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Hefietz, rushed?


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Question: I was wondering if anyone thinks Mr. Heifetz plays some

pieces "too fast" or "with rushed tempos" ? It all started at a

different forum, I was telling someone that the reason I like

Szeryng so much is because he does not interfere with the music.

For example when I hear Szeryng play Mendelssohn all I hear is

Mendelssohn but when I hear Heifetz play Mendelssohn all I hear is

Heifetz. Someone disagreed with me and said that it iwas Heifetz

that was plying the concerto at the right tempo.To support this I

would like to offer a few notes, consider the following times of

recordings I found of the Mendelssohn Concerto:24.15 Heifetz

recording 1 24.26 Milstein24.32 Heifetz recording 225.16

Francescatti25.40 Kyung Wha Chung25.55 Grumiaux26.28 Szeryng26.42

Kreisler26.59 Oistrakh 27.18 Kogan27.47 Perlman28.06 Zukerman30.78

Mutter(I didn't list Hahn, Campoli, and many others - could someone

post how long Hahn's recording was - I thought her recording was

too fast also)-Now that you know my opinion, I would like to ask

for you opinions: when YOU listen to Heifetz do you ever feel the

tempo is being rushed?Respectfully,Scott

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I have always felt that some (not all) of Heifetz's recordings are a bit fast for my taste -- speed at the expense of other aspects of interpretation. However, speed per se need not necessarily be a problem. For example, Feuermann's recording of the Dvorak cello concerto on Naxos is two minutes faster than any other recording, but it does not feel rushed. Heifetz's sometimes feel rushed.

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You are probably correct about "rushed" not being the correct term because it implies sloppy, which Heifetz was not. When I used "rushed," what I meant was that the speed was at the expense of other interpretive aspects that I considered important. While Feuermann played the fastest Dvorak on record, you never have either the feeling that it is fast or that the speed has a downside concerning other aspects of his interpretation.

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When I hear someone say you are rushing in terms of music, I have always understood it to mean gradually playing faster without musical purpose, an unintentional accelerando.

It has always been in the context of the instructor saying, "Don't rush." or "you are rushing." It is very different than playing fast. I would think that pushing the tempo is rushing but I suppose if you are Heifetz it is not rushing because you are Heifetz! If you are Heifetz than you are not rushing, you are next to perfect and the orchestra is lagging.

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Hi Mr. Legato, thank you for your fine question concerning Heifetz. I was fortunate to of been able to hear Heifetz several times in live performances and have many of his recordings. It has always been difficult to find fault with his playing then and even now, simply because he was Heifetz and had a huge following. I not only believe many of his tempos were not what the composer had in mind but I also feel his overall tone/tone quality was always lacking. Kogan has always been one of my favorites even though every one else only raved about Heifetz. Heifetz himself is quoted as saying that he didn't care about tone at all. This is not to say that Heifetz was not a great violinist but it seems to me in listing to Heifetz even today one hears Heifetz first and the composer second.

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everybody has their own clock. some clocks are faster than others, but the bottom line is that you have to listen to your muscles...and work within your own muscles' clock. any other speed and you won't be playing at your optimum.

from this viewpoint it isn't what you think the tempo should be mentally...it's what your body can do the best physically.

i'd wager that heifetz simply had a faster muscle clock than others.

in this business the name of the game is survival. and you aren't going to survive if you're not listening to your own body and being as efficient as possible.

not being efficient, not listening to your body...can have a real negative cumulative effect.

this isn't a "lets prepare for one or two solo concerts a year..."

this is "i must play several concerts a month, every month, for the rest of my professional career."

that is a whole different ballgame, and it may require a wholly different approach to your playing.

as the quote goes, it's easy to get to carnegie hall. it's maintaining that level for the rest of your life that's hard.

heifetz completely understood this concept of physical efficiency, i have absolutely no doubt about that.

otoh, many who think that heifetz simply played fast just for the sake of playing fast...i question whether they fully understand...


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Originally posted by:
john j

I not only believe many of his tempos were not what the composer had in mind but I also feel his overall tone/tone quality was always lacking. Heifetz himself is quoted as saying that he didn't care about tone at all. This is not to say that Heifetz was not a great violinist but it seems to me in listing to Heifetz even today one hears Heifetz first and the composer second.

I am very curious to see where you got the quote about Heifetz not caring about tone at all. Would you mind listing the specific article? And also in what context? I totally disagree about Heifetz lacking overall tone/tone quality. He had one of the most amazing sound that is both flexible and had infinite variety of tone color. He was not content on producing merely a pretty sound like so many others, but was able to (and also had the guts to) play with enormous intensity and at times almost brutally aggressive sound. And beautiful tone he had!! Just listen to any of his concerto recordings from 1930s, especially Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Vieuxtemps No.4, as well as Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen", Saint-Saens' "Havanaise" and "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" etc. Only other violinist I can think of that had the quality of intensity as well as melting lyricism and color would be Kreisler in prime, (and perhaps Gitlis at his best), NOBODY ELSE.

As far as his tempi, for the most part, do not bother me at all. I have far more problems with slow and wallowing performances. I am totally fascinated with his ability to play repeated phrases with different tone color and fingerings (not only in slow sections but even in some tricky passages). To begin with, when I listen to Heifetz, I don't really compare his tempi with others. His playing makes me FORGET such a trivial issue. It is not important how fast one plays, but what one does musically in the chosen tempo (and Heifetz always does a lot, musically).

As for hearing Heifetz first and the composer second, I don't mind at all. In fact, this is the case with many of the performers from Heifetz's generation or earlier. I HATE faceless performers who claims to be the servant of composers. To me, they have nothing interesting to say about the composition they are playing. I am far more interested in what each performers have to say about a particular composition they happen to be playing. To me, that is most interesting thing about listening to for example, 20 different violinists playing the Beethoven or Mendelssohn concerti. If everybody plays the same way, (or with similar intention or inclination), it will be terribly boring.

One more thing about Heifetz and "speed." He was NOT the fastest at all time. There are others who did "beat" Heifetz in sheer speed in certain compositions such as Milstein, Von Vecsay, Ysaye, Gitlis, Ricci, Huberman, Campoli, Grumiaux (yes, Grumiaux. His final page of "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" and Ravel's "Tzigane" are one of the fastest I have heard), etc.


P.S. By the way, zinomaniac, Heifetz did NOT record the Mendelssohn concerto in its entirety in the 30's. His earlist "complete" recording of this concerto was a broadcast recording with Toscanini from 1944. His first studio recording was done with Beecham in 1949. Toscanini version is interesting in a way that he did not use harmonics in the opening page. I suspect that decision was influenced by Toscanini.

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I stand corrected; it must have been the 1949 recording. Several sites give the timing as 24:24; is there a faster recording on record?

Any time I happen to hear an encore played by Heifetz on the radio, I am always amazed, even if I have heard the same recording many times before! It's also amazing the number of encores he contributed to the literature.

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Heifetz's stereo recording may come in a bit faster. Also Francescatti's second recording I think is about 24:05 or so. Hahn is very fast in the last movement but more like a tad faster then normal in the rest.

I think Joseph Fuchs said, "there are two kinds of people, those who play too fast and those who play too slow. Heifetz rushes and so do I."

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think there is an important issue here that people might have overlooked: performance practice changed quite significantly through the twentieth century particularly where rhythm and tempo were concerned. On turn of the century recordings we generally hear faster tempos and rubati that modern listers can't necessarily understand. Heifetz was of course famous (or infamous) for his fast tempos, but I am in no doubt that the 'rushing' in Heifetz's recordings comes, at least in part, from the generation of violinists before him. At the turn of the century the prevaling attitude to rubato was that the stolen time (tempo rubato) needed 'paying back' in some way by what we now call 'rushing'. Our distaste for rushing comes from the over scrutinising of recordings that became part of the way musicians were learning as recording gained wide spread popularity. If you're interested in this phenomenon you should read Robert Philip's book 'Performing Music in the Age of Recording'. Fascinating stuff.

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Originally posted by:

And beautiful tone he had!! Just listen to any of his concerto recordings from 1930s...

Sorry, but that's just plain silly. The sonic quality of recordings of this period are so poor that using them to assess something as subtle as a violinist's tone is an impossibilty. In addtion, aural memory has been shown to be incredibly short-lived, so personal anecdotes about live performances are interesting, but unreliable.

Heifetz was a truly great violinist, and is deserving of his legendary status, but I am convinced that the peculiar tone which everyone points to as being "The Heifetz Sound" is simply an artifact of early [crude] recording technology and Heifetz' apparent demand for a close microphone. If that's the sound you love, then you love the sound of Heifetz' old recordings, not the sound of him playing his violin.

I have several of his early recordings, and that weird, overtone-less "flutaphone" sound is there in all its glory. I also have several later recordings, when the recording-engineer's art was finally coming of age (late 1950's-early 1960's) and his tone appears decidedly more conventional. The recording that clinched this idea for me is the 2005 RCA Living Stereo Hybrid SACD reissue of the Sibelius/Glazunov/Prokofiev concertos (available at Borders for $11.99). These are the best quality recordings I've heard of Heifetz (one can also use the backing orchestra to evaluate the accuracy of the sound), and surprise! Heifetz' tone sounds great, but also very similar to any great player of his time on a top-notch, gut-strung fiddle. (He still sounds unmistakably like Heifetz, but there are reasons for this other than "tone".)

As for speed, well, that's mostly subjective. As a member of the audience, I welcome the variety of approaches. That said, I do think that he often rushed a bit. I don't think the word "rush" implies sloppiness, but even when cleanly-executed, the beauty of a piece can be sacrificed if played too quickly. With Heifetz, I find this occurs in the concerto adagios, especially the Tchaikovsky.

At other times, a little extra speed keeps a meandering work from bogging down. For example, I think Heifetz was spot-on with the Sibelius recording I cited above.

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