What are your favorite violinist anecdotes?

March 11, 2019, 5:34 AM ·

Replies (45)

March 11, 2019, 6:56 AM · When Perlman is talking about learning up bow stacatto and the story of Gingold and Ysaye. And the way Ysaye "taught" it. It makes me smile everytime I think of it aha
March 11, 2019, 7:51 AM · I think that's also a Heifetz story...

Rather like the 'who said to Einstein (who sat in in a chamber piece), "the trouble Mr. Einstein, is you can not count"', story. I've seen about 5 variations! Would love to know the original, if it occurred at all...

Edited: March 11, 2019, 9:00 AM · I don't recall the source, but decades ago I read an anecdote that after a performance of a Brahms quartet in which Brahms was in the audience, one of the quartet members tried to "butter up" Brahms with compliments. Brahms (by all accounts) was not always polite. When the musician asked, "Tell me, Maestro, did you like the tempo?" Brahms replied, "Yes, especially yours."
March 11, 2019, 11:00 AM · Elise - Kreisler and Einstein were playing together (I think it was some quartet work), and Einstein screwed up the timing, and Kreisler said, "What's the matter, professor? Can't you count?"
March 11, 2019, 11:15 AM · It's the way you tell them
March 11, 2019, 12:38 PM · Nina - how do you know that is the original? Did Einstein really play with Kreisler? Is that documented? Any sources?

Besides, I like the other wording better, it is more subtle and less kinda snide.

Edited: March 11, 2019, 12:48 PM · I have always heard it was Sergey Rachmaninov, who exclaimed in exasperation to Einstein, "You are a man of science, but yet you cannot count".
March 11, 2019, 2:20 PM · J Ray "Legend has it" … nice try - but no cigar.

At least the article gets it right that there are no authenticated recordings. I'm pretty sure his family would have some - how could a physicist that played in such esteemed company NOT have one - but I'm also guessing that they have suppressed their release.

March 11, 2019, 2:21 PM · Elise, I don't smoke, and wasn't trying for a cigar. Make what you will of the article. I enjoyed reading it.
Edited: March 12, 2019, 3:07 AM · Heifetz and Milstein(?) were sitting in a cafe having coffee when the manager brought in an envelope addressed to 'The greatest violinist in the world'.
'You open it' said Heifetz to Milstein.
'No, you open it' said Milstein to Heifetz
After several minutes of passing it to each other Heifetz agreed to open it. The letter began......
'Dear Fritz'
March 12, 2019, 6:55 AM · Lol. Thats great
March 12, 2019, 8:08 AM · Peter - LOL! [See we need those 'like' buttons ;) ]
March 12, 2019, 8:43 AM · Peter - that's hilarious! Where'd you get that from?
March 12, 2019, 10:01 AM · Nina - I can't remember where I first heard this one. I don't think it was actually Milstein when I first head it (can't remember who it was), but the general idea is the same.
Edited: March 12, 2019, 11:34 AM · Peter, very funny. I laughed so hard I almost spite out my coffee.
Also, the idea of a "like" button is distressing.
Please don't.
My favorite anecdote though is from yesteryear.

A woman rushed up to famed violinist Fritz Kreisler and cried: "I'd give my life to play as beautifully as you did.
Kreisler replied, "I did"

March 12, 2019, 12:28 PM · Paraphrasing something I read. Fritz Kreisler and someone were strolling down a European street one morning. They passed by a market, with fresh fish on ice outside by the sidewalk, their eyes staring and mouths hanging open. Kreisler looked at them for a moment, then said; "that reminds me, I have a concert tonight".
March 12, 2019, 2:28 PM · "Elise, I don't smoke, and wasn't trying for a cigar. Make what you will of the article. I enjoyed reading it."

I hope I didn't miff you, it certainly was not my intent. Seems people are rather more prickly here than they used to be....

March 12, 2019, 5:41 PM · "Seems people are rather more prickly here than they used to be...."

Guilty. I blame the democrats. And my mother.

March 13, 2019, 8:56 AM · One of my favorite anecdotes, which may be apocryphal, is about a man whose wife wanted to broaden his cultural exposures. Learning that Heifetz would be performing in their small town, she convinced her husband to attend. That evening though, there was a ferocious storm and only a handful of attendees showed up. Heifetz, upon seeing the dedicated few, suggested that rather than perform he would like to take them all out to dinner as his guest. Upon hearing this, her husband objected, uttering "The least he could do is to sing a couple of songs!"
March 13, 2019, 9:45 AM · One of my favorites - probably not true, but still a good story:

Kreisler was giving a recital with Rachmaninoff at the piano. He had a memory lapse in the Kreutzer Sonata and started to improvise. Rachmaninoff tagged along - highly amused - through all the efforts to get back on track. Finally Kreisler - still playing - leans towards the piano and whispers: "Sergei - where the hell are we?". Rachmaninoff replied: "Carnegie Hall!"

Edited: March 16, 2019, 8:15 AM · Nina, Einstein should have replied, "Maestro, you try counting when you are playing SECOND!" (or should he have said "Doctor ..."?)
March 20, 2019, 6:45 AM · Peter that is one of my favorite violin stories. I'm quite certain though that the story goes as follows. It's been many years since I read this, but I believe it comes from the book on Kreisler by Louis Lochner.

Elman and Kreisler were at a cafe having lunch. A waiter comes to the table with an envelope with the inscription, "To the Greatest Vioinist in the World".

Being in a terrible political bind, Kreisler passed off the envelope, "Surely this is for you Mischa". Elman responded, "No, of course this is meant for you Fritz".

Curiosity gets the better of them, and they open the envelope. The card begins, "Dear Jascha,..."

The perpetrator of the prank was none other than Charlie Chaplin! He was standing in the corner laughing hysterically.

If someone could verify this story, or correct certain elements I would be most grateful. I tell it ALL the time, and can barely believe it myself.

My memory of its origin is from the Lochner book, mentioned above.


March 20, 2019, 8:14 AM · The one I always liked and recall reading about in Strings magazine involved a European jazz violinist named Angelina Rivera who was popular in the 1920s. She was playing a gig with a group at a Paris nightclub. At a table quite near the stage, there was a well-dressed young man who would clap very loudly after she did her stuff. During a break, she went to the club owner and asked who the well-dressed man at the table near the stage was who seemed very taken with her performance. The club owner said that it was Jascha Heifetz, at which point Rivera fainted. Apparently, Heifetz liked to go and scope out other violinists.
March 20, 2019, 8:16 AM · Another Heifetz story is that when he was on tour during WWII entertaining the troops, he preferred to bunk with the enlisted men rather than the officers. The reason: they were better at ping pong, which he liked to play.
March 20, 2019, 9:32 AM · Not a violinist, but there is a story similar to Tom's about Artur Rubinstein. He went to a club "incognito" to listen to Art Tatum. When asked later about Tatum's playing, Rubinstein basically said that he didn't he how it was even possible.
March 20, 2019, 11:02 AM · There is that one time Hilary Hahn went on Two Set which was ostensibly designed as a comedy video but as it turns out she's really good at playing Bach.
March 20, 2019, 12:18 PM · Horowitz also admired Tatum. Apparently got a strange look when he asked how long he took to practice a particular lick.
Edited: March 20, 2019, 12:54 PM · David Rose, other anecdotes on this site would suggest that Kreisler's and Elman's reactions to the prank would have been markedly different:
Kreisler: I should have realised! (or something like that)
Elman: You cannot be serious! (or something like that)
March 20, 2019, 5:32 PM · Not violinists, but...

Solti, Bernstein and Karajan are in a bar, bragging about their admirers. Solti: "Last night Jesus showed himself before me and said: "Sir George - you are the best conductor in the world!""
Bernstein: "Well - God showed himself to me and said: "Lenny - you are the best conductor in the world!""
Karajan: "I never said that!"

March 21, 2019, 4:39 AM · Million dollar trio, found this bit on another forum:
Rubinstein reported later that Heifetz was particularly perturbed by the billing in the concert programs because Rubinstein’s name always came first, followed by Heifetz and then Piatigorsky. Heifetz wondered why the billing couldn’t rotate so that each of them would be mentioned first at one time or another.

“I don’t mind,” Rubinstein supposedly replied, “but as far as I know, all trios are written for piano, violin, and cello, and traditionally one advertises the names of the players in exactly that Heifetz argued that he had seen some trios for violin and cello with piano accompaniment."

Rubinstein doubted it, Heifetz insisted. Rubinstein lost his temper, “Jascha,” he shouted, “even if God were playing the violin, it would be printed Rubinstein, God, and Piatigorsky, in that order!”

Edited: March 22, 2019, 10:06 AM · The version I've heard about two famous violinists in a restaurant was that they were Kreisler and Heifetz. The maitre d' brought over to their table an envelope addressed to "The Greatest Violinist in the World", explained it was from a lady who had just left, and after a moment's thought carefully placed it exactly halfway between the two gentlemen.

After a couple of minutes of to-and-froing across the table - "this must be for you, Fritz - no, surely it's yours, Jascha" etc - one them opened the envelope. The first words he read were, "Dear Mr Milstein".

March 21, 2019, 7:26 AM · One I heard about Arthur Grumiaux. The great man was at a concert in which a young lion of the fingerboard and bow gave a spectacular rendering of Paganini's 1st VC. When the tumultuous applause died away Grumiaux turned to his companion and remarked, “Very impressive, but can he play Mozart?”
March 21, 2019, 8:02 AM · Stephane Grappelli shows Irish fiddler Frankie Gavin how "Sweet Georgia Brown" should be played:


March 21, 2019, 8:32 AM · Trevor - I heard the piano arrangement of the Grumiaux story - Horowitz (after hearing some Liszt pyrotechnics)- 'Yes, but can he play Scarlatti'.
March 21, 2019, 1:55 PM · Hi all,

I googled this, as I was so curious. I was mistaken about the Kreisler/Elman/Heifetz story coming from the Lochner book on Kreisler. It came from the book, Mischa Elman and the Romantic Style, which I read many years ago. I found the exerpt on Google books. It can be found at the below link. Turns out the cast was Elman and Kreisler, with "Dear Jascha..." being the inscription. Chaplin was the prankster, at least in the version of the story told by Elman himself.

- https://books.google.com/books?id=qcPl-pcpU9AC&pg=PA351&lpg=PA351&dq=elman+kreisler+chaplin+greatest+violinist&source=bl&ots=ax5e3AgVdE&sig=ACfU3U0nXWM4M1w3BWuDu38wX7RsizJwrQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjJidze85PhAhVOON8KHTMVD3YQ6AEwAHoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=elman%20kreisler%20chaplin%20greatest%20violinist&f=false

March 22, 2019, 8:28 PM · Kreisler mightn't have realized it was a prank.
Edited: March 22, 2019, 9:13 PM · Every episode of the Fargo TV series starts with the on-screen sentence "This is a true story". The producers have admitted in interviews that they put their own interpretation on the meaning of "true".

I think that the several versions of the "stories" about Einstein playing in a chamber group with top musicians, two eminent violinists opening a strange letter at their dining table, or a famous soloist commenting on a virtuoso performance by a comparative youngster, could well be "true" in the Fargo sense, and are equally enjoyable.

March 22, 2019, 9:34 PM · And speaking of Heifetz, it is said that Mischa Elman and Leopold Godowsky attended Heifetz's spectacular debut at Carnegie Hall on a warm afternoon. When the intermission came, Elman turned to Godowsky and said, " Gee, it's awfully hot in here", to which Godowsky responded "Not for pianists!"

Another story about Heifetz , probably apocryphal, has him practicing late at night in his hotel room the night before his performance at Carnegie Hall. The front desk called him to tell him that a neighbor was complaining about him. Heifetz said that he would be happy to speak with the neighbor and asked to be connected to him. When the neighbor answered the phone, Heifetz said " Hello there, I'm Jasha Heifetz and I'm practicing for my recital tomorrow at Carnegie Hall", to which the neighbor replied "I don't care if you're Lawrence Welk! I need to get some sleep!"

Edited: March 22, 2019, 10:05 PM · Trevor - with all the stories of Einstein playing with famous people I had assumed it was true. However, a search for a picture of such an event came up empty. The only verified public performance that I could come up with thus far was a charity event for a synagogue where he played with professor Lewandowsky (does not ring any famous violinist bells) in Germany in 1930:

Edit - the pic is of Alfred Lewandowsky, (I think) a professional violist. They played: "the second movement of J. S. Bach's “Adagio in Bminor for Two Violins” - which gives us some idea of his technical level.

Excuse the side track...

March 23, 2019, 7:29 AM · Elise, not a side track at all. It is hard evidence, which is difficult to find with most of these anecdotes; hence the ubiquitous variations on a theme.
March 23, 2019, 7:49 AM · ....So, Heifetz was teaching God how to play the violin, and........
Oh, never mind.
March 29, 2019, 12:54 AM · A young Heifetz was presented to Leopold Auer.

One of the pieces he performed at the occasion was Paganini's Perpetuum mobile, which he promptly tore through at light speed.

A clearly agitated Auer proclaimed: "He's too young to know it can't be played that fast!"

Edited: March 29, 2019, 2:08 AM · When someone told Heifetz (?) his violin sounded good and he held it up and said "I don't hear anything".

Wouldn't say it to someone's face (as it's obviously ultimately a compliment to one's playing) but have thought it a good few times over the years.

March 29, 2019, 10:56 AM · Another Kreisler story involving Godowsky and Kreisler's wife. Kreisler came from a Jewish family but had been baptized as a child. His wife was fairly anti-semitic. At one point, she claimed to Godowsky that Kreisler "did not have a drop of Jewish blood in his body." To which Godowsky replied, "well Madam, he must be quite anemic."

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