Long considered perhaps the greatest violinist of his time, Jascha Heifetz was a virtuoso’s virtuoso.
Born in Vilnius in 1901, Heifetz started young, receiving his first lessons from his father—a violin instructor—at three. By seven, he had made his debut. Five years later, Fritz Kreisler, an extraordinary violinist in his own right, declared, “We may as well break our fiddles across our knees,” after a private performance in which Heifetz showcased his skills.
Having moved to the United States with his family as a teenager, Heifetz made his Carnegie Hall debut at 16 to rapturous reviews. Later, he told admirer Groucho Marx that he had earned a living as a musician since the age of seven. Marx responded, “And I suppose before that you were just a bum.”
But Heifetz wasn’t universally adored. On his third tour to Israel in 1953, he was asked by the Minister of Education to remove a Richard Strauss violin sonata from his repertoire, Strauss long considered to have been a Nazi composer. Heifetz declined, saying, “The music is above these factors.” But stubbornness is a two-way street: each time Heifetz played the sonata, Israeli audiences sat in silence.
Watch the trailer of a beautiful Heifetz documentary: