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Luck is no doubt an important ingredient in a musician's career. Nevertheless, if luck is desired and invoked, one has to be prepared for it, if and when it arrives. Although Heifetz was spared the hardship of the October 1917 Revolution  - not so much by design as by lucky circumstances - he had nevertheless managed to produce his own musical revolution in the same year and the same month. Those of us who would hope to better understand the momentous revelation of Heifetz's arrival on the concert stage, may do so by comparing several examples of violin playing, as it was known immediately prior to, and during, the early years of Heifetz's career.

In the United States concert goers were treated to violinists such as Maud Powell (1967-1920) and Albert Spalding (1888-1953; David Hochstein, b.1892, having died in 1918, was too young to have left a meaningful impression). Both were concertising well before Heifetz had reached maturity or indeed the USA.

Spalding of course had famously visited the Auer studio in St. Petersburg in 1912-13 with his pianist Andre Benoist and was deeply impressed by the two little wizards in the class, Heifetz and Seidel. Maud Powel, a famed violinist in her own right, was spotted at the Heifetz Carnegie Hall debut in 1917 applauding frenetically. Powel's digital dexterity, bowing prowess and style are evident, albeit mixed perhaps with a questionable rubato. The same can be said of Spalding, in addition to some slides that had long gone out of fashion and perhaps a slight insecurity of intonation.

Maud Powell plays Vieuxtemps Ballade & Polonaise

Maud Powell plays François Schubert "The Bee"

Albert Spalding plays Wieniawski Polonaise in D 'Brilliante' op.4 no.1

In Europe audiences parted with Pablo de Sarasate (1844–1908) and Joseph Joachim (1831–1907) while Eugene Ysaÿe (1858–1931) was in the autumn of his career. Those three represented the zenith of violin playing just prior to Heifetz's emergence. Fritz Kreisler and a long stream of other Russians and Europeans had eventually migrated to the USA prior to and following WWI. Of them, Kreisler and Elman were no doubt the public's favourites.

Of those who preferred the European hub, Bronislaw Huberman (1882–1947), Willy Burmester (1869–1933, a pupil of Joachim) and a bit later Zino Francescatti were held in high esteem, but the continent had also witnessed a number of child prodigies who were compared at one time or another with Heifetz: Florizel von Reuter, Franz von Vecsey, Sigmund Feuermann (brother of cellist Emanuel), Jan Kubelik (father of conductor Rafael), Váša Příhoda, Joseph Hassid, etc. -  the "technicians" as some Europeans called them. Of those, Hassid appears - despite his very brief and tragic life - to have come closest to Heifetz on both musical and technical level. Franz (Ferenc) von Vecsey was indeed a wizard who impressed Sibelius enough to re-dedicate his violin concerto to him (aged 12), when the original dedicatee Willy Burmester twice failed to premiere the work (the original was premiered by Victor Novacek; the revised version by the Berlin SO concertmaster Karl Haliř).

Sarasate plays Caprice-Jota

Sarasate plays Bach Prelude from Partita no.3

Joachim plays Romance in C major

Ysaÿe plays Wieniawski Rondino

Ysaÿe plays Mendelssohn 3rd mvt.

Huberman plays Chopin Nocturne op.9 no.2

Vecsey plays Sibelius Carmen Fantasy

Hassid plays Achron Hebrew Melody

Hassid plays Sarasate Zapateado

Most young violinists are influenced by the towering exponents of their art in their respective era. One can detect some Sarasate stylistic inflections even in the great Kreisler. The examples below already attest to the influence that Heifetz had began to exert on the profession. While Kreisler was an artist which Heifetz himself strove at one stage to briefly emulate, Francescatti's and Hassid's playing already benefit from Heifetz's effect. The same applies, to varying degrees, to all the other great violinists of the 20th century, such as Menuhin, Oistrakh, Kogan, Ricci, Stern, Szeryng etc.

Just prior to Heifetz, Auer had already made a kind of a pedagogical statement with the emergence of Efrem Zimbalist and Mischa Elman, both of whom emigrated to the United States. Although they were both products of the same studio, they never met Heifetz at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, both having left before the latter's arrival. (The younger Seidel and Milstein were classmates of Heifetz at different periods.) It is interesting to note that all these artists, except Kreisler, had later undergone to some degree a transformation during their career, caused in part by Heifetz's impact. Zimbalist and Elman already heralded those seductive tenets of the Auer school - the singing tone production, the phrasing and the bowing line, the purity of intonation. Zimbalist was particularly valued for his smooth bowing mechanism while Elman's round, velvet tone was legendary. (When in foul mood, Heifetz would call it 'a sentimental soundbath'...) Both artists had lost some career impetus with Heifetz's arrival, with Zimbalist actually choosing a fallback successful teaching career at Curtis, in addition to the concert stage.

Kreisler plays Schubert Sonata D.574, Sergei Rachmaninov pf.

Zimbalist plays Sarasate Carmen Fantasy

Elman plays Schubert Serenade

Elman plays Massenet Elegie, Enrico Caruso vocal

Seidel plays Brahms Hungarioan Dance no.1

Milstein plays Waxman Carmen Fantasy

Milstein plays Sarasate Introduction and Tarantelle

The repertoire above is limited to short piece, the 78s duration being partly responsible for some. There are of course later examples of all these artists playing more substantial repertoire - here I tried to concentrate mostly on earlier samples, closer in time to Heifetz's emergence.

The pre-Heifetz era of violin playing appears to be markedly different from what we're used today. Some are clearly superb violinists. Hassid, in fact, is quite unique even in Heifetz's company. Joachim's somewhat dry tone, Sarasate's perhaps one-dimensional sound (yet stupendous technique), the overall lack of color, vibrato and above all what to me sounds like a lack of imagination - save of course Kreisler, Elman, Ysaye, Hassid - all attest to a bygone era when artists took perhaps unacceptable liberties with the text (such that Sarasate's Bach becomes an exercise in acrobatics).

There are many reasons why the preceding generation of violinists were so different. Tastes and fashions change of course, and so does music interpretation. But one important ingredient is markedly different: the great violinists of yesteryear generally had a limited amount of tuition time and usually started their careers early in their teens. Today's fiddlers are taught for many years, most of them well into their twenties. They also enjoy the wide propagation of, and are exposed to, music on every conceivable media, where they can listen to others, compare and learn. The old violinists could not avail themselves of such riches; once they left their teachers' studio and had embarked on their careers, they had almost nothing and nobody to rely upon musically, except themselves. They had to continue to develop artistically by relying solely on their inner instinct and musical compass (and hard work), This is one of the main reasons that violinists of the 'golden era' sound so individually differently from each other. The readily available media nowadays tends to level out the playing field and to bring about a uniformity of execution, high as it may be, which can result in artists being hardly distinguishable from each another. (And then there are violin competitions everywhere, which don't help either...). As good an example as any - and better than most - Milstein, having spent barely a year with Auer, believed that violin playing in our time lacks certain things because everything is so easily accessible (incidentally, much like Heifetz's belief). When he was young, Milstein used to say, it was difficult to even find printed music, never mind to decide how it should be played. Listening to someone's  a recording robs the student of an important part of the discovery and learning process. "We had to figure it out for ourselves", he reminisced and further: (talking to Pinkhas Zukerman in Christopher Nupen's film The Queit Magician):

So, if the present day violinists have reached such technical proficiency and are indeed so good, I believe they'd do well to remember that they couldn't have done so without the contribution of their 'grand generation' predecessors. As Elman put it so much better (and a bit of Tchaikovsky to boot, albeit dubbed):