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Jascha Heifetz – A Wartime Memory

September 9, 2022, 2:21 PM · My father-in-law Joe was stationed in London during World War II. On a cold and rainy night in 1945, he had the good fortune to hear Jascha Heifetz play a special concert for the troops. I know this only because my son recently found a letter Joe wrote to his then-fiancé. I’d been married just a year when we lost Joe, so I never had the chance to hear this story from him personally. I’m so glad he wrote the letter, which began simply with…

"On a bare stage, dressed like a G.I., Heifetz played the audience into a reverie. No need to be a musician to realize how brilliantly he played. The lyric flow of the arm and the bow, the delicate way his fingers danced over the strings – both were of a visual beauty apart from the gorgeous sound he produced."

Jascha Heifetz war dept

According to the letter, the program started with The Star-Spangled Banner and God Save the Queen. Heifetz then spoke to the audience: "My first selection will be Bach’s unaccompanied Preludio in E Major. This piece is like spinach. You may not like it, but it is good for you."

Following the Bach, Heifetz played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, Tchaikovsky’s Melodie, A. Benjamin’s Jamaican Rhumba, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Hymn to the Sun, V. Herbert’s A la valse, and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen.

If that weren’t enough, his encores were Bach’s Air on the G String, Tchaikovsky’s Intermezzo, Dinicu’s Hora Staccato (which Heifetz jokingly referred to as the "Horror Staccato"), and Schubert’s Ave Maria.

While some of this music is unaccompanied, other pieces clearly are not. There is no mention in the letter of a pianist. I suspect there was none. There is just the reference to Heifetz entering on a bare stage. Whether he was alone or part of a duo, there is no question that his music made an impact on young G.I. Joe.

"In the midst of these atrocities, hearing this wonderful artist play this glorious music was a blessed reprieve."

My father-in-law’s letter ended simply with...
"Bravo, Jascha, bravo."

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Replies

September 10, 2022 at 12:32 AM · How wonderful. thank you so much.

Small point. Heifetz said Bach is like spinach. I think the spell checker may be a milstein fan…

Warmest regards,

Buri

September 10, 2022 at 01:10 AM · Bravo, Jascha, bravo is right. How lucky your father-in-law was to hear Jascha play in person and how wonderful that Jascha entertained the troops. To me, the name Jascha Heifetz is synonymous with the violin. I grew up in a household where his music was always playing, but I was never fortunate enough to hear him perform in person. And this is a tremendous coincidence as only a few hours ago I was at the gym and during my workout I listened to the album Heifetz Showpieces which included two of the pieces from the concert you wrote about: Symphonie Espagnole and Zigeunerweisen. That letter is a piece of history. Thanks for sharing!

September 10, 2022 at 01:16 AM · Buri, Thanks so much for that comment! I actually got "pinch" directly from the letter. But I must admit, it's on that paper-thin-onion-skin airline paper from back in the day, with water marks all over it. I didn't think "pinch" really made sense in that context, but it was all I could see and I wasn't familiar with the quote. Spinach makes a whole lot more sense. I'm sure you're right, so Laurie fixed it. Thank you!

Joe, Thanks as always for your sweet comment! I, too, think of Heifetz as synonymous with the violin. And, alas, also never heard him live.

September 10, 2022 at 02:14 AM · What an amazing letter to have in your family! Joe was just as beautifully descriptive of performances as you are! Thank you for sharing!

September 10, 2022 at 04:20 AM · Hi, I’ve told this story too many times perhaps , but the late great Hugh Bean got a letter from Heifetz thanking him for his recording of the Elgar concerto . Heifetz said that recording had helped him in formulating his interpretation!!!!! Hugh showed the letter to Ken Piper who taught me at RCM. He told me about it but , regrettably I never saw the letter itself.

Heifetz was so humble in is own way. Not dragged down by egotism.

Cheers,

Buri

September 10, 2022 at 10:53 AM · Diana - that's a wonderful document: I've got to say that many music reviewers and academics are unable to match Joe's beautiful prose! Buri - a fine corollary. Hugh Bean's recording of the Elgar concerto is my favourite.

September 10, 2022 at 01:02 PM · Christina, Thank you!

Buri, That story is well worth telling and I (for one) have never heard it. Thank you!

Richard, What a beautiful comment! Joe wrote to his fiancé every day over the course of many years. He had quite a flair for prose.

September 10, 2022 at 08:23 PM · He was also willing to be part of the joke. If you haven't listened to it check out this bit by Jack Benny with him. (Grr for the ads on you tube) https://youtu.be/seZ4KhYr-Hw

September 10, 2022 at 10:30 PM · Oh, Steve, thank you! My favorite line: "Honestly, folks, can you tell the difference?"

September 11, 2022 at 04:10 AM · thank you Diana for this. There is an interesting article by the STrad magazine about his work during the war. I believe it can also be inferred from the date that it was Seymour Lipkin who was the pianist

https://jaschaheifetz.com/about/the-heifetz-war-years/

September 11, 2022 at 01:12 PM · Ward, Thank you so much for this information! My attempted research didn't yield any real results. I'm very appreciative for yours and I assume you're right. It's interesting to me that Joe didn't make any reference to a pianist, which I took to mean there either wasn't one (unlikely) or there was and that Joe was so completely taken by Heifetz's performance that he didn't even notice. Based on the article, I suspect the latter was the case! Thanks again.

September 12, 2022 at 03:51 PM · As from ~ Jascha Heifetz Original Pupil of Seven, Violin Master Classes also Filmed (on YT/other websites global) ~ Elisabeth Matesky {#12}

Those of us so blessed to be invited to study with Mr. Heifetz {Never referring to him informally as 'Jascha' , which Jascha Heifetz did not take kindly to}, were with Jascha Heifetz 6 hours a day, 3 days a week at USC's Clark House, having our JH Violin Master Classes with Heifetz starting at 11:00 AM - 4:00PM, Tuesday, Thursday and varied Friday, for Friday's always in afternoons from 1:00PM - 5:00 PM, for our Chamber Music Class with Mr. Heifetz, 'Cellist, Gregor Piatigorsky and with their British Delight colleague, Violist, William Primrose! During these precious times we came to know Mr. Heifetz, in class, quite well not only as our Iconic Mentor, but as the time rolled on, also a caring about us friend ~

When Mr. Heifetz announced we were to be filmed and as 'our normal class', he then went 'round to each of the Seven of us, stopping then tapping us on our foreheads, assigning each pupil a specific violin concerto or an unaccompanied piece plus Violin-Piano Sonata he wanted each of us to prepare and play for our own half hour individual films of Seven. We were all quite nervous yet mentor, Heifetz, seemed pleased re our Jascha Heifetz Film Project, and it required our class then moving across campus to fully named Hancock Auditorium, where we carried on for a full 2 weeks being filmed non stop for approximately 7 hours each day, having our usual lessons with Heifetz and his JH Violin Master Class Pianist, Brooks Smith, at the Piano as needed ~

I could write a small Diary of the Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class filming project yet the title of Ms Skinner's Topic is about Mr. Heifetz's Wartime deeply patriotic Service donning an official US Army uniform as a Private First Class, with his duties assigned to perform concerts and in some instances, in very dangerous Theatre's of War, which Heifetz, under the Command of General Douglas Mac Arthur, sometimes disobeyed, such was his own dedication to our US Army Troops and to our Allied Troops in WWII ~ I do know Mr. Heifetz, gave over 400 Violin w/Piano Recitals in North Africa, occasionally coming to London, to play a Recital at the Old Queens Hall, {quite a Story of one of his recitals to be mentioned in my In Process Book}; & indeed, throughout Mr. Heifetz's beyond dedicated wartime service to our Nation, playing the larger portion of JH Violin Recitals in the South Pacific, and often, as previously mentioned, in truly dangerous Theatres of War, even going it on his own, playing 1 specific violin recital for One Lone US battle scared Soldier, who limped on a homemade stick in rain to hear Heifetz, in a mud strewn evacuated Theatre of War ~

There were many instances of Jascha Heifetz, going in to US Army Hospitals to play anything the maimed, injured and dying troops wished to hear or holding the shaking hand of an about to depart this world alone soldier whom the Great Heifetz, lent his hand to in last moments . . .

After WWII, the French Government awarded Jascha Heifetz the French Legion 'de Honuer, a red rounded circular 'badge', which Mr. Heifetz, proudly wore on his jacket left pocket lapel ~ I also saw my 2nd Iconic Violin Mentor, Nathan Milstein, oft wearing his French Legion 'de Honuer in exactly the same place on his {Mr. Milstein's} Jacket left lapel yet both were very modest in not speaking about being Awardees of the Highest Civilian Honour France could bestowe ...

Folks, this is the public and also private "Face" of Greatness which Jascha Heifetz exemplified throughout his fabled Epic Concert performing and recording Career Globally, which if it had begun later on with a closer to last quarter of Twentieth Century start, it would have loomed even larger than the still Heifetz Mystique of the Twentieth Century! I noted the Cover of this Journal, saying Heifetz was 'one of the Twentieth Century's most foremost Artists', and feel compelled, having studied with Jascha Heifetz, then RX'd by Mr. 'H', to study and whilst on my Fulbright to RCM {Royal College of Music} with Lasserson in London, to make very clear to those writing in here that, not only IMO, but the entire World of Music, feited Violinist, Jascha Heifetz was termed The Greatest Of All Time Performing Artist of The Twentieth Century, bar non!!! Period. Full Stop. I know that my close friend of 24 years and mentor, Nathan Milstein, of over 3 & 1/2 years, privately, in Chester Square, revered his Leopold Auer class-mate, Jascha Heifetz, so much, that he {Nathan Milstein} would always Look Up to the Sky as if to Heaven when he spoke Heifetz's Name, such was Milstein's respect for Heifetz. I would ask Editor, Laurie Niles, to amend the Violinist.com Journal Intro on the Front Cover to reflect this Fact, acknowledged by every major artist; recording company powers-that-be & every Conductor of the long period of Jascha Heifetz's 'Reign' who changed the World of Violin Playing and Globally to a Forever to this writing and going far forward into the very distant Future ~

In closing, Thank You's are in order to Diana Skinner for kindly bringing her acquaintance with her late father in law, Joe's long ago treasured kept letter and writing about it here on V.com ... Many if not all of Mr. Heifetz's Violin Master Class pupil's after us {meaning latest 60s/70s} also knew of the JH WWII US Army Service and not from Mr. Heifetz, himself, but from his Violin Master Class pianist's, which included Brooks Smith {during our original JH Violin Master Classes to late 60s, and Gerald Robbins, going forward to the mid 70s} and once living in London, did come 'round to Mr. Milstein's Chester Square home to act as a Collaborative Pianist for a student audition for Milstein, & whom upon hearing 'Gerry', engaged Gerald Robbins to be his Pianist on a Nathan Milstein full European Violin Recital Concert Tour in Capital Music Cities! And perhaps it should be newly mentioned here, in my last visit with Mr. Heifetz, in his Malibu Beach House in Malibu, CA, when the subject of Nathan Milstein arose, my Manager speaking of his visit with Mr. Milstein in London, just prior, Mr. Heifetz suddenly stopped in mentioning wistfully with warmed tones in his voice: "Ah, Milstein, he is my Friend, Liz!!" I began tearing up seeing the famous face of Jascha Heifetz, gazing into a mirror in his mind of numerous memories over at least 5 or more decades from their mutual Auer Class-mates studies in 'Mother Russia' as young boys - maybe even 'rival's' ? yet looking far back and across decades of mutual friendship with reverence for each other artistically and personally ...

A Word ~ Seymour Lipkin was JH Pianist throughout WWII, & Ward Ennish so helpful in pointing this important fact out! TY!

Question, 'Buri'? NM said Bach = Spinach? NM never said this to me in over 24 Years of knowing NM & Family most well !!

Honoured to Submit on this 12th September, 2022, day during 'Ten Days of Mourning' for HRH The Queen, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Commonwealth Realms ~

Elisabeth Matesky ~ former Londoner/Chicago Resident, US

https://youtu.be/nZEzzQZVM | www.bili.bili.com/Khachaturian

A Must Hear: JH, Jamaican Rumba, arr JH via Primrose orig

Fwd dg

September 13, 2022 at 12:49 AM · Ms. Matesky, there was so much of great interest in your comment! And you're remembrances brought tears to my eyes several times (limping on a homemade stick in the rain to hear Mr. Heifetz). Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories with us. We are, indeed, fortunate to hear them.

September 13, 2022 at 12:29 PM · Diana Skinner; What an honor and a privileged for him to have gotten to see and her Heifetz play! and to be able to read the letter! Thank you for sharing this!

September 13, 2022 at 02:26 PM · Royce, You are most welcome! Thank you for your lovely comment!

September 14, 2022 at 08:33 PM · Ms. Matesky: Thank you for sharing those wonderfully priceless memories, which paint a wonderful picture of Jascha Heifetz - the person - as well as the unique artist he was.

I heard him only once in concert. In the late 50's, I was in school and was in the gallery at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and heard him play a recital with piano. At this point I don't recall all of the pieces, but I clearly remember his performance of the Franck Sonata, and in my mind's ear can still hear a few passages like a recording of his playing. As great as so many of his recordings are, I'm not sure they do him full justice.

September 15, 2022 at 11:56 AM · Sander, So appreciative that you shared this memory!

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