Hot in here? Not for pianists

Hot in here? Not for pianists


norman lebrecht

October 25, 2017

It’s a hundred years ago come Friday, October 27 1917 to be precise, since Jascha Heifetz made his explosive US debut at Carnegie Hall. The violinist was 16 years old, fresh from St Petersburg, and phenomenally gifted.

The hall was packed out on advance hype. Every musician in New York needed to hear this kid.

It was an unseasonally warm Saturday afternoon. Mischa Elman turned to his neighbour, the pianist Leopold Godowsky, before the debutant came on stage.

‘Phew,’ said Elman, ‘it’s hot in here.’

‘Not for pianists,’ said Godowsky.



  • Michael Endres says:

    For me one of his greatest achievements always has been this:

    • Ungeheuer says:

      For me, his Sibelius violin cto. Remains unsurpassed.

    • NYMike says:

      Not his achievement alone – the Mozart E♭Divertimento for violin, viola and cello with Primrose and Feuermann, one of the finest chamber music recordings ever made. Three evenly matched players.

  • Furzwängler says:

    Great rejoinder by the Buddha of the Piano, Leopold Godowsky!

  • Andrew Condon says:

    Zubin Mehta must be one of the very few conductors still with us (if not the only one?) who actually collaborated with Heifetz. I saw recently that a CD is just out of their Beethoven Concerto from the opening of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles on 6th December 1964.

  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    Dagmar Godowsky, the daughter of Leopold and then 20 years old, was at the concert and writes about it in her autobiography, First Person Plural. The Lives of Dagmar Godowsky (Viking Press, 1958), pp. 53-54.

    She says the famous Elman-Godowsky exchange occurred after the concert, but Allan Kozinn, in his book on Elman (quoted below) says during the concert. Arthur Weschler-Vered, in his book on Heifetz, says that Godowsky went to Heifetz during the intermission of the concert to tell him about Elman’s remark.

    Dagmar Godowsky writes: “Elman burst out laughing. He thought it was funny as we did; but in that penetrating voice of his he repeated it to everyone. A critic in the next box heard him and printed the story the next day along with his rave notice. Mischa didn’t speak to us for five years. It was his own fault that the story spread to five continents.”

    If someone can tell me which newspaper critic told the story in which newspaper, I would like to know.

    Allan Kozinn in his book, Mischa Elman and the Romantic Style (Harwood, 1990), writes: “At the time, Elman was amused, but he found it irritating that Godowsky immediately reported the exchange to a newspaper columnist, and that the joke not only became frequently cited, but invariably used at Elman’s expense. As Elman would later explain to his friends, ‘you know, it was a warm evening, for late October’ ” (p. 103).

    As the program shows, it was not an evening concert, but at 2:30 PM.

    Apropos Heifetz’s American debut, the house where the Heifetz family stayed prior to his Carnegie Hall concert was in Newton Massachusetts, 47 Kensington Street (see Galina Kopytova, Jascha Heifetz. Early Years in Russia, Indiana University Press, 2014, pp. 390-392). There is a house today at that address. Maybe it is the same house that was there 100 years ago.

    • Steinway Fanatic says:

      As a well known lady-about-town, Dagmar Godowsky produced an immortal quip of her own: When asked by a journalist about how many husbands she had had, she replied “Well, 2 of my own, but several of other people’s”.

  • Scottt Messing says:

    Regarding the dissemination of the anecdote, possibly the earliest printed version came the day after Heifetz’s recital: “Another Great Violinist Comes Out of Russia,” New York Herald, October 28, 1917: “Many leading musicians were in the audience. Mischa Elman sat in a box with Leopold Godowsky. After the first number and the audience had responded with great applause Mr. Elman turned to his companion. ‘It’s rather warm,’ he said, wiping his forehead. ‘For violinists, perhaps,’ Mr. Godowsky answered, ‘but not for pianists.'” The article is unsigned, but a possible author is the paper’s music critic, Gustav Kobbe. Worth noting is the fact that Godowsky (October 20) and Elman (October 21) had just performed their own recitals at the same venue.