Jascha Heifetz

Russian-born violinist and naturalized US citizen (born 1901, Vilnius – died 1987, Los Angeles)

Iossif Robimovitch Heifetz started the violin at the age of three with his father, Ruben. Two years later, he entered the Royal Academy of Music in Vilnius. He made his first public appearance in 1906 at a pupils' recital, then gave his first concert in 1909 in Kaunas. The following year, he was admitted into the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, then started lessons with the highly-esteemed teacher Leopold Auer _* in 1911. The same year, he gave a concert in Odessa. It was such a success that the police had to protect him from the audience's enthusiast response: he was just 10 years old! He made his debut in Berlin in 1912, first at a private concert for the press and other artists. Immediately afterwards, *_Arthur Nikisch asked him, at a moment's notice, to take Pablo Casals' place and perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, a work he had not yet played in public. The concert was a triumph. His career as a child prodigy would normally have taken him to the United States in 1914, but the trip was cancelled because of the First World War.

In the end, it was the Russian Revolution in 1917 that prompted the move. The Heifetz family, having decided to go into exile, arrived in the United States at the end of a long trek across Siberia, Japan and the Pacific Ocean. On 27 October 1917, Jascha Heifetz made a historic debut at Carnegie Hall, playing to an audience that included artists such as Fritz Kreisler, Mischa Elman and Leopold Godowsky. Two weeks after this recital, he made his first recording for the record company Victor Talking Machine Company (which later became RCA), beginning a partnership with the famous American firm that spanned over 50 years. He would only occasionally record with EMI and Decca. After touring the United States for two years, he began the new decade with a triumphant debut in London on 5 May 1920, followed by a series of world tours that took him to Australia, Asia and the Near East. In 1925, he became a naturalised American citizen, which gave him the right, among other things, to make a long-awaited return to Russia, which he had fled and which had, in the meantime, become the USSR. During a tour in Jerusalem in 1953, he was physically assaulted by an extremist who objected to his playing music by Richard Strauss, a composer suspected of being a Nazi sympathiser. Jascha Heifetz, although he had Jewish roots, refused to give in to political considerations and maintained the programmes he had drawn up. In 1958, he began a teaching career in Los Angeles, California. His career changed course. His concerts became less frequent throughout the 1960s. However in 1971 he came to France to give a concert – which was filmed – with the Orchestre National. He performed Bruch's Scottish Fantasy while conducting the orchestra at the same time. He gave his last public performance in 1972 in Los Angeles.

From then on, Jascha Heifetz devoted himself entirely to teaching and chamber music, which had long been close to his heart. He had formed a string trio in the early 1930s with cellist Emmanuel Feuermann and violist William Primrose. Then, in the 1940s, he formed a piano trio with pianist Arthur Rubinstein and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. The press dubbed this ensemble the "Million Dollar Trio". Jascha Heifetz was always close to composers: those he met, like Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Schoenberg and those with whom he developed a real friendship, like Glazunov, Prokofiev and Gershwin. He is the dedicatee of concertos written by Walton, Castelnuovo-Tedesco _* and *_Korngold. He contributed to the American war effort during both world wars by collecting funds. He also regularly performed at charity concerts, notably in France, for which he was awarded the title of Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1939. He owned several prestigious violins: an 18th century Tononi, the David* by Guarnerius and three _Stradivarius_: the *Piel, the Dolphin and the Hochstein. He married twice: first Florence Vidor, the daughter of film-director King Vidor, in 1925, then Frances Spiegelberg in 1947.

Official website

Six landmark dates in the life of Jascha Heifetz:
• 1909: first concert in Kaunas
• 1911: admitted to study with Leopold Auer
• 1917: historic debut performance in New York's Carnegie Hall
• 1920: first pubic concert in London
• 1939: Officer of the Legion of Honour
• 1971: filmed concert in Paris with the Orchestre National de France

Biography compiled from Radio France documentation, April 2016