Menu JTA Search

The Human Touch

Download PDF for this date

JASCHA HEIFETZ brought back much more from his Russian tour than the quarter-size violin on which he had played as a child of three, and a good deal more, apparently, than the ship news reporters got out of him, or, probably, had the time to get out of him.

There were legends about himself, as there are legends about any home-town boy of the Old World who has made good in the New. But these were magnificent legends. One of them was that he had married either Miss Rockefeller or Miss Ford. Another was that he was coming to Russia with a suite of eight secretaries, valets and guards. Two of these eight were strapping Ethiopian guards, the legend continued, one for his person and one for his precious violin, so precious that it was kept in a case of solid gold.

All this is nonsense, said an old professor at one of the large musical Conservatories. The truth is however, continued this old man, that he does carry on his person a handkerchief studded with diamonds. Apparently not for use. There was also a story-this is a little closer to the earth, however-that the great Jascha Heifetz never condescended to rehearse with orchestras, and when he did appeal for rehearsals with the Leningrad and Moscow Symphony Orchestras, there was great wonder at his simplicity and condescension. One can try to imagine what other legends clustered about Heifetz when one learns that persons came from the deep interior of Russia, even from Siberia, to hear him play and when one learns that there were men and women in the audience who had pawned heirlooms to hear him.


But Jascha Heifetz brought back more than legends. He brought back twenty-eight pieces of baggage, not all of which contained his change of clothes and a toothbrush. He brought out of Soviet Russia examples of old chinaware, old books, old silver and old jewels, a coin collection and a heap of textiles, of the kind museums put in showcases rather than the kind you put on your dinner table. He brought back with him other things, too numerous to mention, and-one rouble, as a souvenir.

You see, he was paid in roubles which had to be spent in Russia and which, if not spent there, could have no value outside of Russia, until such time as he returned to it. The vastness of the sums of money which he must have earned during those thirteen concerts he have in Leningrad and Moscow may be gauged by the fact that by his appearances with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the Leningrad Symphony he earned, for those societies, the equivalent, in roubles, of a quarter of a million dollars.

Heifetz brought back also the memory of one bad moment in Russia-one at least which he cares to describe. He was living off the roubles he was earning in Russia and not off dollars, or shillings, or francs or pesos which he brought with him and changed into roubles. One day while at dinner at his hotel he felt a desire for caviare and asked for some. Now caviare is the food staple of Russia and even during the famine years there was caviare, whatever else there was not.


The waiter informed Heifetz that he was sorry but caviare was served only to those who could pay with valuta, which means foreign money, or the equivalent thereof, not with roubles. Whereupon Heifetz lost his temper, a little, saying that things had come to a pretty pass when he couldn’t have caviare for his roubles and telephoned some official at the Foreign Office, or perhaps the American Embassy and expressed himself on this subject. P. S. Caviare was served Jascha Heifetz at that meal, for Russian roubles.

Mr. and Mrs. Litvinoff attended most of his concerts and Ambassador Bullitt had an aisle seat for every one of them. The radio communicated the sound of his violin to everyone who had a receiving set. Those who came to see as well as hear paid up to twenty-four roubles a seat-which would be $12 in U. S. money-and what the speculators charged is nobody’s business. Yes, it seems there are ticket speculators in Russia when a Heifetz crosses the border.

Curiously enough, it was classical music Communist Russia wanted to hear. There was little, or no demand for modern music. At the first concert he gave with one of the symphony orchestras he gave concertos by Brahms, Mozart and Mendelssohn-no picnic, and at the second orchestral concert he performed Tschaikowsky and Glazaunov concertos. Nevertheless, he reports, there is a group of young composers busily at work on new themes, one of whom, Shostakovitch, is now writing a violin concerto to be dedicated to Heifetz. It is not at all improbable that when Heifetz returns for a other Russian tour, as he plans to do, he will perform the music now being written in his honor.


For when Heifetz ended his tour and bade adieu to Soviet Russia he left behind him many whose hunger for music he had failed to satisfy. The Soviet Army asked for a concert and didn’t get it; the Soviet Navy asked for a concert and many of the heavy industries asked for concerts, but there wasn’t enough time. It would be a little fantastic, to say least, to imagine the United States Army, or the United States Navy pining for a violin concert by a visiting virtuoso.

Now why couldn’t Jascha Heifetz give the Army, or the Navy or any one of the industries a concert? Because, several thousands of miles away there is a large continent called South America, which also was waiting, if not actually pining for violin concerts by Heifetz. And by the time this appears Heifetz will be en route for that continent, after stopping in New York long enough to play for half an hour over the radio last Sunday evening. When one realizes how vast is the world which wants music, it is no wonder that so many youngsters, and many not so young, strive with so little abatement of energy to fight their way to recognition.

There is one family which must have followed with keen interest, which they may or may not have acknowledged, the little snippets of news concerning Heifetz’s Russian tour. And that is the Menuhin family, the family of which the young eighteen-year-old Yehudi is the core, so to speak. I have heard Yehudi express a keen desire to go to Russia and play. He has his own reasons for seeing Russia, apart from playing in it. Without the slightest basis of fact-the Menuhins are not now in New York and therefore not accessible-I venture the belief that Heifetz’s tour will intensify the desire of Yehudi to venture a little sooner on a Russian concert tour himself. And whatever else he may find when he arrives there, he will find audiences.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund