On which violin did Heifetz play the Korngold?

Few violin concertos have received an uglier reception than Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s in February 1947, in St Louis. The composer, rolling in Hollywood gold, hated the modern era and did his best to turn the clock back in a beautiful score that was slammed by critics (‘more corn that gold’) and buried for decades.

Jascha Heifetz gave the premiere and loved the work. Without his recording, the concerto might have been forgotten forever. But what no-one seems to know is which of two Cremona instruments, Strad or Guarnerius, the great violinist took out of his double-case on the night of the premiere. Might the other one have made a difference to its reception?

This may be strictly for violin geeks, but read more about the controversy on Tarisio, here.

Heifetz undated

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  • “which of two Stradivari…” No, it was either a Guarneri or a Strad (as explained in the linked article).

  • One cannot but notice the Tarisio advertisement without being slightly amused at
    the” supposed ” controversy, it seemingly being so transparent an add. . I hope Mr. Lebrecht is more well informed than to think violin geeks sit around wondering which
    violin was used in performing this 2nd. rate work .That Mr.Heifetz performs it in his
    most brilliant fashion is its downfall , his playing betrays its paucity of invention and
    shows it to be Hollywoods’ idea of a violin concerto .To imagine a different violin would
    have changed the reception is game playing .

    • I really hope I´ll get old enough to read a meaningful,decent comment from Milka.But,actually,i´ve given up hope…..

      • Harold,

        “But,actually,i´ve given up hope…..”

        As we all know, Milka (She, He, or IT), is the resident troll of SD. I think deep down all 37 of us that follow Slipped Disc look forward to railing against Milka’s comments.

    • This superior attitude really does become rather tiresome after about two comments. The other day it was Pavarotti, now Korngold. It would be refreshing to read a comment one day which isn’t sneering at the sort of people who actually appreciate this sort of music.

  • Paucity of invention, my foot. James Ehnes is playing it tonight with the LSO and here’s what he has to say about it.

    ‘It is beautiful music and has all the elements you need in a great violin concerto – great violin writing, beautiful melodies, all the pyrotechnics, great orchestral writing and interplay between the violin and the orchestra. One of the most fascinating things about the piece for me is the amount of overlap there is; nothing happens in blocks where chords change at the same time on the downbeat. Korngold has one instrument hanging over by one triplet, another one switches with it, and then someone else takes over. To really get to know the score is challenging, but it is these things that are key to why his music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. There is an incredible flexibility to it and things organically move. It’s wonderful.’

    • Dear Ray

      Thank you so much for sharing Mr Ehnes remarks. It is rare for such insight to be expressed by a soloist these days. As for which violin was used by Heifetz, I doubt this supposed controversy will ever be resolved as he did not confide such details, though there is a photo of him at rehearsals holding the violin – perhaps an eagle eyed specialist will be able to identify it? The photo (which I own) is reproduced in my biography of Korngold “The Last Prodigy” (pub Amadeus) on page 329. Hope you enjoyed Mr Ehnes’ performance. Best wishes!

      • Unfortunately not, I live in France, but I did hear a marvelous performance in Nantes when last year’s Folle Journée was devoted to US composers. Nichola Benedetti did it full justification. I happened to bump into her coming into the hall and briefly said Hello; she said what a wonderful work it was to play and how much she loved it.

    • Certainly Mr. Ehnes plays this superbly. His recording (also with the Barber and the Walton) with the Vancouver Symphony/Bramwell Tovey (excellent accompanist) is an absolute treasure. I also love Gil Shaham’s recording (also coupled with Barber).

      Interesting coupling – the Barber was also given a dubious reception at the time of its publication so it makes a happy partner for the Korngold – two guilty pleasures perhaps but both really romantic, tuneful concerti that audiences love. Those factors alone should ensure critical disdain……………

  • “But what no-one seems to know is which of two Stradivari the great violinist took out of his double-case on the night of the premiere. Might the other one have made a difference to its reception?”

    Am I missing a joke somewhere, or is this meant seriously?
    I happen to like EWK including his violin concerto, and the reasons, why a composer can be at the same time so influential (ask film score composers) and badmouthed (ask “serious critics”) is an interesting phenomenon indeed and IMHO goes further than a switching of fiddles.

  • I suppose it can be said to be sentimental, but that appeals to me and I am always touched and moved by Mr. Korngold’s piece.

  • Quite a fine concerto, in my humble opinion; what it was played on? this sounds like deflate gate for violinists! Heifetz probably could have played it on a cigar box with rubber bands & gotten it to sing

  • I simply can´t stand the cliches about Korngold being a”Hollywood Composer”(whatever this means)anymore.Korngold didn´t write”Hollywood music”,he simply wrote…..Korngold.As Andre Previn pointed out some years ago,his style hasn´t changed a bit between his Viennese years and his second career,as a film composer.Listen to his early pieces,like the Sinfonietta he wrote as a true genius of 12 years(apart from Mendelssohn,he WAS the greatest child prodigy ever!),or Violanta or Die tote Stadt,the style is exactly the same as in Captain Blood or The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.He brought his style to Hollywood.Only the medium changed!His music,also in Hollywood,remained quintessentially Viennese.He brought Vienna to Hollywood.

  • I can´t stand this rubbish about Korngold being a “Hollywood Composer”(whatever this means)anymore.Andre Previn is quite right in saying that his style didn´t change a bit between his works before he went to the US and after.Listen to his Sinfonietta,written at age 12,and premiered by Richard Strauss(apart from Mendelssohn,Korngold was the greatest child prodigy ever)!Listen to Violanta and Die Tote Stadt!The style is exactly the same as in Robin Hood or Captain Blood!Korngold always wrote in his deeply personal,quintessentially Viennese style.He brought Vienna to Hollywood!

    • Also check out Korngold’s 2nd piano sonata, written at age 13, and premiered in Vienna by Artur Schnabel.

    • Of course, Korngold didn’t change his style. He didn’t need to. He and Max Steiner CREATED Hollywood music! Both imported the style from Berlin respectively Vienna and adapted it to Hollywood needs.
      The Violin concerto was a big success with audiences but it needs to be pointed out that almost all of the musical material came from music he wrote for films. This is something critics probably didn’t like at all.

  • Don’t know if this will pass ,but the Korngold work can be thought of as music
    for the middle class , it hints at everything but is careful not to go too far in any
    direction so as not to make what survives today of the middle class listener too uncomfortable. Violinists have played the standard 5 to death , now scrape the bottom of the barrel for works they hope might pass muster as a worthwhile concerto . Mr. Korngold
    could never get past Die tote Stadt (1920) ,that he was knowledgeable of the art is a given, that the had little to say is a given .Turandot was on the horizon 1924
    !922 we have the marvelous Szymanowski violin concerto, 1947 we have Shostakovich
    violin concerto also 1947 the Korngold who is stuck in Gemutlichkeit beer garden time.

    • Drivel. Utter nonsense. What has “class” got to do with the composer’s style? If you don’t like his music, that’s fine, but state that and that alone. Do not demean it. It’s so well-crafted
      that derision simply sounds absurd. The other concerti you mention are fantastic pieces, many violinists are playing Korngold now because they’ve rediscovered it and fallen in love with it…………………Shaham, Benedetti, Ehnes, Mutter etc etc. I suppose they could all be wrong about the piece but somehow I don’t think so.

      • I mean of course the nonsensical(as usual) comments of Milka,not the thoughtful and spot on comment of Mr.Kelly….

    • I really have no idea what you’re trying to get at. I fail to see how class has anything at all to do with taste in music. Are you saying that Korngold would appeal to a doctor or a company director but not to an agricultural labourer or a duke? Why would that be the case? Should I understand that people who live on council estates perhaps listen to Mahler, while people who live in castles listen to Brahms, and those people in between living in their suburban semis listen to Korngold?

      • I think Korngold would appeal more to dentists than doctors . I doubt very much that
        people living on council estates would have any inkling of who Korngold was ,never mind
        listening to his music and those living in their semis probably find Williams more to their
        taste.Social class and the confines of class however subtly played out, more often than not
        determines how this nervous middle class plays its role in relation to the arts .Lacking
        imagination and insecure and fitting nowhere they find in Korngold a kindred spirit .Down from Korngold to Williams , both on the same program how apt .

  • I read lots of comments here, but still do not know which violin is the one on which Heifetz performed Korngolds concerto….:-(

    I treasure James Ehnes’ magnificent recording, already mentioned above.

  • Why do people love to tell others how bad a certain composer/singer/etc is? And why the missionary zeal? Hallelujah, spread the bad word!

    But maybe this is just another case of Manchester vs Liverpool. Cheer for your favourite composer, jeer at others. Can’t wait for the pub brawls after the Bruckner against Brahms match.

    PS: Being German, Brahms won the penalty shootout.

  • For the benefit of anyone who wasn’t at James Ehnes’s concert last night, as an encore he gave a beautiful performance of the theme from Schindler’s List. Any reactions to that?

    • I am just hoping that this isn’t for real! You do know, I assume, that Itzhak Perlman himself considers Schindler’s List to be one of the proudest achievements of his career?

  • Even if Itzhak Perlman did say what alexander claimed above here, it does not mean that IP considers this particular John Williams score to be a great musical masterpiece. As for the Korngold: if we agree that the Brahms violin concerto (for example) is a 1st rate piece, then it is quite reasonable to list the one by Korngold among those that are “2nd rate”. But if we want more than a handful of violin concertos to be performed, then the Korngold does definitely deserve to be among them.

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