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February 2: Jascha Heifetz, the Virtuoso

Lawrence Bush
February 2, 2017
Jascha Heifetz, considered by many to be the greatest violinist in modern history, was born in Vilna on this date in 1901. A child prodigy, he made his public debut at age 7, and his performance at age 12 prompted the great Fritz Kreisler to say, “We may as well break our fiddles across our knees.” He transplanted to the U.S. and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1917, then began his long, long recording career with RCA Victor. “Heifetz projected his sensational technique and pure tone with affirmative athletic confidence,” writes Peter Gutmann at Classicalnotes.net. “Even in his last performances, he sounds like the most youthful violinist on record.” Heifetz toured in Israel several times; on his third tour, in 1953, he included pieces by Richard Strauss, who was unofficially banned (along with Richard Wagner) in the country, and suffered an attack by a protestor wielding a crowbar. Heifetz appeared in several films, was the owner of several rare and prized violins, and made over 120 recordings, all of which have been released on CD. He died at 86 in Los Angeles in 1987. To see him working out on a Bach piece, look below. "I occasionally play works by contemporary composers, and for two reasons. First to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven." --Jascha Heifetz

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.