Jascha Heifetz: Why not Paganini?

July 6, 2006 at 05:04 AM · Jascha Heifetz is known as the world's greatest violinists to many. Second to none in his technical abilities.

Here's the question: Why didn't he ever record Paganini besides his Moto Perpetuo and three of his caprices?

Why not the Concerto No. 1? Why not the whole 24 caprices?

I've been searching for this answer for a long time and have not come to a conclusion. Some say that Paganini might have ruined his reputation because of its extreme difficulty. I don't know.

What do you guys think?

Replies (100)

July 6, 2006 at 05:43 AM · It's clear that Heifetz easily could've excelled in Paganini recordings had he wanted to do them.

Maybe he didn't want to be pigeonholed as strictly a technical gymnast for playing Paganini. Or maybe he was too busy with other musical projects.

July 6, 2006 at 08:21 AM · Heifetz did prefer playing the caprices with piano accompaniment (Schumann vers.). Perhaps that says something..........

July 6, 2006 at 12:57 PM · Kevin said:Maybe he didn't want to be pigeonholed as strictly a technical gymnast for playing Paganini.

So, how may I ask, was he pigeonholed??? All I ever heard about him was his technical excellence. He was not a musican a la Oistrakh or even Francescatti. Listen to his cadenza from the old recording of the Brahms Concerto(Naxos)--it's as dumb as a box of rocks. I can't imagine him playing challenging musical thought, indeed, he seems to avoid musical thinking allowing his fingers to do all the walking. That is why I have so little use for him. Josef Lhevinne was as great a virtuoso on the piano but he could THINK!

July 6, 2006 at 01:18 PM · Nurse, get Mr. Azneer's information and tell the emergency room he's on his way.

July 6, 2006 at 01:29 PM · In the "old days" when Heifetz was coming up, it was typical for a violinist to be labeled as strictly a technician if he could play Paganini. Vasa Prihoda, Jan Kubelik, and a number of other great MUSICIANS fell into this category. I'm sure Heifetz (or any other violinist) did not want to be labeled at such.

Actually, I consider Heifetz mainly a "musical" violinist. The irony is that I've always felt that he was the one guy in violin playing who truly gave his technique to his music. I don't think I've heard Heifetz play anything without "challenging musical thought", but that's strictly my opinion.

If anything, sometimes I feel that Heifetz's does too much with the music. Sometimes I prefer simpler interpretations over Heifetz's colossally epic violin sagas.

Nurse, make sure that Dr. Azneer accepts coverage under the right insurance plan BEFORE he gets to the emergency room! :)

July 6, 2006 at 01:43 PM · Oops he's a doc. Don't give him to an intern or put him on the gurney with the crazy wheel.

July 6, 2006 at 02:37 PM · De Gustibus. Sure swould love to hear his Shostakovich to compare it with Oistrakh.

July 6, 2006 at 02:57 PM · Here we go again. The Heifetz thing.

Heifetz was THE violinist thinker of all time. He did all his thinking in his preparation. When he came to perform, everything was all set and under his fingers. That's what Menuhin always criticized him for.

Now, if you don't LIKE the way he thought about music, and if you prefer someone else's way of thinking about music, that's fine.

Cheers, Sandy

July 6, 2006 at 04:25 PM · One thing I must concede is that like Toscanini, who changed out ideas of orchestras -- Heifetz changed our idea of what a violin and violinists are--one need only look at the nature of violin competitions to realize that we have come to admire even idolize a kind of clinically clean virtuosity--no others need apply.

July 6, 2006 at 07:57 PM · Yes. Whether it was his own doing or he just happened to come along at the "right" time with right stuff, Heifetz is the clinically clean model that has been adopted not only by violinists but by musicians everywhere. He changed the standards.

Now, if you don't happen to like those standards and prefer something more individual (in interpretation or technique), more spontaneous, more in-the-moment, or more vulnerable, that's fine. There are times when that makes for exciting and thrilling music-making.

But I don't think it's either-or; it's both. One can appreciate the Heifetz approach (and he does indeed have his own brand of passionate playing) to the Brahms Concerto and at the same time thrill to the positively gigantic musical conception of Oistrakh's approach. Why can't we have both? Oistrakh and Heifetz both did. Oistrakh positively idolized Heifetz, yet Oistrakh still went his own way, and (as I recall) when Oistrakh died, Heifetz had nothing but praise for one of the few who was directly compared to him.


July 6, 2006 at 08:01 PM · Jay,

The thing is Oistrakh was very clever in being at the right place at the right time as far as contemporary repertoire goes.

David O. was fortunate to get close to many of the top composers of his time. In fact the better talent in Soviet Union was Boris Goldshtein who could play rings around David O. but he did not care for new music and did not shmooze as did David.

Heifetz had different tastes and prefered new music in the genre of Korngold, Rosza, Waxman all of whom had written their works especially for Heifetz and in my opinion no one does them better than the man himself did.

This is what's great......many of the stars made themselves synonymous with certain works like Milstein with Goldmark, Oistrakh with Shostakovitch and Heifetz with Waxman, Korngold etc.

There is nothing wrong with that is there.

Do we expect DeNiro to play Shakespeare?

Or would we want to see Monet's Renaissance style?

We appreciate them for what they do (or have done) best.

July 6, 2006 at 08:13 PM · Why does every discussion about Heifetz end up with people attacking him and defending him? Why can't you just accept that he was a great violinist even if you happen to not like it? Arguing about it won't change any one else's mind and so that we suddenly realize he sucks. If you don't like him, fine, but this isn't about whether anyone likes him or not, it's about why he didn't record much Paganini.

July 6, 2006 at 08:16 PM · By the way, there is a discussion that talks about this but I think it originally was about Milstein.

July 6, 2006 at 08:11 PM · I wished he would of recorded the Paganini Concerto No.#1, he did play it live I hear. His rendition of Paganini's 24th caprice on video is unbelievable, the best I heard. What's more exciting is watching him play it!

July 6, 2006 at 08:22 PM · There's much adu about nothing. H.doesen't recorded

more Paganini because he doesen't want to, or because he didn´t like it. And that's all.

July 6, 2006 at 08:23 PM · The thing about Heifetz is that if you're not listening carefully enough, you'll think he's a "cold" player lacking musicality. With the exception of speed, (where apparently he forgot about moderation) I think Heifetz is more about smooth subtlety. Listen carefully and you'll her some wonderful musical ideas, even at the top speeds. Incredible. Some players can wear it all out on their sleeve, others have more restraint. Both approaches are valid though. Personally I like both. Different pieces may require one or the other. As for not recording Paganini, I think Kevin has a point. Hefeitz was brilliant at creating the Heifetz image. I'm sure he didn't want to go down in history as merely a great technician.


July 7, 2006 at 12:40 AM · Thanks for all your responses.

As Ivry Gitlis said: (I'm trying to remember this from the Art of Violin DVD)

"Some people say Heifetz played 'cold'. Close your eyes! Listen! What you're hearing is not 'cold'!"

-Ivry Gitlis

And also:

"Heifetz didn't move much. He only moved what was necessarily, and that is, in my estimation, the reason why people called him cold. But instead, to me, Heifetz is like a tornado, staying in one place but with the greatest amount of energy and heat coming out."

-Itzhak Perlman

Anyway, so I guess no one still has a definite reason as to why Heifetz never recorded Paganini.


July 7, 2006 at 01:31 AM · Didn't he record I Papiti? That's pretty up there on the difficulty scale. I would doubt he didn't record more Paganini for technical reasons.

I think the only way we could find out for sure is if there's a Heifetz quote floating around out there....somehow I doubt that there is though.

I still think it's for musical reasons, but we'll probably never know.


July 7, 2006 at 01:35 AM · Simple...It was too rough and tough for him to make the Paganini music in Heifetz's style, because he knew he was not comfortable interpretating Paganini pieces in Heifetz's guts.

July 7, 2006 at 01:52 AM · Greetings,

that`s a rather interesting perspective. Maybe he felt instinctively that his influence on the development of violin playing was as revolutionary and defintive as that of Paginin and it set up some kind of unconscious resiatnce to becomeing associateed with Paginini.

That kind of ties in with the strong impresison I have gleane dof Heifetz of someone who disliked making comaprisons either with himself or concerning others.



July 7, 2006 at 02:29 AM · Uhh, some rather medicore violinists have done well for themselves sawing out Paganini, I somewhat doubt that someone of Heifetz's level shied away from those works because of the "difficulty".

July 7, 2006 at 05:57 AM · Sam Lee, you're not going to get any of us here other than Eun Hwan Bae to "admit" that Heifetz couldn't play Paganini and that's why he shied away from it in concert.

July 7, 2006 at 06:20 AM · Greetings,

heck, I`ve jsut thought of something. Maybe the guy just coudln`t stand Paginini`s music.



July 7, 2006 at 06:28 AM · Oh...Heifetz COULD PLAY anything...but Paganini music was not for his style.

Heifetz preferred to play other kinds of music...but look at the video when he played the 24th Paganini caprice(Auer edition, with schumann accompaniment)...That is the ultimate high level violin playing.

Nobody can play like Heifetz even at any composition.

July 7, 2006 at 07:00 AM · Paganini was simply too easy for him:-)

July 7, 2006 at 07:21 AM · Eun Hwan Bai - Welcome back! It's been a while since I saw you here :-)

July 7, 2006 at 07:57 AM · Eun Hwan Bai,

Now I see what you mean. I agree.

July 7, 2006 at 08:05 AM · "Nobody can play like Heifetz even at any composition"

Yes Heifetz was indeed an individual performer, thats how I interpret this remark - but to say that his rendition of works is superior to everyone elses is an insult to the composer and to the work...and too every other great violinist who lived and live currently. I'm always annoyed when people state proudly that "Heifetz was the best violinist of the twentieth century", the best? what does that mean? Who judges that? Musically the best? Technically he was superb but I've heard recordings of Kogan, Sitkovetsky and even young Menuhin that are just as technically breathtaking - Heifetz was an individual and unique of that there is no doubt, he was just one of the MANY great violinists of the 20th century

July 7, 2006 at 08:22 AM · Yes, and where Heifetz was lacking musically (e.g. his Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn) others performed with much greater feeling.

Milstein, for example showed how the caprices could be played with ease, expression, and creativity.

Sam, was you it who posted the Youtube video of Shaham playing the Sarasate?

Thanks a lot!

July 7, 2006 at 06:38 PM · Haha, yup!

You're welcome, and I'm glad you're enjoying those videos.

If you want to see more videos I uploaded, go here:


July 7, 2006 at 08:28 PM ·

July 7, 2006 at 09:19 PM · As has been mentioned by many others elsewhere, there is a lot of music Heifetz never recorded or (for all I know) played besides Paganini. For example, I would have positively loved to have heard a Heifetz rendition of the Bartok Concerto, the Bartok Sonatas, the Shostakovich #1, the Prokofiev #1, the Barber, the Goldmark, any of the Vivaldi concerti, the Beethoven Triple Concerto, the Berg, the Ysaye Sonatas, and a few others. I think that Mr. Heifetz knowingly or unknowingly deprived us all by not recording them.

On the other hand, he made many, many chamber music recordings which other great virtuosos didn't. IMO many of these performances have been vastly underrated by many respondents on this website. The Brahms Sextet, for example - how could you ask for any warmer or more thrilling individual and ensemble playing from the lead violinist? You want passion?...How does it get any better than the "million dollar trio" playing the Tchaikovsky Trio.


July 7, 2006 at 11:56 PM · Heifetz had certain Paganini pieces he studied with Auer,and for whatever reason never added anything.He also didn`t record much Kreisler compared with others.He seemed more interested in commissioning new works,or transcribing other works for the violin.My opinion is that this was his way of being innovative,and challenging himself.He would only add major new pieces if they fit his style and were a challenge.

July 8, 2006 at 05:48 AM · Of course we can only assume he thought they weren't a challenge. Most likely not his style.

Perhaps he was too busy to ever learn those caprices (though he probably would have learned them in 10 minutes if that were the case)!

July 8, 2006 at 06:50 AM · I heard that he knew all the caprices.

July 8, 2006 at 09:54 AM · ofcourse he did.

But he was a musician first, and his technique served the music at hand. He was also a formidable pianist. In the Auer class, all the students had to accompany each other (knowing the piano parts as well as their violin parts).

This was the type of training students had in Russia and later the Soviet Union. The same goes for the French School which later evolved into the Franco-Belgian school.

July 8, 2006 at 05:06 PM · Heifetz did not feel secure in playing Paganini No.1. The fact about Heiftz is, that he only played what he thought he could play great 10 out of 10 times LIVE.

There is a very rare recording of him playing the 1st movement.

What Heifetz was very cautious about in that cocnerto are the double harmonics which msot people can't play without faking, and which he did not feel he could play at his standard every single time.

July 8, 2006 at 05:37 PM · Where is this recording?

July 8, 2006 at 05:43 PM · No such recording exists. Although some of Violin T's facts seem apochryphal, the general point that Heifetz did not feel his technique up to par for Paganini is correct, IF you believe what he told Herbert Axelrod. Sometimes I'm not so sure he wasn't just being a disingenuous crank to the guy he sued in the run up to that famous interview because the explanation seems so baldy preposterous. I tend to think that most of Paganiniani didn't interest him much and that he considered it a tad musically undignified. He seemed to favor the Wieniawski or Sarasate brand of showpiece or works with a bit more modern inflection to them - works that were more than systematic displays of all the tools in the violinistic tool kit.

July 9, 2006 at 12:30 AM · It's interesting that we don't really know for sure why Heifetz didn't play much Paganini in public or recordings. We're making educated guesses.

This is part of the enigma of Heifetz. For one of the most famous and public musicians of all time, we really know very little about him as a person, or even key aspects about how he arrived at the style he basically perfected in his youth. He was completely secretive about so much of his personal life, that we seem to rely on tidbits of conversations that may or may not have taken place. It certainly seems clear that Heifetz was able to play Paganini (he seems to have been able to play anything). And for sure he played a lot of virtuoso music by violinist-composers. So the answer is probably in the realm of musical preferences or maybe concern about the impact on audiences, or whatever. But it is amazing how little we actually know.

Had Heifetz lived in this era in which celebrities live in the proverbial fishbowl and are often defenseless against the prying eye, I wonder how he would have fared. I also wonder what could possibly have been so terrible about his childhood that he had to keep it such a secret.

Even a detailed biography of him, like the one by Wechsler-Vered, leaves the reader wondering who this guy Jascha Heifetz really was.


July 9, 2006 at 03:49 AM · I believe one point that Kevin Huang hit on is that he really did use his technical brilliance in order to enhance his and a composer's musical ideas. Perhaps he felt that much of Paganini is so focused on technique that there is much less room for musical interpretation than in Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach etc.

Another point is that there was already someone who was making Paganini his specialty and doing a fine job at it- Ruggiero Ricci. I'm not ignoring that he played a larger repetoire than anybody else, including Heifetz. But his specialty was Paganini plus other showpieces and that's mainly why people know him. Perhaps Heifetz didn't want to step on that out of respect, or felt that he simply covered it well enough where Heifetz didn't have anything new to say in it.

A final point that I don't think anybody has brought up about the caprices...Paganini himself didn't even perform them! Heifetz only played selected ones and only with piano. He seems to say with this, "I can toss these off like nothing...and here, enjoy some music while I do so."

What I wish he had recorded were the Ysaye sonatas, but then again there may be reason for that. They were all dedicated to prominent living violinists, none of which were him.

July 9, 2006 at 03:59 AM · Violin T:

"What Heifetz was very cautious about in that cocnerto are the double harmonics which msot people can't play without faking, and which he did not feel he could play at his standard every single time."

Can you explain what "can't play without faking" is? What do you mean by "faking"?

And I think that Heifetz might have not played the caprices because to him, they might've been excercises. Imagine someone playing a Kreutzer etude during a concert. That would be odd..haha.


July 9, 2006 at 04:03 AM · I'd play a Kreutzer etude in a concert ANY DAY. In fact, I'd much rather play a Kreutzer etude than some atonal piece that has no melody or even harmony.

Classical guitarists and pianists play "exercises" in concert all the time, especially if the work concerned sounds good. Why can't violinists do the same?

July 9, 2006 at 11:20 AM · Perhaps Heifetz did not believe his Paganini was up to standard. His own standards.

How do you fake double harmonics? Either you hit them or don't...


I didn't :P

July 9, 2006 at 10:18 AM · Brian,

I agree with alot of what you said.

But, regarding your statement:

"What I wish he had recorded were the Ysaye sonatas, but then again there may be reason for that. They were all dedicated to prominent living violinists, none of which were him."

Ysaye dedicated his sonatas to his contemporaries who were closer to Ysaye in age like Thibaud, Kreisler etc.

Heifetz in relation to that was just a new-comer (born 1901).

I believe the sonatas were published in 1924, but he started writing them well before that.

Thus it is possible that when Ysaye started to conceive these works Heifetz was only a child probably less than 10 years old.

By the time the works WERE printed (in 1924), Heifetz was starting on his international career.

Here is a fabulous article by Yuri Beliavsky who presented a very early recording of Heifetz from Russia by Russian Gramophone Society which many did not know existed at that time, from 1911 when Jasha was 10 years old.

Here is a very interesting paragraph from this article regarding the authors observations:

"Giving lectures on “An Historical Perspective on the Art of

Violin Playing since the Beginning of the Recording Era” in

Chicago, Milwaukee, Moscow ( Russia), and at an international workshop in Eisenstadt,

Austria, I was astonished at how little is known presently about the

violin playing of the past, its technical level, its style, and its

sound quality.

Many professional musicians in the field of violin

have very little idea that violin playing was not always the same,

but has changed significantly in the last 150 years. Listening to the

recordings of the great personalities of the violin from the

previous era must, I believe, be extremely important now that

standardization of playing takes more and more precedence over

personalization of performance. We are losing the most important

aspect of any art, which is the personality of the creative artist. And

hearing the playing of Kreisler, Heifetz, Elman, and Menuhin could

inspire and enlighten today’s playing immensely. Heifetz

established the modern, extremely high level of perfection in

violin playing. Violin art benefitted immeasurably from the

Heifetz phenomenon, but, through the years, the personal approach

to interpretations of musical works has diminished in direct

proportion to these steadily rising levels of perfection. If the

renditions of the great masters’ pieces could combine the technical

perfection of today with the great personalization of the past,

the next step in violin art will be achieved.

Yuri Beliavsky


full article is called "Recollections"


July 9, 2006 at 12:18 PM · Gennady,

I agree with Mr. Beliavsky regarding Heifetz. I can also go along with his assertion that "the the most important aspect of any art" is "the personality of the creative artist." The primary creative artist is the composer, however, not the violinist. I wouldn't call our art completely secondary either - certainly composers counted on creative input coming from the performers. The great difficulty is asserting one's unique voice while always staying subservient to the message of the music. A performance which focuses on only the former is arrogant; one that concentrates wholly on the latter is pedantic. Certainly personalization is a great thing; however, I must disagree when Mr. Beliavsky says the violinist's personality is supreme. The composer's intention, I think, should always come first.

PS: By the way, Gennady, I'm not saying that you don't respect composers' intentions. I'm just responding to the views in the article. =)

July 9, 2006 at 02:35 PM · Wow a recording of Heifetz from when he was 10!? Where can we get hold of that?? I want to hear! How did he play then?

July 9, 2006 at 02:36 PM · If you are interested on 1911 russian Heifetz's recordings, you have 6 of them on a Doremi CD. Heif.Collection Vol 5. It has LvB v.c.live with

Rodzinsky,plus the only 6 pieces known at the time.

It's very possible that others exists on private

hands or hidden on some dark place. The technique

of Jascha at that early age is amazing.

July 9, 2006 at 02:25 PM · These discussions remind me of what a mystic I used to know said: to be a great musical performer you have to be highly sensitive to the suffering of others.

I wonder whether the horrific situation of Jews in Russia at the start of the twentieth century meant that they had an extreme awareness of the pain of people and of life. Such confrontation with reality might have contributed to the depth of the playing of so many Russian Jewish violinists, and also be connected to their unwillingness to talk about their childhoods, their desire to avoid personal exposure (through sarcasm, coolness etc.).

Or is music all simply inborn talent, technique and training?

July 9, 2006 at 02:22 PM · Nicholas-

I'm not trying to call you out here at all, but I was wondering if you might be willing to elaborate a little further on your previous thread, just for clarification.

I always hear the words "intent of the composer."

I was wondering if you might clarify your view of "intent of the composer" as relates to a specific piece (of your choice) and how that may have taken a back seat to the personality of a given violinist. You may even take the easy road and use Bach if you wish.

Rachmaninoff was a great pianist, but claimed that other pianists 'interpreted' his works better than he. So in this case (and I'm sure there are others), other musicians had perhaps better 'intentions' with Rachmaninoff's pieces than did Rachmaninoff.

It's an interesting point because we all hear this saying" "true intentions of the composer."

Other than:

1. Rhythm

2. Dynamics

3. General articulation marks

4. other written directions

5. historical data about the piece, ie, letters, diaries, etc. relating specifically to the piece.

Furthermore, can the composer hear EXACTLY what a piece sounds like?

Also, is it possible that a performer might have a better interpretation of a given work than even the composer 'intended?'

Just some things to think about, I guess. I don't know....

July 9, 2006 at 05:58 PM · William, Nicholas,

This is precisely the discussion in which my husband and I have usually disagreed. Until recently, I have always felt that the performer should be a transparancy for what the composer intended, whereas my husband has felt that more of the creative burden falls on the artist to interpret the work. I've come around to his view point recently. However, I've found that there really should be 3 components considered, the composer, the performer, and the audience. Yes, that's right the audience. I remember in literature (English lit, not music lit) courses finding multiple meanings within certain texts. Often, they may not be what the author intended. But seeing as I found that meaning in the text, doesn't that mean that it's there none-the-less? Basically, the author had hit on some truth without realizing it. I think it is the same in music. A composer could intend a phrase to express certain emotions and truths, the performer could interpret it differently, and the listener could then interpret the performance he or she heard differently than the performer intended. Here you have various interpretations of the same work at the very same performance. Each of us comes to the music with different filters, so we'll each experience and understand it differently. However, whether or not it's what the composer, or performer intended, if it evokes a certain emotion in the listener, then it's there within the music. I think there's a quote out there by someone (I forget who) about how being a performer is like being a mirror to the audience. The audience will see in the music what they are bringing to the performance.

Interesting theory.


July 9, 2006 at 06:31 PM · Laura, I agree. There is a parallel in linguistics. The linguistics expert, the late Dr. Neil Postman, once said that we talk about "teaching" and "learning" as if they are two separate things. He said that in reality, the only rational definition of "to teach" is "to enable another to learn." They don't occur separately.

Similarly, music is a transactional art form. It doesn't make sense without a composer, a performer, and an audience. All three have their own perceptions and bring their own experiences, expectations, knowledge, talents, preferences, and focus of attention to the performance.

What makes classical music performance difficult is that we have no recordings of Paganini, and no comments by Paganini of performances by Heifetz or Ricci or anyone else. Who is to say, ultimately, which performance is what the composer actually wanted.

There is a story about Brahms, who heard a performance of his Violin Concerto by Ysaye and said, "So, it can be played that way, too."

And how many composers have re-edited their compositions based at least in part on initial audience reactions?

Cordially, Sandy

July 9, 2006 at 06:35 PM · That's my point exactly, Laura and Sander.

July 9, 2006 at 06:43 PM · Yes, William. I agree. Sandy

July 9, 2006 at 07:24 PM · and imagine how the Brahms concerto would have sounded if Joachim did not change the original manuscript. Brahms valued his friend's opinion greatly, and told him to make as many corrections as needed. (see the Joachim Letters available in print)

If you see the copy of the original score, you would see how different the actual score of Brahms looked and sounded like. Nothing like the work we know. In fact it is much better thanks to Joachim.

Oistrakh and Rostropovitch had the same effect on Shostakovitch.



I think you make some great points and I agree with you if we look at things from our (21st cent.) point of you. But, Beliavsky gives an excellent account from a historic point of view which many seem to fortget. It is this element which I have been dwelling on because one has to embrace the past and understand why the guys from the golden age sounded the way they did.

It is of historic significance for us to understand.

It is the same in Jazz and in Drama and Art.

We can appreciate Louis Armstrong for his contribution but we shouldn't accuse him of not starting Bee-Bop etc.

He had his time and his style. So did Miles D. and so did Heifetz.

And Beliavsky's contribution to this historic account is quite significant.

July 9, 2006 at 07:29 PM · and Russians are the best!!

joking ha ha

July 9, 2006 at 07:44 PM · I am watching the match now and it is 1 -1, 2nd half with France dominating.

July 9, 2006 at 08:49 PM · Forza Italia!!!!! Shame on Zidane!

July 10, 2006 at 03:29 AM · Well this discussion is certainly evolving.

It is quite obvious that you can't tell how a composer wants his work played besides mostly what pitch they want and when. The case with Rachmoninoff is one example. People who played his works for him clearly made him hear things that he hadn't thought of, even though he wrote the pieces.

I also read a story about Sibelius, who was conducting his own concerto in a rehearsal when the violinist (I forget who) asked of the second movement, "Maestro, some people play this faster and some people play it slower. Which way do you like it?" to which Sibelius replied "Both."

The message contained in music is quite personal. While it tells a story, you as an individual should see your own stories within a piece. These are the stories you tell when you play the piece- not exactly the story the composer was telling. Each member of the audience will hear their own story in your performance of the piece.

This is why musical performance relies so heavily on the individual. Imagine that the composer's work is an event. When 10 people witness the same event not a single one will describe it in the same way or with the same words. We like those artists who can make a personal statement with another's music. And we want to feel a personal relation to the performer and composer by knowing we have been through the same passionate things in our own lives.

Perhaps Heifetz could not find his own personal story in Paganini?

July 10, 2006 at 04:54 AM · Are there any scholarly articles available regarding Heifetz's repertoire? Not that I doubt for a moment that he didn't know all the caprices, but it'd be good to know all this hasn't been pure speculation.

July 10, 2006 at 08:41 AM · just email Beliavsky.

July 10, 2006 at 04:30 PM · Brian,

Very nicely said. That was my point exactly, but you said it better.


July 10, 2006 at 07:09 PM · Does anyone remeber Heifetz master class#2.Heifetz directed a sarcastic comment toward Friedman concerning his caprice selection.

July 10, 2006 at 07:52 PM · In fact Erik F. told me that Heifetz was hardest on the students he really liked a lot. (I had taken some lessons with Friedmann back in my school days.)

Friedmann loved Heifetz till the day he died and said he owed everything to Jasha.

Interestingly enough, when Friedmann was on the threshold of a major career (before his Heifetz days) and was very much groomed by Galamian, he chose to go play for Heifetz and delay his concert schedule etc. Heifetz accepted Erik, and Erik decided he wanted to change a lot of what he had learned from Galamian including dropping the shoulder rest (as requested by Heifetz). He changed his bowing style w/Heifetz completely.

I think Friedmann came closest in copying the Heifetz sound and style.

July 10, 2006 at 08:16 PM · Interesting Gennady.A few years ago Erick was supposed to play a piece in the LA area.It was called Heifetziana.He had to cancel because of poor health.

July 10, 2006 at 08:29 PM · in the last few years, he was trying to do alot for keeping Heifetz legacy alive. He also helped launch the KULTUR line of videos of Master violinists.

Few years ago, he helped start the Heifetz society where he held discussions and forums with friends and students of Heifetz.

It is very much still running:


July 11, 2006 at 01:07 AM · maybe heifetz didn't like paganini as music. you have to admit there are a lot of hijinks in paganini's music...

July 11, 2006 at 02:33 AM · http://stanford.michaelayre.com/community/strad/viewtopic.php?t=96

^^If he did something like that^^, then it's probable that he performed paganini caprices as encores for smaller events.

July 11, 2006 at 03:50 AM · Gennady- just an interesting side note about Friedman. He tried to get my teacher to start using a shoulder rest after many years of not using one. I also think he himself began using one again later on.

He did sound more like Heifetz than any other violinist, which is ironically what he was criticized for. I hesitate to call it copying though because he was a great artist in his own right. This apparent "copying" of his teacher is probably why he isn't as famous as lesser artists. But since he did sound the most like Heifetz's style perhaps anyone wanting to hear Heifetz Paganini Concerto #1 should try to dig up Friedman's recording.

a link about Friedman and his association with Heifetz


July 11, 2006 at 08:57 AM · Brian,

yes interesting.............

Friedmann had a bad accident about 15 years ago, afterwhich he recovered very slowly. I think due to the nature of his injury, he started using a shoulder rest.

But since his Heifetz days throughout his major career, he never used one.

And yes, his Paganini 1 is excellent for he was trully one of the best American trained violinist of his generation.

and I love his art too.

I remember it in his studio, he had sketched portraits of Heifetz, Oistrakh, Kogan and many more. He was brilliant.

July 11, 2006 at 05:36 PM · Well, how's that for irony. Everyone spends all their time trying to play like Heifetz. Then when someone (Friedman) actually does play like Heifetz, he gets criticized for it. Go figure.


July 11, 2006 at 11:43 PM · i'll never play like heifetz but i'll be doggone if i can't learn to sue like him.

judge judy, here i come!

July 12, 2006 at 05:08 PM · William,

You asked me to clarify how we could know the intentions of the composer. You brought up some great issues, and most of them have since been adressed very well by Sander, Gennady, and yourself. I will try to clarify what I meant.

First of all, there is definitely no "one right way" to play any particular piece. If there was, our role as performers would be diminished to mere copying machines, and playing back a recording would be just as good as hearing a live performance. I don't think any composer would be averse to different interpretations of their work, even sometimes to the point of playing a passage contrary to a written dynamic or other marking. But I think we could all agree that while there are many right ways to interpret a piece, there are many wrong ways as well. William, I think you asked me to explain how we can know the intent of the composer without using the following 5 things:

1. Rhythm

2. Dynamics

3. General articulation marks

4. other written directions

5. historical data about the piece, ie, letters, diaries, etc. relating specifically to the piece

It's near impossible, because those are the main things the composer uses to get his intention across! Obviously if someone is playing a grossly wrong rhythm or wrong note, it's pretty safe to say they are going against the composers' intention. Regarding rhythm and rubato specifically, I know many have said that the great artists always move forward or pull back in equal amounts, so that the overall integrity of the pulse is preserved. I don't have a theoretical proof for why this should be considered artistically sound, but empirically, I think audiences tend to retain their idea of the musical line better when this is done. One area where I think many performers put themselves in front of the music is intonation. Composers (good ones, at least) write music in certain keys for a reason. I've heard people play something in d-flat and shift notes or the whole scale slightly sharp so that certain notes ring better with the violin (eg playing sharp enough that g-flat rings like an f sharp). So you get a nice loud New York tone, but you lose the whole quality of the key. To me, this is playing against the composer's intention and strips some layer of meaning from a piece.

July 12, 2006 at 06:36 PM · here is another part of the Beliavsky article on the Art of Violin:

"My general aim had been to show Heifetz's career

chronologically from his first recording in 1911 until his last in

1972. But I thought it would be especially interesting to analyze

the Heifetz style of playing and the roots of his art, which in my

opinion evolved directly from cantorial singing. This is a very

important point. As in my other programs on Auer and his violin

school, I show that during the main part of Auer’s teaching career

in Russia from 1868 to 1900, he did not produce any significant or

important artist. Looking through the list of Auer’s students of

this period, we see almost nothing but Russian names. But

something happened around the turn of the century. Jews in Czarist

Russia lived in areas known as Pales of Settlement. In the

Ukraine, Byelorussia and Lithuania, in small towns and villages,

lived the poor Jewish population, oppressed and stripped of all

civil rights, who from time to time were devastated by terrible

pogroms. It was life in a closed circle. Where was there to go? To live in

large cities was strictly prohibited by the Tsarist government.

Only a few were able to get special permission to live in St.

Petersburg, Moscow, or Kiev. Confined within the close circle of

the shtetl, Jews concentrated around the synagogue, which was the

center of their spiritual life. The Hassidic movement was the main

stream of Jewish life there, and music was an integral part of

Hassidism. “Fiddler on the Roof” became the musical symbol of the

Jew from the shtetl. There the cantorial art of singing was highly

respected and each and every Jewish community took great pride in its

own cantor. The great voice, the most dramatic presentation of the

chant, the best ability for sobbing-singing, the most perfect technique of the

coloratura passages were all competitive factors between cantors.

And the sound of the cantorial chant was like mother's milk to the

Jewish children from the Pale of Settlement who had been listening to

these chants from the earliest age. The cantorial chant was second

nature to the musical soul of these Jewish children.

Mischa Elman, the first of Auer’s superstars, was of this

breed.. Auer heard him in Odessa when Elman was 11 years old, took

him under his supervision, and obtained permission for him and his

father to live in St. Petersburg. After only one year and four

months with Auer, Elman played a sensational debut in Berlin.

Henry Roth was absolutely right in saying that it is hard to

believe that Auer could change Elman' s playing during one year,

especially considering that Auer himself was an old-fashioned

violinist in the tradition of the Spohr-Joachim school with its

minimal usage of vibrato (resulting in a dry sound), limited

emotional projection, and little stress on technical perfection. So

it was Elman himself, who through his playing was teaching Auer a

new concept of violin playing.

After Elman, an army of Jewish children with fiddles under

their arms and cantorial chants in their hearts, began their exodus

from the Pale of Settlement. Looking at the list of Auer’s

students from this period, we see almost exclusively Jewish names.

Auer’s class flourished with the names of Efrem Zimbalist, Miron Poliakin,

Richard Burgin, Mischa Elman, Joseph Achron, Toscha Seidel, Jascha Heifetz...and

all of them in some way or another recreated cantorial singing on

their violins. The Jewish soul was literally crying out, lamenting

and weeping in their playing. And Auer was responsible for

obtaining permits for all his Jewish students to live in St.


After the program on Heifetz, I produced a program on Yehudi

Menuhin. Menuhin was born in the U.S. of Russian Jewish parents

who, before coming to America, spent a good number of years in

Palestine. Menuhin’s playing (I concentrated mainly on his Golden

Era of the 1930s and 40s) was probably even more Jewish in character

than that of the Auer school.

The name of Wieniawski is easily associated with Paganini’s

epoch. He was born in 1835 and had close connections with such

notable Paganini contemporaries as Ernst and Vieuxtemps. And

Paganini’s playing was, of course, fresh during the years of these

great violinists. Wieniawski’s teacher was J. Massart (1811-1892).

Massart was a professor of the Paris Conservatory and a very

prominent violinist himself who, as a matter of fact, played

recitals with Liszt. Wieniawski studied with Massart between 1844

and 1848. After Paganini, he is without a doubt the most important

figure in violin art of the 19th Century. Quite intriguing is the

fact that Fritz Kreisler, who was born in 1875 and became one of

the most important violinists of the 20th Century, studied with

this same man, J. Massart, between 1885 and 1887. In his letter to

Kreisler’s father, Massart wrote: “I have been the teacher of

Wieniawski and many others, but little Fritz will be the greatest

of them all.” To all those imagining just how Wieniawski played

the violin, it might be interesting to read what Kreisler himself

said: “I believe Massart liked me because I played in the style of

Wieniawski. You will recall that Wieniawski intensified the

vibrato and brought it to heights never before achieved, so that it

became known as the ‘French Vibrato’. Vieuxtemps also took it up,

and after him Eugene Ysaye, who became its greatest exponent, and

I. Joseph Joachim, for instance, disdained it."

Giving lectures on “An Historical Perspective on the Art of

Violin Playing since the Beginning of the Recording Era” in

Chicago, Milwaukee, Moscow ( Russia), and at an international workshop in Eisenstadt,

Austria, I was astonished at how little is known presently about the

violin playing of the past, its technical level, its style, and its

sound quality."

and then is his very important conclusion:

"Many professional musicians in the field of violin

have very little idea that violin playing was not always the same,

but has changed significantly in the last 150 years. Listening to the

recordings of the great personalities of the violin from the

previous era must, I believe, be extremely important now that

standardization of playing takes more and more precedence over

personalization of performance. We are losing the most important

aspect of any art, which is the personality of the creative artist. And

hearing the playing of Kreisler, Heifetz, Elman, and Menuhin could

inspire and enlighten today’s playing immensely. Heifetz

established the modern, extremely high level of perfection in

violin playing. Violin art benefitted immeasurably from the

Heifetz phenomenon, but, through the years, the personal approach

to interpretations of musical works has diminished in direct

proportion to these steadily rising levels of perfection. If the

renditions of the great masters’ pieces could combine the technical

perfection of today with the great personalization of the past,

the next step in violin art will be achieved.

Yuri Beliavsky"

July 12, 2006 at 08:56 PM · Gennady, thank you so much for sharing that article with its insightful conclusion. I couldn't agree more.

July 12, 2006 at 10:59 PM · Greetings,

Nicholas said:

>One area where I think many performers put themselves in front of the music is intonation. Composers (good ones, at least) write music in certain keys for a reason.

This is a real bugbear of mine. Not only in solo stuff but in orchestral works. Right now I am doing Shostakovitch 10 and ther e really is oinly one slightly difficult passage in the first movement-(fig 49-51)a gorgeous section in c flat. I new before i gotto the rehearsal that thes eparticular players would have dilligently worked itout, and even written it out in B which is really easy. Sure enough itthat`s what came out . It took a while to get them to switch the key although they were convinced after I pointed out that the preceding section of the same notes was written out in b major. Played this way it became a completely new piec eof music.

A reasonably good orchestra had completely missed the point that Shostakovitch wanted two contrsating colors not an amorphous piece of chocolate cake.



July 13, 2006 at 11:32 AM · Gennady: Great article and great input. Thanks. Cordially, Sandy

July 13, 2006 at 05:11 PM · Buri,

Totally agree with you. In fact, Shostakovich was exactly the composer I was thinking about when I wrote that. He had a wonderful ear for tone colors...the Passacaglia of the 1st violin concerto is an excellent example.

July 13, 2006 at 11:09 PM · nicholas, you made some very important points and i hope people reread what you said 6 posts previous to this one.

July 16, 2006 at 01:53 PM · I urge all to read Yuri Beliavsky's article (to better understand violin history and how we have been influnced by the past and why etc.)

full article is called "Recollections"


"THE STRAD, February 1986


Dear Yuri,

Many thanks for your contribution to the success of our 1988 International Workshop adventure.

We have had enthusiastic responses to your Heifetz session, and I am delighted that it worked out

for you to join us.

Sincerely yours, Dr. Gerald Fischbach, Director International Workshops"

"“...These extraordinary series on a historical survey of violin style are unique and extremely well

done. I recommend them to all interested in our violin roots.” Dr. Gerald Fischbach, Professor

of Violin and String Pedagogy "

July 18, 2006 at 11:05 AM · Gennady, it's interesting that you mentioned Boris Goldstein. I have not heard him as an adult, but all accounts say that he's absolutely wonderful. Even Heifetz labeled "Busya" as THE great violin talent in the USSR. I'd imagine that Goldstein was a great Paganini guy too.

If we want to talk great Soviet Paganini guys, I'd go right to Leonid Kogan. What a player!!! I vastly prefer him to Oistrakh, and there are plenty of occasions where I prefer him over anyone else. My former violin buddy Yosef Yankelev also raved about Julian Sitkovetsky, who is the father of Dimitri and the grandfather of Alexander (Right?)

Even today, there are so many incredible Paganini gymnasts coming from the former USSR. It goes with the territory, I guess.

July 18, 2006 at 01:17 PM · yes, it is too bad Boris G. did not have a lasting solo career.

But he became a major violin pedagogue. The very best studied with him at some point or other.

Kogan I love very much too, and Kogan adored & idolized Heifetz completely.

I think that Kogan's Paganini #1 with Sauret cadenza is one of the best performances of that piece that I have ever heard on record (especially the cadenza........astounding).

July 18, 2006 at 10:24 PM · the answer is obvious....watch this:youtube.com-watchv=D5SluQyVqWQ

July 19, 2006 at 08:05 PM · can you be more precise with the youtube address, the one you gave does not work...........

July 19, 2006 at 10:17 PM · This better? : youtube.com/watch?v=D5SluQyVqwQ

July 20, 2006 at 04:38 AM · nope...........NADA!

July 20, 2006 at 01:36 PM · Here is a good URL for Kogan playing Paganini:


Ted Kruzich

July 20, 2006 at 05:29 PM · If you go back in the history of violin playing, there is a story about the Devil. It seems that the Devil was sound asleep one night, and he had a dream that Heifetz came to him and said, "You don't know how to play Paganini. I will show you how to play Paganini."

Heifetz then played the complete Paganini repertoire with such technical and musical brilliance, that the the Devil awoke. But he couldn't remember exactly how Heifetz had played. As fast as he could, he wrote out what he could remember (including all of the bowings, fingerings, and dynamics), and the result is the famous "Heifetz Trill Sonata" and a complete edition of Paganini's collected works. You can get it on ebay. It's by Ludwig van Mephistopheles.

:) Sandy

July 20, 2006 at 10:40 PM · Good one, Sandy.

July 21, 2006 at 11:28 AM · oh great....pity that devil..could he play the Heifetz trill Sonata? ;)


July 22, 2006 at 05:25 AM · Well I know a few people who studied with Heifetz. My first teacher, Dr. Jerome Landsman was a member of the first masterclass, he said that Heifetz felt his Paganini playing wasn't as perfect as the other pieces he played. Can you imagine!? This is certainly an ideal of performance to strive for!

July 22, 2006 at 12:39 PM · From what I have read, I have found no instance (formally or informally) where Heifetz said he was the best or that he was perfect. I've never read anything that indicated that he exaggerated his own importance into the realm of perfection.

Maybe it was false modesty, but I don't think so, not at his level. He clearly knew what he had achieved, and he certainly had high standards, but I believe that at that level he also had to understand his limitations. Anyway, judging from the few Paganini compositions he recorded, if his own assessment was that he didn't play Paganini that well, he was wrong. His Paganini is great.


July 22, 2006 at 02:17 PM · I have always felt that Heifetz's style of playing matched perfectly with Paganini's style of music. Again, for example, the video showing him playing the 24 th. caprice, to me this is how I imagine Paganini playing it, just a fantasy. How I wish someday his live recording [if it was even recorded] of him playing the first movement of the Paganini concerto no.1 would surface.

August 1, 2006 at 09:20 PM · here is friedman playing paganini for heifetz


August 2, 2006 at 04:20 AM · Wow, he gives simon cowell a run for his money. I keep thinking hes gonna pull out a gun and shoot the violin! The tension is electric!

August 2, 2006 at 06:30 AM · Do you mean the video Willie M pointed to? I've never seen these tapes. I'm tempted to get them just for the drama. "What way will Heifetz drive Friedman so hard he crashes in this episode?"

I know this personality. It's old-school dignified professor. My freshman English teacher was just like him. The class was tiny and he addressed us all as Mr. or Miss, very gruff and demanding but with the same occasional wry sense of humor. Rather than being abusive, this can make students want to rise above themselves and please him, if they have potential and are receptive and young enough, and join him someplace beyond where they currently are. It has to be done just right though.

August 2, 2006 at 05:48 PM · wow... this is encouraging and depressing at the same time.

August 2, 2006 at 06:54 PM · This is of course an "old school" style of teaching, before the fancy psychology of today. It still exists where the instructor has the credentials, the talent, the status, the ability, and the comfort with a totally autocratic role. There was a movie made years ago that extolled this type of teaching; it was about law school and starred John Houseman as the autocratic professor, but I forgot the name of it. They also made a TV series out of it, also with Houseman, but the original movie was much better. Anyway, I'd be willing to bet that Heifetz's youthful experience in Professor Auer's class was the model for his approach to his students. You had to have a lot of self-confidence to be a Heifetz student. And what students - Friedman was a terrific violinist.


August 2, 2006 at 11:29 PM · Sandy, that was of course "The Paper Chase." I remember thinking Houseman captured it fairly well, but not perfectly. What he did was more suited to that series of brokerage commercials it spawned, where he says "We make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it."


August 2, 2006 at 11:23 PM · Hey, Jim: Right, The Paper Chase. Thanks. You're right; Houseman was good in the film, but his performance was a little on the dry side. And, yes, those were much lampooned commercials, inspiring the following: "We play music the old fashioned way - we fake it."

:) Sandy

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