VIOLINIST

       
Jascha Heifetz / Yehudi Menuhin /
  Jascha Heifetz

For 83 of his 86 years Jascha Heifetz (1901-87) played the violin, and for over 60 of them in front of audiences the length and breadth of the world. Since his first public concert in St. Petersburg on April 30, 1911, he exposed his art to the world through more than 2,000,000 miles of travel (much of it in front of World War II troops), a prodigious recording programme, countless appearances on radio, several films, an hour-long television special, and, for a dozen years, a vigorous teaching schedule.

Heifetz started to play on a quarter-size violin given to him by his father in his native city of Vilna, Russia, and at seven made his public debut, in Kovno. He entered Leopold Auer's master class in St. Petersburg at nine, and in three years was acclaimed as a brilliant prodigy of unexampled gifts.

"You know," Heifetz said, "child prodigism - if I may coin a word - is a disease which is generally fatal. I was among the few to have the good fortune to survive. But I had the advantage of a great teacher in Professor Auer, and a family that instinctively had a high regard for music, very good taste and a horror of mediocrity."

In the years following his St. Petersburg debut, he concertized in Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia, and when the Russian Revolution broke out, the family, after many difficulties, traveled to America. Heifetz made his American debut in Carnegie Hall on October 27, 1917. The noted critic Samuel Chotzinoff reported, "The 16-year-old violinist seemed the most unconcerned of all the people in the hall as he walked out on the stage, and proceeded to give an exhibition of such extraordinary virtuosity and musicianship as has not previously been heard in that historic auditorium." Overnight Heifetz became the musical idol of America, and during that first year he made 30 appearances in New York alone.

He soon adopted the United States as his home, became an American citizen in 1925, and amply sampled the "American way". In the 1940s he settled into a comfortable house atop one of the Beverly Hills in California, where he lived until his death.

When Heifetz reached his 60s, after half a century of concertizing, he began to curtail his appearances gradually and gave his last public recital in 1972.

Heifetz devoted his later life to teaching. Handling his students with steel-rod control tempered with humor, he instilled in them respect for discipline ("It's something you have to do, so you might as well do it and get it over with") and the ways and means of making music with the violin. Certainly no one knew them better.

 
Yehudi Menuhin
Born 1916, New York
Childhood Impoverished immigrant parents moved to New Jersey then to California seeking work
Debut 1924, San Francisco
Career landmarks
- New York 1927: Beethoven Concerto with NYSO/Fritz Busch
- London 1932: Elgar Concerto at his 75th birthday concert. "I can add nothing. It cannot be done better. You need not work on it any longer and let's go to the races instead" (Elgar, legend has it, after 30 bars' rehearsal)
- New York 1944: Bartok's Sonata for Solo Violin
- Berlin 1947: first Jewish artist to play with Furtwangler (and BPO) after fall of Nazis
- Switzerland 1956: establishes Gstaad Festival

Yehudi Menuhin's ambition has at last been realised. When he was 12 and already a virtuoso violinist he was taken to hear the Eroica in Paris. "I was transfixed," he says. And he vowed that one day he would record the complete Beethoven symphonies. Now at 80 he sits proudly in the fourth floor studio of his London mansion. He clasps the boxed set of symphonies he recorded in Warsaw for Carlton Classics saying, "This is very close to my heart." Britain's favourite adopted violinist - Lord Menuhin, no less - is surrounded by antique Covent Garden posters and pictures of Paganini wall to wall. There are shelves of LPs and his piano is covered with signed photos from royalty, prime ministers and great composers. In this shrine to music, greetings from the Queen Mother sit next to those from Helmut Kohl and Pandit Nehru.