Monday, February 2, 2009

Jascha Heifetz

Jascha Heifetz was a Russian (Lithuanian) violinist, composer, and teacher born on this day (February 2) in 1901 - some sources say January 20, 1901. He has often been called the greatest violinist of the Twentieth Century. After Paganini, he is probably the most famous violinist who ever lived. Ironically, he did not record any of the Paganini concertos. He first took lessons – at age three - from his father (Ruben, concertmaster of the Vilna Symphony Orchestra), and then began lessons at age five with Ilya Malkin. He first played in public at age 7. At age 9 he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory to study under Leopold Auer. While still a very young student, he toured much of Europe, playing with the Berlin Philharmonic as a 13-year-old. His first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic occurred on October 12, 1912.  He played the Tchaikovsky concerto on that occasion.  Arthur Nikisch was on the podium.  On January 4, 1933, he played the 5th concerto by Mozart, the Beethoven concerto, and the Brahms concerto on the same program.  He was 31 years old.  He did not set foot in Germany ever again.  A few violinists have played two concertos on the same program and even fewer have played three concertos on the same program.  Until recently, I did not know that Heifetz had done the same thing.  Heifetz came to the U.S in 1917 and debuted in Carnegie Hall on October 17, 1917, still only sixteen years old. His concertizing and recording career took off after that.  Eddy Brown stated afterward that Heifetz made everyone else, including Kreisler, sound like students.  Heifetz composed a very small quantity of original music but made many arrangements and transcriptions which are still in wide use. He is probably the most recorded violinist of all time, although Louis Kaufman and Ruggiero Ricci biographers claim the same thing about Ricci and Kaufman. Heifetz taught for many years at UCLA and USC (both in Southern California, U.S.A.). Two of his famous pupils were Erick Friedman and Eugene Fodor.  He played the famous Dolphin Stradivarius (1714), a 1742 Guarneri, a 1731 Stradivarius, a 1734 Stradivarius, and a 1736 Carlo Tononi violin. Heifetz died on December 10, 1987, at age 86.


  1. Anything I could possibly say about this great artist would be superflous so I kept this micro biography very short.