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Jascha Heiftz

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Technical Mastery and Temperament

Mature in virtuosity--the modern virtuosity which goes so far beyond the mere technical mastery that once made the term a reproach--though young in years, Jascha Heifetz, when one makes his acquaintance "off-stage," seems singularly modest about the great gifts which have brought him international fame. He is amiable, unassuming and--the best proof, perhaps, that his talent is a thing genuine and inborn, not the result of a forcing process--he has that broad interest in art and in life going far beyond his own particular medium, the violin, without which no artist may become truly great. For Jascha Heifetz, with his wonderful record of accomplishment achieved, and with triumphs still to come before him, does not believe in "all work and no play."


The Danger of Practicing Too Much

He laughed when I put forward the theory that he worked many hours a day, perhaps as many as six or eight? "No," he said, "I do not think I could ever have made any progress if I had practiced six hours a day. In the first place I have never believed in practicing too much--it is just as bad as practicing too little! And then there are so many other things I like to do. I am fond of reading and I like sport: tennis, golf, bicycle riding, boating, swimming, etc. Often when I am supposed to be practicing hard I am out with my camera, taking pictures; for I have become what is known as a 'camera fiend.' And just now I have a new car, which I have learned to drive, and which takes up a good deal of my time. I have never believed in grinding. In fact I think that if one has to work very hard to get his piece, it will show in the execution. To interpret music properly, it is necessary to eliminate mechanical difficulty; the audience should not feel the struggle of the artist with what are considered hard passages. I hardly ever practice more than three hours a day on an average, and besides, I keep my Sunday when I do not play at all, and sometimes I make an extra holiday. As to six or seven hours a day, I would not have been able to stand it at all."


I implied that what Mr. Heifetz said might shock thousands of aspiring

young violinists for whom he pointed a moral: "Of course," his answer

was, "you must not take me too literally. Please do not think because I

do not favor overdoing practicing that one can do without it. I'm quite

frank to say I could not myself. But there is a happy medium. I suppose

that when I play in public it looks easy, but before I ever came on the

concert stage I worked very hard. And I do yet--but always putting the

two things together, mental work and physical work. And when a certain

point of effort is reached in practice, as in everything else, there

must be relaxation.





"Have I what is called a 'natural' technic? It is hard for me to say,

perhaps so. But if such is the case I had to develop it, to assure it,

to perfect it. If you start playing at three, as I did, with a little

violin one-quarter of the regular size, I suppose violin playing becomes

second nature in the course of time. I was able to find my way about in

all seven positions within a year's time, and could play the Kayser

_Ètudes_; but that does not mean to say I was a virtuoso by any means.


"My first teacher? My first teacher was my father, a good violinist and

concertmaster of the Vilna Symphony Orchestra. My first appearance in

public took place in an overcrowded auditorium of the Imperial Music

School in Vilna, Russia, when I was not quite five. I played the

_Fantaisie Pastorale_ with piano accompaniment. Later, at the age of

six, I played the Mendelssohn concerto in Kovno to a full house.

Stage-fright? No, I cannot say I have ever had it. Of course, something

may happen to upset one before a concert, and one does not feel quite at

ease when first stepping on the stage; but then I hope that is not



"At the Imperial Music School in Vilna, and before, I worked at all the

things every violinist studies--I think that I played almost everything.

I did not work too hard, but I worked hard enough. In Vilna my teacher

was Malkin, a pupil of Professor Auer, and when I had graduated from the

Vilna school I went to Auer. Did I go directly to his classes? Well,

no, but I had only a very short time to wait before I joined the

classes conducted by Auer personally.





"Yes, he is a wonderful and an incomparable teacher; I do not believe

there is one in the world who can possibly approach him. Do not ask me

just how he does it, for I would not know how to tell you. But he is

different with each pupil--perhaps that is one reason he is so great a

teacher. I think I was with Professor Auer about six years, and I had

both class lessons and private lessons of him, though toward the end my

lessons were not so regular. I never played exercises or technical works

of any kind for the Professor, but outside of the big things--the

concertos and sonatas, and the shorter pieces which he would let me

prepare--I often chose what I wanted.


"Professor Auer was a very active and energetic teacher. He was never

satisfied with a mere explanation, unless certain it was understood. He

could always show you himself with his bow and violin. The Professor's

pupils were supposed to have been sufficiently advanced in the technic

necessary for them to profit by his wonderful lessons in

interpretation. Yet there were all sorts of technical _finesses_ which

he had up his sleeve, any number of fine, subtle points in playing as

well as interpretation which he would disclose to his pupils. And the

more interest and ability the pupil showed, the more the Professor gave

him of himself! He is a very great teacher! Bowing, the true art of

bowing, is one of the greatest things in Professor Auer's teaching. I

know when I first came to the Professor, he showed me things in bowing I

had never learned in Vilna. It is hard to describe in words (Mr. Heifetz

illustrated with some of those natural, unstrained movements of arm and

wrist which his concert appearances have made so familiar), but bowing

as Professor Auer teaches it is a very special thing; the movements of

the bow become more easy, graceful, less stiff.


"In class there were usually from twenty-five to thirty pupils. Aside

from what we each gained individually from the Professor's criticism and

correction, it was interesting to hear the others who played before

one's turn came, because one could get all kinds of hints from what

Professor Auer told them. I know I always enjoyed listening to Poliakin,

a very talented violinist, and CÈcile Hansen, who attended the classes

at the same time I did. The Professor was a stern and very exacting, but

a sympathetic, teacher. If our playing was not just what it should be he

always had a fund of kindly humor upon which to draw. He would

anticipate our stock excuses and say: 'Well, I suppose you have just had

your bow rehaired!' or 'These new strings are very trying,' or 'It's the

weather that is against you again, is it not?' or something of the kind.

Examinations were not so easy: we had to show that we were not only

soloists, but also sight readers of difficult music.





"The greatest technical difficulty I had when I was studying?" Jascha

Heifetz tried to recollect, which was natural, seeing that it must have

been one long since overcome. Then he remembered, and smiled:

"Staccato playing. To get a good staccato, when I first tried seemed

very hard to me. When I was younger, really, at one time I had a very

poor staccato!" [I assured the young artist that any one who heard him

play here would find it hard to believe this.] "Yes, I did," he

insisted, "but one morning, I do not know just how it was--I was

playing the _cadenza_ in the first movement of Wieniawski's F{~MUSIC SHARP SIGN~} minor

concerto,--it is full of _staccatos_ and double stops--the right way of

playing _staccato_ came to me quite suddenly, especially after Professor

Auer had shown me his method.





"Violin Mastery? To me it means the ability to make the violin a

perfectly controlled instrument guided by the skill and intelligence of

the artist, to compel it to respond in movement to his every wish. The

artist must always be superior to his instrument, it must be his

servant, one that he can do with what he will.





"It appears to me that mastery of the technic of the violin is not so

much of a mechanical accomplishment as it is of mental nature. It may be

that scientists can tell us how through persistency the brain succeeds

in making the fingers and the arms produce results through the infinite

variety of inexplicable vibrations. The sweetness of tone, its

melodiousness, its _legatos_, octaves, trills and harmonics all bear

the mark of the individual who uses his strings like his vocal chords.

When an artist is working over his harmonics, he must not be impatient

and force purity, pitch, or the right intonation. He must coax the tone,

try it again and again, seek for improvements in his fingering as well

as in his bowing at the same time, and sometimes he may be surprised

how, quite suddenly, at the time when he least expects it, the result

has come. More than one road leads to Rome! The fact is that when you

get it, you have it, that's all! I am perfectly willing to disclose to

the musical profession all the secrets of the mastery of violin technic;

but are there any secrets in the sense that some of the uninitiated take

them? If an artist happens to excel in some particular, he is at once

suspected of knowing some secret means of so doing. However, that may

not be the case. He does it just because it is in him, and as a rule he

accomplishes this through his mental faculties more than through his

mechanical abilities. I do not intend to minimize the value of great

teachers who prove to be important factors in the life of a musician;

but think of the vast army of pupils that a master teacher brings

forth, and listen to the infinite variety of their _spiccatos_,

octaves, _legatos_, and trills! For the successful mastery of violin

technic let each artist study carefully his own individuality, let him

concentrate his mental energy on the quality of pitch he intends to

produce, and sooner or later he will find his way of expressing himself.

Music is not only in the fingers or in the elbow. It is in that

mysterious EGO of the man, it is his soul; and his body is like his

violin, nothing but a tool. Of course, the great master must have the

tools that suit him best, and it is the happy combination that makes for



"By the vibrations and modulations of the notes one may recognize the

violinist as easily as we recognize the singer by his voice. Who can

explain how the artist harmonizes the trilling of his fingers with the

emotions of his soul?


"An artist will never become great through mere imitation, and never

will he be able to attain the best results only by methods adopted by

others. He must have his own initiative, although he will surely profit

by the experience of others. Of course there are standard ways of

approaching the study of violin technic; but these are too well known to

dwell upon them: as to the niceties of the art, they must come from

within. You can make a musician but not an artist!





"Which of the master works do I like best? Well, that is rather hard to

answer. Each master work has its own beauties. Naturally one likes best

what one understands best, I prefer to play the classics like Brahms,

Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Mendelssohn, etc. However, I played Bruch's G

minor in 1913 at the Leipzig Gewandhouse with Nikisch, where I was told

that Joachim was the only other violinist as young as myself to appear

there as soloist with orchestra; there is the Tschaikovsky concerto

which I played in Berlin in 1912, with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

with Nikisch. Alsa Bruch's D minor and many more. I played the

Mendelssohn concerto in 1914, in Vienna, with Safonoff as conductor.

Last season in Chicago I played the Brahms concerto with a fine and very

elaborate _cadenza_ by Professor Auer. I think the Brahms concerto for

violin is like Chopin's music for piano, in a way, because it stands

technically and musically for something quite different and distinct

from other violin music, just as Chopin does from other piano music. The

Brahms concerto is not technically as hard as, say, Paganini--but in

interpretation!... And in the Beethoven concerto, too, there is a

simplicity, a kind of clear beauty which makes it far harder to play

than many other things technically more advanced. The slightest flaw,

the least difference in pitch, in intonation, and its beauty suffers.


"Yes, there are other Russian concertos besides the Tschaikovsky. There

is the Glazounov concerto and others. I understand that Zimbalist was

the first to introduce it in this country, and I expect to play it here

next season.


"Of course one cannot always play concertos, and one cannot always play

Bach and Beethoven. And that makes it hard to select programs. The

artist can always enjoy the great music of his instrument; but an

audience wants variety. At the same time an artist cannot play only just

what the majority of the audience wants. I have been asked to play

Schubert's _Ave Maria_, or Beethoven's _Chorus of Dervishes_ at every

one of my concerts, but I simply cannot play them all the time. I am

afraid if program making were left altogether to audiences the programs

would become far too popular in character; though audiences are just as

different as individuals. I try hard to balance my programs, so that

every one can find something to understand and enjoy. I expect to

prepare some American compositions for next season. Oh, no, not as a

matter of courtesy, but because they are really fine, especially some

smaller pieces by Spalding, Cecil Burleigh and Grasse!"


On concluding our interview Mr. Heifetz made a remark which is worth

repeating, and which many a music lover who is _plus royaliste que le

roi_ might do well to remember: "After all," he said, "much as I love

music, I cannot help feeling that music is not the only thing in life. I

really cannot imagine anything more terrible than always to hear, think

and make music! There is so much else to know and appreciate; and I feel

that the more I learn and know of other things the better artist I will













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