Music: Sitwell to Heifetz

TIME, Monday, Dec. 18, 1939

In 1911 the flowing locks of Germany's Romantic music were attacked by a plague of dandruff—Kulturbolschewismus (deliberate tune-deafness). In 1934 Adolf Hitler cured the patient by cutting off the head. Since then most of the world's composing has been done outside Germany, much of it in London. Most of the music recently composed by Londoners has been as monotonously indigestible as Yorkshire pudding. But today critics agree that the new London school of composers has produced one top-flight genius: 37-year-old William Walton.

Composer Walton, one of the smart devotees of arty London Poetess Edith Sitwell, started out in the early 1920 doing clever satirical fluff. But when, in 1931, he burst from her mother-of-pearly cell with a fire-belching oratorio called Belshazzar's Feast, the international musical world sat up and took notice. His First Symphony, which followed, got him talked about in terms of Finland's Jean Sibelius.

Three years ago, Violinist Jascha Heifetz asked Composer Walton to write him a violin concerto. Last spring Composer Walton delivered the completed manuscript at Heifetz' Connecticut estate, and last week in Cleveland Violinist Heifetz, with fidgety Artur Rodzinski's streamlined Cleveland Orchestra as background, gave the new concerto its first performance. Well-woven as a Paisley shawl, Composer Walton's opus proved warm as well as intricate. And though Cleveland's dowagers found its texture scratchier than crepe, Cleveland's critics fingered its solid warp & woof with enthusiasm. Said Clevelander Rodzinski, rolling a long cigaret of Polish tobacco after the concert: "This is one of the most important violin works of the century. Emphatically so!" Echoed Violinist Heifetz: "I'm very crazy about it."

Meanwhile, Composer Walton, who had hoped to be there on the night, was busy driving an ambulance somewhere in England. Wrote he, mournfully, in a letter to Violinist Heifetz: "I don't know when I will hear the concerto—perhaps never. I have been hoping that the performance will be broadcast. If it is, can you make a recording of it and send it to me?" The performance was not broadcast, but Violinist Heifetz planned to make a private recording for Composer Walton.