Article published in Life
Magazine, 31 October 1969
Heifetz can play better than anyone else ‑ but he won't
Fiddler on the Shelf
by ROGER KAHN
In the end we
are finding out that Shaw was right. I am speaking of the
playwright and of a time, so current and so distant, when Jascha
Heifetz traveled to London as a boy of 19, with curly hair, a
serious mien and a fiddle.
Shaw had been a music critic, a
master of barbs, but hearing Heifetz overwhelmed his
irascibility. Terribly moved, he went home to Ayot St. Lawrence
and wrote an odd, touching, ominous letter.
My dear Heifetz:
Your recital has filled me and my wife
with anxiety. If you provoke a jealous God by playing with such
superhuman perfection, you will die young. I earnestly advise
you to play something badly every night before going to bed,
instead of saying your prayers. No mortal should presume to play
G. Bernard Shaw
Heifetz presumed and today, a
robust 68, he continues to play with a touch that would draw
tears from an audience of stone. Such greatness exacts an
incalculable price. I think that is what Shaw is saying. And
Heifetz has paid for his genius with his humanity. The great
violinist turns against friends and humiliates colleagues. He
has lost two marriages and become remote from his children.
Instead of entering an Olympian old age, his life is a
hermitage. But worse, Heifetz, whose staccato is unmatched,
whose legato choirs and whose left hand flashing on the strings
remind his brightest pupil of
Nureyev, refuses to give
concerts any longer. He does not plan to play for an audience
"I have done it before," he says,
as if it were that simple. "I have no need." Some suggest that
Heifetz has known so many high pleasures ‑ wealth, the smiles of
queens, the adulation of an age ‑ that be suffers from ultimate
boredom. A concert, then, is simply too much trouble. Others are
not so sure. "There are only two things that go on a great
fiddler," one eminent violinist says. "That bow arm and the
nerve. I assure you there is nothing wrong with Heifetz' bow
He practices every day.
Occasionally he performs chamber music before rigidly screened
groups of five or 10 idolators. He even records some of the
chamber music, often at a frantically rapid tempo. But what
Heifetz avoids is the cut and bite and breathtaking excitement
of confrontation with a real audience, which breathes and
cheers ‑ and frowns.
Heifetz pursues secretiveness in
all things. Approaching 70, he is still trim, agile enough for
wicked games of Ping‑Pong and capable, when he chooses, of
captivating anyone with his charm. But his overwhelming passion
is for privacy, and he places a bewildering variety of barriers
between himself and the world. Mishel Piastro, who became famous
conducting the Longines Symphonette, was a student with Heifetz
in Russia long ago. "I'm going to the coast soon," Piastro says.
"I know that I will see Jack Benny. About Heifetz, one can never
tell." Musicians joke that Heifetz himself must now make an
appointment to see Heifetz. ("And God forbid he should be two
Since his second divorce, in 1963,
Heifetz has lived without family or friends in a retreat high
above Beverly Hills. He spends weekends at a smaller house on a
private beach in Malibu. To reach him one writes a letter, which
may go unanswered, or one telephones his unlisted number. A
service takes the message and sometimes Heifetz responds. But he
will never identify himself on the telephone. It is one of
Heifetz' rules of life that everyone recognize his voice.
Another rule is that he and no one
else makes the jokes. He is an imperious man who has formulated
rules governing almost every aspect of behavior from neatness to
finance to respect.
Heifetz is a fastidious dresser. He
is fond of ascots, sports jackets, wide pants and particular
outfits for particular events. To record, he changes into a
tailored shirt with many pockets, which he wears outside of the
wide slacks. It is uninhibiting but dignified.
He demands and gets an annual
retainer of $100,000 from RCA Victor and until recently an
additional $30,000 to teach two days a week at the Los Angeles
Music Center. His records no longer earn out, and he had to
twist arms for his teaching salary, but he is convinced (along
with many others) that both figures were fair. He is Heifetz,
and $2,500 a week is a reasonable return.
His classes are conducted as
absolute autocracies. "You will play the passage in this
manner," he once said, demonstrating to tall, black‑haired Erick
Friedman had been suggesting
another approach. "But Mr. Heifetz," he said. "You don't
The master stiffened. "Never say
that. Say, 'I did not make myself clear.' "
To find Mr. Heifetz, one drives up
Coldwater Canyon, a wrinkle in the Santa Monica Mountains
glutted with movie people. There, the Heifetz redoubt stands
behind a fence of redwood saplings and an electric gate, on
which a sign warns, Beware of Dog. That is one of
Heifetz' jokes on the rest of us. The beast within is a papier‑mache
model of the RCA Victor puppy listening for his master's voice.
"You had better be there precisely
when he says," John Pfeiffer, who produces Heifetz' records,
suggests. "If you're early, you drive around. You really don't
want to intrude. And if you're late ...” Pfeiffer smiles
slightly. "He won't open the electric gate."
The estate, set on about four
acres, consists of a large, handsome house of redwood and glass,
an octagonal studio, a tennis court, a swimming pool and
meadows. Business visitors are usually received in the studio.
The building was designed by Lloyd Wright, a son of Frank Lloyd
Wright, with Heifetz assisting on acoustics. This is where
Heifetz keeps his violins and where he practices for the
concerts he does not give. The studio is soundproof. It is
immeasurably important that no one hear him prepare, that no one
get behind the glacial image. When receiving a visitor, he is
preoccupied with image, too.
He begins with a quick hello and an
extended glare. Heifetz' cheekbones are prominent ‑ Tartar
cheekbones, someone has called them ‑ and his face is ruled by
the eyes. They are blue and darting and hooded. The lips are
thin and the corners of the mouth turn downward. Heifetz
presents a visage that seems to say, "What is it you want from
me, and I'm certainly glad the silverware is locked." This is
not a face at all. It is a mask.
Once in a while, in an old family
snapshot, you can see the handsome, tender man that was. His
head is thrown back. A cigarette rests on his lower lip. The
face is lit with laughter. No longer. The mask has become
One looks about the studio. There
is a large monaural tape recorder, files and, in a spotless case
resting on a long rosewood table, the violin. It is an
earthy tan instrument completed in Cremona 227 years ago by
Joseph Guarneri, and used by Ferdinand David in 1845 to play the
premiere of the Mendelssohn concerto.
If Heifetz is not feeling depressed
and the visitor has not offended him by prying questions, or by
suggesting that Mendelssohn is no match for Brahms, he may allow
himself to be drawn into conversation. But talk is another kind
of mask. Heifetz beats off questions with other questions and
holds off people with small puns and pronouncements that are as
intimate as papal bulls. He has also became a lover of silences.
He led one recent visitor from the
studio into the breezeway, where his Ping‑Pong table stands, and
then on to a sweep of lawn rolling toward a copse. It was spring
and the trees were loud with birds. "I remember spring mornings
like this when I was a child in Vilna" Heifietz said.
"Oh? What was it like to grow up
Silence. Heifetz had revealed more
than he intended, that he was thinking of his youth. He walked
off quickly to inspect a hammock.
"You know," he remarked later on,
"the three most important things are tolerance, humility and
discipline. And I am not so sure about the third."
"But Mr. Heifetz. Your own
discipline is phenomenal."
Other visitors are welcomed in the
main house. Here, entering a large room, one passes cases of
exquisite glassware, collections from Napoleonic France and
czarist Russia. One wall, toward the meadow, is a window. On
others hang paintings by Rouault and Soutine. The floor is cork.
Here, before dining regally, Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, Israel
Baker and a few others sometimes make chamber music.
In the living room, Heifetz offers
a drink. He loves bargains and he prefers a Scotch that costs a
dollar less than the standard $7.25 a fifth. Then he may invite
talk ‑ animated when he describes his gardening skills, his lamp
wiring and his electric car, a costly personal protest against
smog. Heifetz bought a $2,000 Renault Dauphine converted to run
on batteries in 1966. The transformation ran $5,500.
On other subjects, even as Heifetz
practices conversation as mask, talk can be stimulating, at
least, a challenge.
"I notice you don't have stereo in
"Hystereo. I don't need it!'
"Do you like high fidelity, Mr.
"High phooey? Why should I have
anything against hi phooey?"
"Isn't it odd that no one has
written a biography of you?"
“Here is my biography. I played the
violin at 3 and gave my first concert at 7. I have been playing
"How do you feel about concertizing?"
"I have done it."
"Have some critics bothered you?"
"Critics are the words without the
"Don't you feel an obligation to
bring your music to the public concert halls?"
"An obligation, then, to the
generation or string players growing up without hearing you in
"So. When I am dead and gone will I
have an obligation to them then?"
A favorite theme is equitability.
"It is important," Heifetz likes to announce, "that everything
be equitable." But he is an artist and an individualist. He
accepts only himself to judge his art. The same judge decrees
Primrose, an unassuming Scots‑born viola player, has been an
outstanding master viola instrumentalist, which extends five notes lower
than the violin. Primrose met Heifetz in 1934, and began
recording with him in the 1940s. To Primrose Heifetz stands
alone. “He has a panache, an elan," Primrose says, "that
makes the simplest sonata tremendously exciting. And he can
break your heart." Listening to the slow movement of Mozart
Symphonie Concertante, a sort of double concerto for
violin and viola, both Heifetz' violin and Primrose's viola sing
long‑lined melodies, now one following the other, now together,
and if your spirit is open and you are not afraid to surrender
to great art, you will find yourself moved to a sadness beyond
The recording was made in 1956, A
year later, Primrose began to lose his hearing, but he continued
to perform with Heifetz, quietly proud of associating with the
master. The relationship stopped when Heifetz and Primrose were
to make a record of the Dvorak Piano Quintet. Listening to the
tapes, Heifetz decided that Primrose was playing out of tune. He
ordered RCA not to release the recording.
Soon afterward Primrose left
California; he now teaches at the University of Indiana. One of
Heifetz' champions says, "What Jascha thought was equitable was
for Primrose to come to him and admit, 'I cannot play with you.'
When Bill didn't Heifetz had no choice. To him, music is music
and long associations are irrelevant."
The affair that Heifetz sycophants
find most difficult to defend ended with his loosing a sheriff
on his closest friend. The late Rudolph Polk, a string player of
comparatively modest attainments, traveled with Heifetz, ran
errands for him and testified at Heifetz' first divorce. In
1949, Polk convinced Heifetz, Piatigorsky and Artur Rubinstein
to form a corporation and make movies. "Unpretentiously,"
Rubinstein says, "we called our company 'World Artists, Inc.'".
Polk became president and World Artists corporation produced 11
short subjects. Heifetz, Rubinstein and Piatigorsky starred in
two and as principal stockholders were to share in the profits
from all. They were paid the first year, but no money remained
to honor later contracts. Polk appears simply to have been an
Piatigorsky, whose wife is
Jacqueline Rothschild, dismissed the matter. He is a man of
means and compassion. Rubinstein felt that there was nothing to
be done since "We were all friends, partners and above all
artists." Heifetz handed the case to his lawyers. With Heifetz'
full knowledge, while he was still playing in gin rummy games
with Polk, the lawyers garnished Polk's bank account and sent
the sheriff to nail a writ of attachment onto Polk's house.
These stories are upsetting, but by
themselves incomplete. One needs to consider the other side. Dr.
Raymond Kendall, a former chairman of music at USC and the Music
Center, worked with Heifetz for eight years, "enough to learn
that he is tortured by a thousand demons." When the Music
Center was completed shortly before Christmas 1964, Heifetz
played the Beethoven concerto on the opening night. His
performance, one critic was to write in the Los Angeles
Times, "was a view from the summit. The tone soared with
unequaled Heifetz purity. The phenomenal Heifetz technique was
awesome.” In short, one more apparently natural, apparently
inevitably superhuman performance from Heifetz.
earlier Kendall had come into the redwood studio unannounced.
Heifetz was practicing seated, in an open‑collar shirt. The
score of the last movement laid open. It is a rondo, fired with
an insistent, quickening rhythm. Studying every note and every
marking Heifetz was playing the rondo at one third his concert
tempo. The man had played the Beethoven at least 300 times. He
had practiced it at least 5,000 hours. He has total musical
recall, and every note of every bar has fused with his being.
But here at the age of 63 he was able absolutely to discipline
mind, nerves, body, spirit. He was able to practice in slow
The stories of Polk and the others
are one with the story of his practicing. There is no way to
explain such discipline because there is no satisfactory way to
explain genius itself. No one really understands Heifetz' art,
any more than one can comprehend how deaf Beethoven created the
late quartets or how Shakespeare sat down and wrote Othello,
Hamlet, Macbeth, Antony, Lear, one after
another, or how Einstein, in a little room, conceived a
When we consider Heifetz we are
contemplating both a man and a phenomenon. The man is all flesh
and foibles. The phenomena – genius ‑ is set apart, Freud sought
the keys to genius; so did Melville and Yeats and so do
contemporary geneticists. But as genius holds us, it holds us
off. We establish general guidelines; drive, individualism,
concentration, discipline, endurance, courage, pain. Then we
stop. The sum of all these qualities does not add up to what we
want. We remain on the outside looking in. As Frost observed:
"We dance round in a ring and suppose, /But the Secret sits in
the middle and knows."
Heifetz is a specific genius, out
of a specific time and place; close in however, he probably
brings us close to all genius as most of us would ever care to
Daniil Karpilowsky, who studied
with Heifetz 60 years ago, remembers the late Fritz Kreisler
walked onstage believing that he is about to perform for 2,000
friends. "Heifetz," Karpilowsky says, "always came out like a
killer. He believed that of the 2,000 people in the hall, 1,999
had come to hear him play a wrong note.”
Walking onstage in
concert, he moved briskly, carrying himself very straight and with great
dignity. He is a graceful man and he could set his feet
lightly, draw his lips back across his teeth once or twice and,
with the slightest of smiles begin to play. Grappling with a
difficult work, some violinists toss heads, grimace, break into
a sweat and fill the stage with desperate gesture. Heifetz
played the most terrifying passages without a change in
expression beyond the arching of his left eyebrow. Nature has
even endowed him with a system that does not perspire
There is no way to put his sound
into words. Critics have called the tone "seamless," which means that
there are no breaks between up-bowing and down‑bowing. They say
it is rich and soaring and strong and virile and that it has an
incredible line; that a Heifetz low G and high E, almost four
octaves apart, possess identical musical quality and timbre.
Others complain that his tone is insufficiently varied, but even
his detractors ‑ and it is heady fine for a young critic to
patronize Heifetz ‑ concede that "for certain things" he is
not likely to be equaled. The way to appreciate the tone is to
listen to certain works where the recording has captured significant portion of the magic.
Bruch's Scottish Fantasy is one; the Vitali Chaconne
is another; the Sibelius concerto is a third.
His ability mystifies musicians.
William Primrose says, "I hear the Mendelssohn concerto and say,
Ah, there's Isaac [Stern]. Then a few bars later I say, No,
that's Nathan [Milstein]. With Heifetz I can always tell. He's
wholly unique." David Oistrakh, the Russian virtuoso, says,
"There are many violinists. Then there is Heifetz."
The violin, like a woman, has a
soprano voice and like a woman is difficult to play well. A
fiddle is constructed of spruce and maple and has, in technical
terms, a waist, a button, a neck and even a back (the underside)
and a belly which faces up. Four strings of sheepgut stretch
from adjustable pegs across a bridge to a tail box. They are
tuned to E, A, D and G. The violinist strokes the strings with a
bow of horsehair, simultaneously depressing (or stopping) them
with the fingers of his left hand. The point at which a string
is stopped determines the note it will produce. While the four
fingers of the left hand move about finding stops, the right
hand and arm guide the bow at infinitely variable speeds and
infinitely variable rates of pressure and at any number of
angles. The necessary dexterity is such that one either trains
neural paths very young or not at all. Cecil Aronowitz, one of
the finest viola players in England, laments that he did not
take up the instrument until too late. "I was already 12 years
old," he says.
beautiful sounds from a violin when he was 3. He was born with
absolute pitch and perfectly proportioned hands. He has a
supreme musical memory and a temperament that for a long time
enabled him to play without panic, to make the handsome hands
respond to the most severe demands. "It was," says Karpilowsky,
"as if God took the requisites of the one supreme violinist and
gave them all to a single child." Heifetz was also fortunate in
the time and place of his birth.
"In Vilna," Isaac Bashevis Singer
recalls of the Lithuanian capital, "there was a style in the
houses and a style in the people. Even the waiters read books."
Ruvin Heifetz of Vilna was a theater violinist, a fiddler on
the roof, scratching out a living when Jascha was born on Feb.
2, 1901. The father had been dreaming ambitiously and when
Jascha was less than 5 months old began a series of tests. As
the baby lay in the crib, Ruvin approached fiddling. The infant
appeared to listen. Deliberately Ruvin played dissonances. The
baby wailed. Ruvin Heifetz did this many times, until he
convinced himself that his new son was crowned with promise.
Before Jascha was 3, his father
bought him a small violin. Then he taught Jascha bowing and
simple fingering. On day on the street Ruvin told Elias Malkin,
the premiere violinist of Vilna, "I have a genius in my house."
Reluctantly, and skeptically, Malkin accompanied Ruvin home.
There, as he would tell in wonder for the remainder of his 79
years, "Jaschinka, with long blond curls, not 4 years old,
picked up the violin, put his eyes in the sky and just played."
At 7 Heifetz performed the
Mendelssohn concerto in the city of Kovno. When Heifetz was 9,
Leopold Auer, the supreme violin teacher of the age, granted him
an audition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Heifetz passed
and within a few years developed an easy and unprecedented
given-and‑take relationship with the professor. Auer, a short,
bearded man, once dismissed a pupil by breaking a violin over
his head. He treated Heifetz with unique respect, "because," he
later explained, "Jascha always does everything right"
In 1912, Auer arranged for Heifetz'
Berlin debut. That ended with Fritz Kreisler asking if he might
accompany the 11 year‑old on the piano. Five years later, with
Kreisler as advance man without portfolio, Heifetz made the
American debut of the century.
On Oct. 27, 1917, Carnegie Hall was
sold out. "When I hear this boy," Kreisler had been announcing
in New York musical circles, "I want to throw away my fiddle. "Heifetz,
then slim 16 and with fair wavy hair, walked out on the stage
calmly and began to play the chaconne composed by the l7th
Century Italian Tommaso Antonio Vitali.
In form, a chaconne is a stately
folk dance, three beats to the measure. Heifetz sounded the
opening measures with transcendent power and assurance and one
of music's most famous witticisms followed.
'It's rather warm in
here," Mischa Elman, another Auer prodigy remarked to the piano
virtuoso Leopold Godowsky.
"Not for pianists," Godowsky said.
The reviews were
variations of the superlative. Sigmund Spaeth summed up
in the late Evening Mail, "He is a perfect violinist."
Perfect, perhaps, but not affluent.
Impresarios at the Wolfssohn Music Bureau had brought the entire
Heifetz family to the United States ‑ Jascha, his parents, and
his sisters Elsa and Pauline ‑ and guaranteed Jascha $5,000 for
50 concerts. Although $500 a performance seemed generous in
Russia, where the revolution was heating up, it was hardly
generous in America. Annie Heifetz, Jascha's mother, counted a
few houses. For $500, Jascha was drawing $10,000 into the box
office. She promptly told the impresarios that Jascha would "get
sick" if new contracts were not drawn. Annie, hard‑eyed woman of
peasant stock, was used to getting her way. The impresarios
Ruvin balanced Annie's acumen with
artistic demands. Before each concert in America, papa
Heifetz bald and bouncy, coached his son, the manager talking to
the fighter. "Make the pizzicati clean. Be careful of the
fingering, And not too fast, above all, not too fast."
Jascha moved into his own apartment
as soon as he was 21. The family, particularly his mother, was
furious, but there was a world beyond, wild and bountiful and
simply by doing this thing which he had done since boyhood, it
was his. In 1928 he married Florence Arte Vidor, a doe~eyed star
of silent movies. The couple had two children, but Heifetz,
constantly touring, saw them infrequently. He conquered London,
Paris, Rome. He fiddled in Ireland during Sinn Fein uprisings,
in Japan after an earthquake, in Java during riots, in India
after Gandhi was arrested and in Tientsin as the Japanese
invaded Manchuria. Musicians and critics found his performances
"transcendent, effortless sublime," but musicians and critics
had said all that before. Sycophancy troubled him. He developed
a persistent sarcasm, a net harshness.
After one concert a young man
exclaimed with tears in his eye "Mr. Heifetz, you have played so
beautifully, what can I say?'
Heifetz glared. "That is your
himself away from the New York crowd and based in southern
California. He made two movies but spurned Hollywood social
life. By the 1930s, the man and the legend were tending to fuse
and he began to care about the legend. Press releases that he
approved emphasized not only command of the violin but his wit
and poise. Once, a release reported he played for royalty,
drawing warm smile from the queen. Afterward a courier said,
"The king commands your presence at the palace".
"Certainly," Heifetz is supposed to
have said, "but before the king commanded, the queen smiled.”
Heifetz wanted to project the sense
of one always in command. But sometime the real man became
visible. In 1945 he sued Florence for divorce on grounds of
extreme cruelty. “Every time we went out together in social
gatherings," he testified in Santa Ana, "my wife belittled my
In 1947 he married Francis
Spigelberg, an admiring divorcee 10 years his junior. He meant
for things to be different. He fussed over Jay, who was born in
1948 and read to him every night when he was home. Friends
thought he was becoming more comfortable with himself. They were
surprised when, after the season of 1955‑56, he decided that "I
will sharply curtail my concert activity."
“I have been playing for a very
He tripped in his kitchen one
afternoon in 1958 and fractured his right hip. A staphylococcus
infection developed and for some time he lay near death at
Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. A year later, he was invited to play
the Beethoven at the United Nations General Assembly and it was
shocking to see him appear in the great hall. The commanding
entrance was no more. To walk he had to lean on a cane.
Acoustics are flawed at the U.N., but even allowing for this,
the verdict of musicians was that the performance was good, but
not great, Heifetz. The secondary reaction shocked him. "It was
amazing” Erick Friedman recalls, "how many people could hardly
wait to offer consolations. And the musicians who claimed they
admired him most were the first to say, never mind, they
remembered how he used to play."
In the 1960s concerts began to make
Heifetz nervous. He had seldom been tense when he played for
audiences 200 times a year, but as he withdrew and he grew
older, each solo performance became more of a challenge. A new
fear took hold and fed itself.
The last time Heifetz played a
concerto with a major orchestra was on August 13, 1967. Moved by
the Middle East war, he agreed to perform with the Israel
Philharmonic in the Hollywood Bowl. He chose Max Bruch's
100‑year‑old Concerto in G‑minor, which contains moving passages
but is no masterwork. The Bruch succeeds or fails with the
Heifietz invited his housekeeper,
Tatiana Michurina, and as they drove to the Bowl he kept making
nervous chatter. Studying Heifetz as he started toward the stage
entrance, Tatiana suddenly saw a face and not a mask. "He
looked," she says in surprise, "stricken with fright."
Impulsively, Taliana, a devout Greek Orthodox, clutched Heifetz'
arm and stroked it. "God will look after you," she promised.
The performance that followed,
before 17,000 people, "made bravura and musicality one and the
same," a critic wrote. After Heifetz fiddled triumphantly
through the last movement, a woman seated next to Tatiana in a
box embraced her, not knowing who she was, and cried at the
beauty of what she had heard.
Back at the house, Heifetz was
weary and Miss Michurina was jubilant. "How wonderful," she
exclaimed, echoing Shaw, "never to fail."
"I have failed many times," Heifetz
said. He dismissed his housekeeper with a nod.
One can only surmise the ways in
which he feels he has failed. His marriage to Frances ended
acerbically in 1963. Jay, to whom he read, now will not discuss
his father. In Jay's record collection at UCLA, there is
nothing by Heifetz.
The violin classes, successively at
UCLA, USC and the Music Center, are disappointments. Of all
Heifetz' pupils, only Friedman is a soloist. The others who have
remained in music are orchestral players. In Heifetz' phrase,
they "contribute to the noise."
Auer, a violinist of minor artistic
attainments, had a supreme gift for selecting candidates, then
for developing them with a mixture of autocracy and warmth.
Heifetz, the infinite performer, is an imperfect instructor. "Heifetz,"
says one famous violinist, "is intuitive, and it is impossible
to communicate intuition."
"To be honest about it," Erick
Friedman says, "the class has deteriorated. It's become a sultan
and his court."
Everyone is anxious to explain this
somber, mysterious, touching man. "When he was young," says
Daniil Karpilowsky, "he never had a friend, never a companion,
only the family and the fiddle. It is a hard thing not to have
been permitted a childhood."
“He's very humble about his
ability," says Friedman, "the way Russians are humble, and he
doesn't understand the sources of his own genius. That is a part
of his dilemma."
"No one understands such sources,"
the Russian Piatigorsky insists. "No one understands how to
reach such a very uniqueness."
"Without question he is a genius,"
says a lady in Heifetz family. "He always has been, and he has
wondered about it. But tell me, why do you think he will
from Heifetz himself,
couched cryptically to be sure, but still discernible. "There is
no such thing as perfection," he says. "There are only
standards. And after you have set a standard, you learn that it
was not high enough. You want to surpass it." It is lonely on
the peaks, beyond most people's knowledge of loneliness. He
has felt the loneliness all of his life, set apart from his
fellows by the sound he could make, until, as years moved past
and the curls were cut and the austere lines showed pouches, he
became the victim of his own genius. You and I have heard the
Heifetz sound; we expect nothing less. When it is Heifetz, we
will not settle for the gifted fiddling of Stern or Oistrakh or
Christian Ferras. Heifetz knows it; he himself will not.
the musician, driven first by his father and then by Auer,
should turn against audiences. Ruvin Heifetz and Leopold Auer
are dead. We audiences have become the demanding ones. We want
superhuman playing, after which some of us may find fault.
Wasn't the adagio tempo somewhat brisk.
Beyond his responses to others,
there is something else, inner and supremely private. His
Alexandrian journey of conquest is done and Heifetz at last is
embarked on the campaign that even he cannot win. He is waging
the struggle of genius against old age. We know the end: so, one
is certain, does he. The contest now is between the man and his
What he enjoys these days, as much
as he still enjoys anything, is a weekend by the Pacific at
Malibu. There he puts on a floppy hat and makes a drink or two
and plays the records of a fat‑toned jazz pianist on a $90
phonograph. The very mediocrity appeals to him. That and the
sea. His lifetime has been matched to tempo. The changing,
constant sea-rhythm consoles.
Sitting with him in the pink house
at Malibu, it is almost possible to forget that this is a genius
whose humanity has been sacrificed on an altar of perfection.
But then he will suddenly cry, "All right. Go out, please, and
walk." Then Jascha Heifetz closes the windows, draws the blinds,
clamps a mute on the Guarnerius and, having made certain that no
human can hear him, the greatest of all violinists begins to