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Jascha Heifetz

Early Years in Russia

Translated and edited by Dario Sarlo and Alexandra Sarlo. Galina Kopytova

Publication Year: 2013

Notoriously reticent about his early years, violinist Jascha Heifetz famously reduced the story of his childhood to "Born in Russia. First lessons at 3. Debut in Russia at 7. Debut in Carnegie Hall at 17. That's all there is to say." Tracing his little-known upbringing, Jascha Heifetz: Early Years in Russia uncovers the events and experiences that shaped one of the modern era's most unique talents and enigmatic personalities. Using previously unstudied archival materials and interviews with family and friends, this biography explores Heifetz's meteoric rise in the Russian music world—from his first violin lessons with his father, to his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with the well-known pedagogue Leopold Auer, to his tours throughout Russia and Europe. Spotlighting Auer’s close-knit circle of musicians, Galina Kopytova underscores the lives of artists in Russia’s "Silver Age"—an explosion of artistic activity amid the rapid social and political changes of the early 20th century.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Russian Music Studies

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vi-viii

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Author’s Preface

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pp. ix-xvi

The idea for a book about the childhood of Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987) did not arise overnight, and the story behind the book is notable in and of itself. In the middle of the 1980s, I was conducting research in the personal archive of the violinist and music critic Viktor Grigoryevich Valter (Walter) (1865–1935) in the Russian Institute for the History of the Arts. ...

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Editors’ Introduction

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pp. xv-xviii

Jascha Heifetz was famously reticent when questioned about his childhood, and he made no attempt to write an autobiography. It is not surprising, therefore, that Heifetz’s earliest years have long been considered something of an uncharted and mysterious period in the life of the great violinist. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xx

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1. Early Roots of the Heifetz Family

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pp. 1-11

The Heifetz family tree includes over one hundred people across five generations and family members who now reside in the United States, Australia, Israel, Latvia, and Russia. The oldest Heifetz name preserved in family memory is that of Ilya (or Elye), Jascha’s paternal grandfather, who was born around 1830. ...

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2. 1901–1906: Vilnius

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pp. 12-23

Following the third partition of Poland in 1795, the city of Vilnius (Vilna)—once the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania— was annexed by the Russian Empire. By the end of the nineteenth century, Vilnius was a large provincial capital in the Russian Empire and played an active role in Russian life as a center for trade, industry, and culture. ...

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3. 1906–1909: Music School

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pp. 24-46

Under the auspices of the Russian Music Society (RMO), music schools opened throughout major cities in Russia during the second half of the nineteenth century, providing the primary source of professional musical training. The RMO was founded in 1859 following the efforts of the pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein; ...

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4. 1910: St. Petersburg Conservatory and Nalbandian

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pp. 47-69

By 1910, Russia boasted two conservatories, one in St. Petersburg, then the capital, and one in Moscow. The St. Petersburg Conservatory was founded in 1862 by Anton Rubinstein and was the first and oldest Russian center of academic musical education. Notable graduates included Tchaikovsky, Lyadov, Fyodor Stravinsky (the composer Igor’s father), ...

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5. First Performances in St. Petersburg

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pp. 70-81

Judging by the absence of a certificate of leave, without which conservatory students were unable to leave the capital, Ruvin and Jascha must have remained in St. Petersburg for the rest of December and into 1911. The cost of a return trip to Vilnius was likely prohibitive; thus, for the first time, Jascha spent the New Year’s holiday far from his family and friends, but they did not forget about him. ...

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6. Summer 1911: Concerts in Pavlovsk and Odessa

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pp. 82-101

The Heifetzes spent their summer vacation at a dacha in Antakalnis, one of the twenty-six suburbs of Vilnius and a popular area during the summer. A local guidebook from the period described it as follows: “Heading along the bank of the Viliya to the Church of St. Peter and Paul, one can stop in the suburb of Antokol which stretches along the Viliya for almost three versts. ...

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7. Fall 1911: In the Class of Professor Auer

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pp. 102-123

Professor Leopold Auer, born on June 7, 1845 (NS), was already sixty-six years old when Jascha entered his class in 1911. His father was a painter from the small Hungarian town of Veszprém near Lake Balaton. In his 1923 biography, My Long Life in Music, published in New York, Auer wrote about his journey from difficult beginnings ...

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8. The Beginning of 1912

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pp. 124-176

The new year brought various interruptions to Jascha’s violin lessons. In January, Auer left St. Petersburg to visit Kiev and Odessa to assist in the conversion of the two Imperial Russian Music Society schools into conservatories. Journalists in Odessa interviewed Auer a number of times, questioning him about the music schools, ...

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9. 1912: First Trip to Germany

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pp. 177-188

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Berlin was one of the most important cities in the world, politically, industrially, and in terms of its standard of living. The city underwent significant development after it became the capital of the German Empire in 1871, and further growth continued from 1888 with the ascension of Wilhelm II to the throne. ...

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10. 1912: A German Tour

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pp. 189-206

Upon their return from the Latvian coast, the Heifetz family moved from their apartment on Voznesensky Prospekt to building 8–10 Bolshaya Masterskaya Street, a tall corner building facing Torgovaya Street. This was a familiar place for Jascha since it was just across the street from where he had lived with his father two years earlier. ...

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11. The Beginning of 1913

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pp. 207-220

A number of exciting musical experiences for the residents of St. Petersburg ushered in the New Year, starting on January 7 with a performance by the violinist Jan Kubelík at the Hall of the Assembly of the Nobility. Despite the audience’s enthusiastic response, the critics reacted with restraint to Kubelík’s playing, ...

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12. Summer–Fall 1913: Loschwitz

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pp. 221-235

Jascha Heifetz spent the summer of 1913 with Leopold Auer in Germany, for what was the first in a series of summer vacations spent with his professor. For many years, Auer had spent his summers in England, but in 1912 he began to vacation in Loschwitz, a charming suburb of Dresden. ...

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13. Winter 1913–1914: Bar Mitzvah

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pp. 236-256

During Jascha’s period of study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he returned often to Vilnius to visit, but two years had passed since he last performed in his hometown. The previous appearance was in December 1911 at a charity concert, during which he performed only Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. ...

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14. Spring 1914

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pp. 257-289

Jascha and his parents returned to St. Petersburg during the second half of February (OS). After a short time at home, Jascha traveled to Moscow, where on March 1 he appeared with Isidor Achron at a benefit concert for the Society for the Spread of Enlightenment among Jews in Russia, a charity for which Jascha had performed almost exactly a year earlier. ...

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15. Summer–Fall 1914: War

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pp. 290-301

Auer’s summer teaching season in Loschwitz began early that year and students flocked there from all over Russia. The Heifetzes arrived in May and sent a postcard to Kiselgof. On Sunday, June 1 (NS June 14) he answered them from St. Petersburg: ...

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16. January–September 1915

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pp. 302-319

The arrival of a new year brought no relief to the conflict: Germany had intended to finish the war by autumn, and Russia had planned to fight only on foreign territory and was now dealing with a front line moving toward its own borders. In the words of Rech, a popular newspaper in Russian intellectual circles, “to say whether or not the war ends in the coming year, of course, is impossible. ...

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17. The End of 1915

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pp. 320-327

Jascha had not spent an autumn in Petrograd for three years: in 1912 he toured Germany; in 1913, after a summer in Loschwitz, he played concerts in Berlin, Dresden, and Warsaw; and in 1914 the Heifetzes were detained in Germany until December. With its changeable weather and abundance of rainy days, September was nevertheless mild in the city. ...

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18. The First Half of 1916

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pp. 328-349

The arrival of a new year brought with it another conservatory exam period. On January 20—Jascha’s fifteenth birthday— he successfully passed the mandatory viola class, and he received a 5 for both his written work and oral exam in the first level of required harmony.1 ...

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19. The Second Half of 1916: Norway and Denmark

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pp. 350-362

The Heifetz family’s decision to spend the summer in Norway with Auer’s violin colony was finalized in April when Ruvin received the necessary departure documents.1 In Auer’s book My Long Life in Music, he described his time in the suburbs of Christiania (now Oslo), the Norwegian capital: ...

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20. The First Half of 1917: February Revolution

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pp. 363-380

No one could have predicted just how the political and social unrest would develop during 1917. Military successes during the previous year had created a sense of optimism; the hardships of the first two years of the war were not felt as sharply in the expanses of the Russian Empire as they were in other warring European countries. ...

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21. Summer 1917: Departure for America

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pp. 381-396

Upon returning from Saratov, the Heifetzes found the capital in a political fever: “Revolution or anarchy?” asked the front page of Izvestia on May 21. The Kronstadt Council of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies had refused to recognize the Provisional Government. ...

Appendix 1: Reviews of Jascha Heifetz’s Debut at Carnegie Hall, October 27, 1917

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pp. 397-404

Appendix 2: Jascha Heifetz’s Repertoire in Russia

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pp. 405-410


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pp. 411-446

Selected Sources

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pp. 447-454


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pp. 455-475

E-ISBN-13: 9780253010896
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253010766

Page Count: 504
Illustrations: 77 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Russian Music Studies