great, but it's nostalgia and this fanboyism, the same kind of stuff that makes everyone say that Sean Connery was the best Bond (simply to sound like they're in the know) is most of the time just pseudo intellectualism, and part of our need to fit in. If you go to concerts and have seen a lot of violinists, you will realize that it is absolutely ludicrous to say that Heifitz was technically better than anyone of today. Since the standardization of schooling, I'd venture to say that there are some players out there right now who could mop the floor with him.

Musically, that's a different subject alltogether. Again, I think it's people who love the sound of their own voice, trying desperately to appear as if they operate on a higher level of consciousness as they spew the tiresome "Heifitz is God" that I've heard just way too many times. I can totally understand if you want to tell me about the fantastic individuality that existed then (with Heifitz, Milstein, Oistrakh - who is my favourite etc...), but this idea that all of them were so much better is really so inept. These are the same people who say that Macenroe is the best tennis player ever, when in fact anyone with half a brain and a pair of working eyes along with knowledge of tennis could tell you different.

I respect the people like Mr. Steiner and Filimonov, and those who know the instrument who tell me that Heifitz was the greatest, even though I think they aren't correct. But I think that this glorification is most of the time totally uninformed and self indulgent, not to mention completely irresponsible to the state of the arts right now.

November 10, 2005 at 11:14 PM · I'd agree with most of that, but I'd wiki in one real important point.

You might belong to a group that adheres to some school of violin playing, or give a lot of weight to some aspect of playing, or be a big proponent of a particular style of music, say classical. However, when you say one is "better" than the other, all you are really doing is stating a preference. That is all it's possible to do.

The logical proof that it is simply a preference is the impossibility of stating in these situations, in logical terms, why your choice is "better." When it's impossible to say why it's better, it's just a preference.

That's when the subject gets changed completely, or irrelevant things get brought in, appeals to emotion (smugness, humor, banding together, whatever).

Trying to make a preference more than that, or actually thinking it's more, is being foolish in the ways you describe.

November 10, 2005 at 11:20 PM · I disagree with Peter because first of all I don't think anyone here is saying Heifetz is the best just to fit in and also just because someone has a big sound and can play as clean as Heifetz still doesn't mean he or she is as good. Heifetz could just do whatever he wanted and bring out any emotion with the violin and I don't say that because I want to fit in, I say that because I don't hear these qualities to such an extent in other violinists and especially more recent ones. Also, one must be unique, which Heifetz was. If someone else comes along who plays exactly like Heifetz, it would sound good but it won't be good because it's just a copy. Many violinists these days play very similar to eachother and that is another reason why they're not regarded as high as Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrakh, etc.

November 10, 2005 at 11:50 PM · Uh, a lot of other violinists of that era could do whatever they wanted with the violin also and bring out any emotion. If you mystify qualities in Heifetz's playing then of course it will be impossible for other violinists to measure up.

November 11, 2005 at 01:40 AM · "Too many notes. Just change a few and it will be perfect."


November 11, 2005 at 01:40 AM · Yes, I agree, that all of the violinists of the past, in general, had a greater ability to express various kinds of emotion on the violin (whether with slides, control of intonation, different types of vibrato etc). However, it were also these same violinists that "mystified" Heifetz before we all were born.

One must not forget, that when Heifetz made his debut in 1917, which was like an atomic bomb on the world of violin, the people that were in the audience were Zimbalist, Elman, Seidel, Godowsky, Arthur Rubinstein, Kreisler, etc. I mean, it weren't some amatures that got togeather and said, "Heifetz is the greatest", these were all geniueses in their own right, yet they all aknowledged that they were not as good--in one way or another. This was also later aknowledged by Oistrakh, Kogan, Menuhin, Rabin, Perlman, Zukerman, Chung, Stern, Szeryng, etc.

I think unless we become so arrogant as to disregard the opinion of these giants, then we must admit, just like they all did, that Heifetz indeed had something, to which all these other greats all aspired.

November 11, 2005 at 02:57 AM · As someone who will one day be another dead old white guy, well said, "Violin T"!

November 11, 2005 at 03:39 AM · What if they were alive today and switched their allegiance to Leila Josefowicz and you were still back on Heifetz... In the end, you can't let others tell you what to think, the way I see it. You've got your own ears and mind. I wish I could have heard him. I probably had a chance and missed it and it pisses me off.

November 11, 2005 at 04:36 AM · To me I think it's many people being told what to think, which is pathetic. In truth, the average person thinks the same and believes just about everything they are told, therefore this Heifitz zealotry comes as no surprise to me.

November 11, 2005 at 06:33 AM · Violin T,

No one is dismissing what these people said. If you read my comments, you'll see that I grant far more weight to the comments posted by noted professionals who actually know a thing or two than the average weekend hack who struggles through kreutzer studies. In the end, violin playing and all music is about something very beautiful but also very difficult.

The impression that I get is that people have Heifitz on this unbelievable pedestal and everyone else grovelling at his feet. The actual differences between Heifitz and say, Perlman are absolutely miniscule if you want to get scientific. It's ok to say Heifitz was the best, but I wish people would stop saying that he is a god amongsed peasants, because that really isn't the case.

November 11, 2005 at 07:35 AM · I think I understand what is going on here. Once in a while a musician comes along that fellow musicians can not help but admire. He/she may be a musician's musician. They are known for having chops, great facillity, technical skill.

I listen to and watch Mr. H's music with that kind of intrigue. How does he do what he is doing on the instrument? Sometimes it is quite enjoyable, sometimes it is little percussive, and sometimes it is so technical I can't really enjoy it because I'm busy anylizing it.

Sometimes I would rather be listening to another violinist because they offer more for my imagination or emotions. I want to hear something lush, expressive even humorous or devious.

and still hear it played with great technic but not in my face you know what I mean.

I am far from monogamous in my musical taste. No one violinist can do it all for me. Not even Mr. H

My ears are promiscuous.

November 11, 2005 at 07:51 AM · I suspect that this argument about not being able to tell new violinists apart by the sound stems from the fact that recording practices have standardized. It's very easy to tell old violinists from their recordings, because they are recorded in strange and experimental ways. I highly doubt that some weird monotonous epidemic has settled over every single violinist right now. I've heard modern violinists play live, and trust me, they all sound different.

I hold Heifetz in very high regard, but I in no way think that he was unapproachably good. I actually enjoy many people more than I enjoy his recordings, but at the same time, he IS obviously an icon, and is deserving of the respect he receives. Personally, I tend to think Kogan was cleaner and more musically coherent, but that's just me.

I'm not sure why this debate keeps popping up here...it's like the shoulder rest debates that won't die...

November 11, 2005 at 10:22 AM · Peter, who is this "Heifitz" you keep writing about?

November 11, 2005 at 02:21 PM · If I may intrude into this discussion. As an admitted weekend hack who grovels at the feet of Heifetz, who is one of those rabble who believes everything he's told, who can't tell the difference between any two violinists born after 1970 whom he actually hears, but as someone who can instantly identify any dead violinist from listening to 2 seconds of scratchy old recordings, and as someone who entirely overlooks the fact that Heifetz was just another fiddle player who played out of tune, scratchy, too fast, and who made lots of mistakes, I'd like to make a couple of observations.

I think there are two points of view in truly evaluating the impact of Heifetz:

1. Historical - From the point of view of the history of violin playing, the sudden emergence of Heifetz on the world's musical stage in 1917 was, I think, a pivotal event in the history of violin playing. Heifetz set a new standard not only in violin playing but in musical performance of any kind. After his example, in person and on records, it quickly became no longer fashionable for audiences or musicians to tolerate bad intonation, sloppy playing, lack of fidelity to the score, idiosyncratic interpretations, and all the rest in ANY kind of music. He really did raise the world's musical standards. This is an historical pedestal on which Heifetz was the right person at the right place at the right time (which was also during the true emergence of the recording industry). If it had been David Oistrakh on that stage at Carnegie Hall in 1917, Oistrakh would be the icon. In part, I believe, this will always be the Heifetz legacy.

2. The Heifetz technical and interpretive example. Here is where the real argument is, I believe. Many of you obviously do not agree, but Heifetz, to me, is still a model -- not necessarily of perfection, but of a complete package of technique, interpetation, voice, ability to communicate, fidelity to the score, and so forth, Yet, even I -- silly old indiscriminate amateur that I am, and one who positively idolizes the very ground Heifetz walks on -- even I don't always prefer actually listening to Heifetz in everything. Yes, I love his Tchaikovsky dearly, but most of the time I'd rather listen to the Francescatti version more. I love the Heifetz Sibelius, but I would rather listen to Kavakos. I love Hilary Hahn's Shostakovitch #1, Perlman's Brahms, Milstein's Goldmark, Menuhin's Paganini #2 and Nielsen, Gitlis' Bartok, and Kennedy's Beethoven. No violinist has the last word. But still, without a Heifetz interpetation, there is something missing as a kind of standard (at least, to me).

This is an art, not a competition. Our modern winner-take-all, competitive society is destructive when it comes to art.

Competitiveness may be great in sports and business and sales and who can get to the moon first, but not in a lot of other things. Anybody out there want to be the world's greatest -- the standard for others -- for sexual performance? For that matter, anybody out there want to be in second place or lower? It's as ridiculous a concept for sexual performance as it is for musical performance, for violin performance, at its most exalted level.

We need, I think, to get back to celebrating the individual differences of the talented and accomplished people among us. We need to celebrate the unique vision and voice of individual artists. And not just in violin playing.

November 11, 2005 at 02:35 PM · Hay,Sander; JH never recorded Shostakovich, Goldmark,Nielsen,Paganini 2d nor Bartok. I would be deligh ted of listen to him on Goldmark, It's a piece tailor-med for him!

November 11, 2005 at 02:55 PM · Hi, Carlos. Right, of course. And it's too bad he didn't. But let's take Wieniewski 2 (I like Rabin), Korngold (ever hear Kavakos?), Paganini Caprices (Ehnes? Ricci? Rabin?), Prokofiev #2 (I like Francescatti). I have never thought that the Heifetz Beethoven Sonatas, as wonderful as they are, have the same impact as a host of others I've heard (live and recorded). I once heard a live performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Mischa Mischakoff (who was then very old), and it was fantastic. All I'm saying is that even if you ideolize the man, it's hard (at least for me) to take a steady diet of Heifetz ( or of anyone else) exclusively. And yes, the Heifetz Goldmark would have been something to hear. I think he did make a recording of the slow movement (with piano) when he was a teenager, but it still would be the outer two movements that one would have loved to hear.

November 11, 2005 at 03:07 PM · Yes, to much listen to the same player gives indigestion. I've recordings of -at least- 50

different violinists, old and young, since Huberman's in 1900 (19th.century!) to Hagai Shaham playing the Hubay's 14 "Scenes of the Czarda". But

I desagree about Korngold and Wieniawsky 2. IMO

nobody has plaided it better than JH.

November 11, 2005 at 03:19 PM · Yes, nobody played those better (to me, too), but if I listened to each of those more than 3 times in a row, I'd want to hear something different, even it was less masterful.

November 11, 2005 at 03:58 PM · Dear Josh: Might I direct you to my v.com entry under category, 'CD Reviews' - Erick Friedman New CD!, Prokofieff Concert #1, etc., re: Superhuman Heifetz.

'Different strokes for different folks' (including violinists, perhaps?)

Penny for your thoughts?



November 11, 2005 at 04:09 PM · Rock music has a similar kind of acknowledged singular evolutionary icon though he's not such a well-known name to the public, maybe. No, not Elvis.

November 11, 2005 at 05:15 PM · Hendrix Jim?

I used to be on a ton of rock guitar forums and every debate where the discussion was about the best guitarist always ended up being Hendrix no.1, for his historical impact.

Mr. Sander, everyone knows that Heifetz was very important, perhaps moreso than anyone else. That doesn't mean that he was so much better than other players. Hendrix was a bombshell for rock and started a style that was hugely dominant from him all the way to 80s shredders, that doesn't mean that everyone was absolutely love him solely on his importance. The luxury we have living in these times is that we don't have to care about the status quo, we get to judge solely on recordings. I agree with Amy on Kogan...

November 11, 2005 at 05:22 PM · That's not who I was thinking of, but he's another one. I was thinking much earlier.

November 11, 2005 at 05:26 PM · Les Paul? Spill the beans man, hijack this thread for the love of god.

November 11, 2005 at 05:33 PM · Eric Johnson.

November 11, 2005 at 05:24 PM · I wonder how famous would Heifetz have become, if he would never have lived and performed in US, the country with the then and nowadays strongest media (film) industry, at least in the English speaking world? I just know that he was his whole life afraid of European competition; one time (in the 40ties) he even tried to lobby US legislature into banning non-US players from performing on US stages. Maybe he did not know himself how great a violinist he was? ;-)


November 11, 2005 at 08:28 PM · Pieter: I'm not saying Heifetz is "better" than other players. Or, rather, I'm saying that TO ME he represents a model. But others play a lot of things better. I've never heard a more beautiful vibrato than that of David Nadien. I've never heard a more exciting rapid passage in the 1st movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto (the buildup to the orchestra's full blast of that famous theme) than Francescatti (Heifetz is disappointing by comparison). Anybody play any warmer than Oistrakh? And Hillary Hahn (whose playing has gotten so much criticism on this website) is to me elegance personified. But still, a Heifetz performance (to me) is like the base setting on a gauge, a certain traditional model of performance. When I read anything on this website, I try first to truly look at it from the writer's point of view, and I believe it has broadened my opinion considerably on this question (more than you may think). But for me, personally, Heifetz still holds a special place in my musical landscape. That doesn't make him better than anyone else, and that doesn't necessarily make him the perferred choice when I throw a CD on the machine. But this whole discussion with all these points of view, for me, has really been helpful in gaining a perspective on things I have just taken for granted for a long time.

And, Jim: So?....Who is it?

November 11, 2005 at 05:39 PM · If it isn't Robert Johnson (I said Eric by accident, who is white and much more modern) then it's Django... but all rock people have a special little thing in their heart for Robert Johnson who was an early blues guitarist.

November 11, 2005 at 05:43 PM · Jim is going to tell us it's Heifetz.

November 11, 2005 at 05:50 PM · Yes. I was laughing my ass off at Eric Johnson. I knew who you meant.

November 11, 2005 at 05:57 PM · IMO, one of the main merits of JH was that 50 or

60 years ago, he had the guts to record rare works

that nobody, or very few, had recorded before: Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Conus, Rosza, Walton, Greunberg etc. BTW, anybody knows any recording of Greunberg's

v.c.besides JH?. It seams that he had killed the


November 11, 2005 at 06:24 PM · They are both really great artists.

November 11, 2005 at 08:08 PM · Exactly, they are both great artists. And I recommend anyone who can't hear that to listen more, a lot more, before writing off either one.

November 11, 2005 at 08:49 PM · Gennadius Maximus Expertus said:

"Heifetz's Sibelius recording is among the most exciting ones. It is not spliced like the modern recordings are."

Which is a very important point indeed! Splicing changes the recording art from being a "record" of a "performance" into "performance of the recording art".

My question to Gennady (I haven't a copy of said recording) how do you *know* it's not spliced? Does it say that on it's origianl packaging?



November 11, 2005 at 08:46 PM · It seems that when a violinist reaches the upper stratosphere that these two reached, comparisons begin to pale. Having said that, as someone else mentioned when you listen to the Scottish Fantacy played by Heifetz, well I can think of no better recording. But listen to the Katchiturian played by Oistrakh-on well its the best. I was lucky to hear them both at recital, each brought something to the concert hall that we can all just smile and appreciate. Now how about that Vengerov!!

November 11, 2005 at 09:03 PM · Yes, yes, yes. And, thinking further about all of the sound and fury on this thread, I think that what all those great violinists who looked at Heifetz as some sort of supreme example is not that they wanted to copy him. I think that they appreciated what he accomplished and considered it a model for achieving their own unique potential and their own artistic vision. Look at Oistrakh -- "There are us violinists, then there is Heifetz" -- But Oistrakh's approach is nothing like that of Heifetz. I think he saw Heifetz doing something few have done -- achieving his full potential -- an example of what is possible if you follow your talent to the limit, and not someone to copy in every detail.

PS. I've heard Heifetz and Oistrakh live, too, and Vengerov. I heard him play the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Chicago Symphony a few years ago, and he was fantastic.

November 11, 2005 at 09:26 PM · Actually there are splices, but typically recordings from that period have fewer edits. I do know the 2nd mvmt of the Beethoven concerto with the Boston Symphony has no edits. The other movements do. I'm sensing some Paul Bunyan mystery tales.

I like what Amy said about recordings. And half of what most of us associate with his sound is probably actually the sound of those very colored RCA recordings.

I like V's Liebesfreud and Libeslied a lot, but that's all I've heard of him. I like Barton's Scottish Fantasy, because it sounds Scottish...

November 11, 2005 at 09:09 PM · And speaking of splicing, one of my all-time favorite recordings, the Francescatti recording of the Beethoven Concerto with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (1950, just re-released after all these decades by Biddulph) was (I learned only recently from someone who knew Francescatti) a studio recording but recorded in its entirety in one take. It has that spontaneity and specialness of a live performance. Now I know why.

November 11, 2005 at 09:23 PM · I had that recording in college, Sander. It was one of my four or five records :) Very energetic, and smooth.

November 11, 2005 at 09:18 PM · Yes, and it just was re-issued on CD last year. I've been waiting for some kind of re-issue for almost 50 years. I'm sure I'll find a way to wear out the CD.

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