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Paganini Was Born in Genoa, Heifetz in Vilnius


Great people‘s traces and personal aura often mark places connected with their activities and biography. Through we admire the old city of Salzburg, it is Mozart‘s city first. However picturesque the countryside of Genoa is, every musician knows it as Paganini‘s city.

What about Vilnius? In the beginning of the 20th century there was born a genius of violin, who now belongs to the world and to mankind! In Vilnius was born Jascha Heifetz!

Paganini’s revolution in the area of violin techniques has created a virtuoso style in music. The master violinist’s followers Liszt and Schumann later adapted this new style for other genres. In the 20th century, Paganini’s romantic virtuosity inspired a pleiad of violinists of remarkable technical abilities: Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, and Fritz Keisler…

Jascha Heifetz is considered to be the most outstanding of them all over the world. He was able to concentrate his spiritual powers and live a lifetime in an instant. Along with him, the listeners, too, could experience this joy. It seems that very few geniuses like Paganini and Heifetz in the area of violin art and Mozart in the entire history of music have ever been born. The difference is that we will never have a possibility to see or hear Paganini and Mozart playing while we can still admire the miracle of Heifetz listening to his recordings and watching him on films and photos. Unfortunately, his life, which was closely watched and recorded, has left many unanswered questions, such as the Vilnius period and Jascha‘s childhood. These periods of his life have been explored least of all and very few facts are known about them. The violinist spent his childhood in Maironio street No. 27, and there is a schoolhouse in the old city where his talent was noticed for the first time.

It depends only on us, the inhabitants of this city of ours, whether we will be able to understand, evaluate, and give a meaning to this strange fact that was fated to happen: here, in our city, in the beginning of the century, the world’s greatest violinist Jascha Heifetz was born.

Let today’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jascha Heifetz be the first step in our way of bringing the famous violinist back to the culture life of our city. I believe that in memory of Heifetz we will create and cherish traditions to praise the capital of Lithuania as one of the world’s cities, which have perpetuated the memory of the violin genius.


                                                                              Professor Saulius Sondeckis


Text from the publication "Vilnius Violin Days Dedicated to the Memory of Jascha Heifetz Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great violinist".



Violinist from Vilnius Who Mounted Olympus


In the early 20th century, Vilnius was tyrannized multinational provincial town of Tsarist Russia. Eastern and western cultures had been existing together in this frontier town for ages. In the beginning of the century, the consciousness of all nations of the town began to rise. Despite the fact that the national communities of the Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Belorussians, and Russians lived their own lives, had their own societies, theatres, hospitals, and, moreover, resided in separate districts of the town, students of the different nations associates and various art societies were organized on the initiative of the local artists.

The geographical position of the town was auspicious for its cultural and political life. On their way from Warsaw to St Petersburg, outstanding artists such as world-famous musicians Sarasate, Yzay, Kubelik, Hofmann, Glazunov, Batistini, Sobinov, Rubenstein, Paderewski, Wieniawski, Rachmaninov, Skriabin, and many others stopped in Vilnius. Through Vilnius had no permanent opera troupe of its own, the skilful enough troupes from Italy, Russia, Poland, and Ukraine performed all the well-known operas there. The drama theatre lovers, too, had many opportunities to see a very diverse repertoire performed by Russian, Polish, and Jewish troupes. The Russian permanent drama troupe had not only Russian plays in its repertoire but also the works by Sudermann, Hauptmann, Senkewich, Schiller, Shakespeare, and other. 

In the early 20th century, the musical life in Vilnius was active enough. It is obvious from the fact that there were 13 music shops and 12 workshops, and many private music “classes“ and schools. The most outstanding among those was the Music School of the Vilnius Department of Russian Music Society. All the teachers of the school were graduates of the conservatoires of St Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw. The studies at the school lasted for five years. The directions of the conservatoires of St Petersburg and Moscow, e.g. Glazunov and Safonov, often came here to give concerts and listen to the pupils of the school playing.

In 1909, after one of his successful concerts in Vilnius, violinist Joanes Nalbandian, the professor at the St Petersburg Conservatoire and Leopold Auer’s assistant, took an eight-year-old boy by the name of Josif Cheifec along with his to St Petersburg. Josif was born in 1901 in Vilnius into the family of an orchestra violinists Ruvim Cheifec. He began playing a tiny violin at the age of three and in a short time astonished everybody with his clear intonation and good sound. At five Josif entered the music school in Vilnius where he studied with Ilja Malkin, a former student of Auer. Two years later the young violinists successfully performed F. Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor at the public concert in Kaunas (?). Later he appeared also in Vilnius where he was noticed by Nalbandian who then prophesied a great future for him. The prophecy came true. For almost a century, Josif Cheifec (Jascha Heifetz) was one of the most famous violinists of the world, a genius whose technique and musicianship earned him accolade as “the perfect violinist”.

For nearly six years Cheifec studied under Leopold Auer, considered the most brilliant violin teacher of the time. In the early twenties Josif had concerts in St Petersburg, open-air recitals in Odessa before audiences of 25 000, concerts in Berlin with the famous Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vasilij Safonov and Arthur Nikisch, in Dresden, Hamburg, Prague, Leipzig, Vienna, and other cities of Europe. At that time Josif Cheifec became Jascha Heifetz for the rest of his life.

In the summer of 1913 Jascha visited his native Vilnius for the last time and gave a number of concerts there. His family fled Russia at the onset of the Revolution in 1917. Heifetz’s Carnegie Hall debut in the same year created a furor and resulted in great number of engagements. He performed in nearly every country of the world and was considered the greatest violinist of the century. Once after Heifetz’s debut in London, George Bernard Shaw warned his that the gods might envy his perfection and destroy him and advised the violinist to play „one wrong note every night before you go to bed“.

Jascha Heifetz died in Los Angeles at the age of 86. With his death, „the golden era of the great Auer-trained violinists is passing“, said Glenn Dicterow, New York Philharmonic concertmeister and a former Heifetz‘s student. „He was our major inspiration of the century, perhaps of all time. We didn‘t consider him to be human. He was my god, my idol. I don‘t think there‘s a violinist alive who hasn‘t been influenced by him“.


Text from the publication "Vilnius Violin Days Dedicated to the Memory of Jascha  Heifetz Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great violinist".    

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