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ClassicsOnline Home » Heifetz, Jascha: Miniatures, Vol. 1 (1944-1946)
During 1943–44 Jascha Heifetz toured widely, entertaining US troops with popular repertoire as well as that of the great classical composers. Returning to turmoil in the recording industry, Heifetz worked briefly for Decca rather than RCA, recording hits such as Jamaican Rumba and his own superb arrangements of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, as well as collaborating with Bing Crosby. He performed this lighter music with all of the precision and passion he invested in major masterpieces. As Heifetz himself once said: ‘There are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music.’ This is the first of two newly re-mastered discs which preserve a unique and timelessly magical moment in musical history.
Jascha Heifetz (1900–1987)
Miniatures • 1 (Original 1944–46 Recordings)
The years 1941–44 were fraught ones for American-based classical musicians, not least Jascha Heifetz. They began with the powerful union boss James Caesar Petrillo, of the American Federation of Musicians, declaring war on the leading instrumentalists who had joined the American Guild of Musical Artists, an organisation mainly for singers. On 20 February 1941 Petrillo issued an ultimatum to them to join the AFM by 1 March: violinist Albert Spalding complied, as did pianist Harold Bauer (previously not affiliated to any union). Heifetz, who had been a founder of AGMA with Lawrence Tibbett and Alma Gluck, held firm. In December that year real war broke out, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but Petrillo’s union campaigns did not abate. In August 1942, worried by the rise of the jukebox industry and the increasing use of recordings by radio stations, he imposed a recording ban; and classical artists were caught up in a dispute which was not of their making. Meanwhile, Heifetz and other immigrant musicians were keen to help the war effort, as a way of showing gratitude and commitment to the country which had given them a new home. Apart from the usual concerts for Defense Bonds, Heifetz made himself available to the United Services Organisation, which among other things arranged entertainments for the troops. During the 1943–44 season he toured Central and South America, including the Galapagos Islands, flying in spartan US Air Force planes; and in June and July 1944 he toured the Italian war theatre and North Africa, giving 45 concerts in eight weeks. As his accompanist Emanuel Bay declined to forgo a summer vacation to travel with him, he took the WOR radio station staff pianist Milton Kaye, a fine artist who had an immensely long career. ‘The Messrs Heifetz and Kaye played in theatres, opera houses, airplane hangers, battleships and right up at the front lines,’ The New York Times reported. ‘For the front-line engagements, of which there were several, the concerts were given from an open truck which carted a small, olive-drab piano.’ Heifetz was unwell at one point, but soldiered on without missing a recital. The reporter gleaned from Kaye that ‘each engagement was the equivalent of a short concert, with most of the classic composers represented. One gala concert the two musicians gave in Naples included a Mozart sonata, the entire Mendelssohn Concerto, the Bach Chaconne, five short pieces and ten encores—a full two hours of music’. On these tours Heifetz became accustomed to shouted requests for The Flight of the Bumble Bee and other popular items from the servicemen. On his return he found that, whereas his record company RCA was still embroiled in the dispute with Petrillo, American Decca had settled with the AFM and was offering a juicy contract. Keen to record again, and with a host of new pieces in his music case, Heifetz agreed; and so in mid-October he and Kaye knocked off a baker’s dozen of 78rpm sides. During the 1945–46 season he and Bay, having made up after their split, recorded a further thirty sides. A few orchestral sides were also made before Heifetz returned to the RCA fold in 1946.
Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 2 February 1900. His father Rubin, a competent fiddler, started him on the violin when he was three before passing him on to the Auer pupil Ilya Malkin. At six Jascha made his début and a year later he played the Mendelssohn Concerto in Kovno. To enable him to stay with his family when he entered Auer’s St Petersburg Conservatory class in 1910, his father was enrolled too. Heifetz became Auer’s favourite student and made his St Petersburg début on 30 April the following year. On 24 May 1912, still using a three-quarter-sized instrument, he played the Mendelssohn Concerto (with piano), Wieniawski’s Souvenir de Moscou and short pieces at the Berlin Hochschule; and on 28 October 1912 he replaced the indisposed Pablo Casals in a Berlin Philharmonic subscription concert, playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto under Arthur Nikisch. He gave a further Berlin concert and Nikisch invited him to the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where he performed Bruch’s G minor Concerto on 12 February 1914. In Vienna he played the Mendelssohn under Vassily Safonov and he developed steadily through the early years of the Great War. He missed the chaos of 1917 but caused his own October Revolution that year with his historic New York début at Carnegie Hall. In 1920 he made his London bow with two Queen’s Hall concerts which were so successful that he returned the same year—playing the Elgar Concerto with the composer present. He also visited Paris and Berlin; and in 1921 he toured Australia. In 1925 he took U.S. citizenship, in 1926 he played in Palestine and in 1928 he married the film star Florence Vidor. In 1939 he gave the première of the Walton Concerto in Cleveland. In 1947 he reintroduced himself to London with the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky Concertos at the Royal Albert Hall, before the Queen and an audience exceeding 6,000. After the 1946–47 season, he took a twenty-month break from the concert hall. In 1949 he played for President Truman and President Chaim Weizmann of Israel in New York and again offered Londoners the Elgar, also recording it. When he played the Tchaikovsky at Lewisohn Stadium in July that year, 20,000 people were in the audience and 1,000 had to be turned away. Heifetz became one of the first soloists to play at the new Royal Festival Hall in London, in May 1951, and visited London again in June 1953 and November 1954. In April 1953 he made his second tour of Israel but insisted on breaking a twenty-year ban on German music by programming Richard Strauss’s Sonata, saying: ‘There are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music.’ Following his Jerusalem recital, a fanatical young man attacked him with an iron bar, injuring his right arm. Heifetz then toured Italy and Europe, shrugging off his pain. In 1959 he performed for the United Nations General Assembly but in the 1960s he began to confine himself mainly to the West Coast of America; chamber music also loomed larger in his life, through the Heifetz-Piatigorsky Concerts. Having given his last concert in 1972, he grew increasingly reclusive; and he died in Los Angeles on 10 December 1987.
Heifetz and Kaye began their Decca stint on 16 October 1944 with From the Canebrake, by the Russian-born American violinist-composer Samuel Gardner (1891–1984), followed immediately by the immortal hit of Australian composer Arthur Benjamin (1893–1960), Jamaican Rumba—Heifetz adapted the arrangement for viola by his Scots colleague William Primrose. Levee Dance, by the black American violinist-composer Clarence Cameron White (1880–1960), a Coleridge-Taylor pupil, uses the spiritual Go Down, Moses for its central section. Its apt 78rpm coupling was Deep River, arranged by Heifetz—as were two of Stephen Foster’s popular songs. The American cellist-composer Victor Herbert (1859–1924) contributed À la Valse, calling on Heifetz’s marvellous staccato. As for the Irish folk tune Gweedore Brae, it has become synonymous with Heifetz through this recording, in which he phrases like a singer. From the sessions with Emanuel Bay we have such American classics as Florida Night Song by the violinist, composer and educationist ‘Daisy’ Dyer (1880–1922); and a brace of pieces by the violinist-composer Cecil Burleigh (1885–1980). Two Hispanic compositions are heard in Heifetz arrangements: the Preludio by the Catalan violinist, composer and writer Flausino Rodrigues do Vale (1894–1954) features pinpoint accuracy in changes of register and rhythm; while Heifetz makes Huella, a ‘canción argentina’ by the Buenos Aires composer Julián Aguirre (1868–1924), sound more interesting than it is. Kurt Weill’s Moderato assai, arranged by violinist Stefan Frenkel, is none other than our old friend The Ballad of Mack the Knife, from The Threepenny Opera. The famed Heifetz transcriptions from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and the jazzy Three Preludes, originally for piano, were among the few pieces that the violinist was able to re-record for RCA—a clause in his Decca contract forbade such duplication while the records were available, and permission had to be sought for the later versions. Hexapoda is a delightful group of morsels in jazz style by Gershwin’s former assistant Robert Russell Bennett (1894–1961): normally associated with scoring other composers’ shows for Broadway, he wrote this suite for the violinist Louis Kaufman. Following the sessions with Kaye, Heifetz recorded Irving Berlin’s hit White Christmas with Camarata and his orchestra—it was coupled with the Herbert. His last Decca session was devoted to two tracks with Bing Crosby: the Berceuse from Jocelyn is strange fare for Bing’s cosy baritone but Hermann Löhr’s much-loved ballad is more appropriate, even if it does not expunge memories of Morgan Kingston’s acoustic Columbia. These Decca discs, though miked fairly closely, are generally well recorded—only on Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair does Heifetz’s vibrato catch the microphone at all unsympathetically. The repertoire may be popular but there is no condescension from the violinist, who lavishes all his art on it: warm G string tone (Deep River), sensitive double-stops (Old Folks at Home, ‘My Man’s Gone Now’), delicate harmonics (two of the Porgy and Bess numbers). Note how, in ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’, he conveys through changes of register that it is a duet. Everywhere the precision of the playing and the ensemble with Kaye are admirable. Two bonuses with orchestra come from one of the V-Discs that Heifetz made specially for distribution to the armed forces: Cyril Scott’s Bygone Memories and another Jamaican Rumba to bring us full circle.
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Heifetz, Jascha: Miniatures, Vol. 1 (1944-1946)