Sadness: Ida Haendel is no more

Sadness: Ida Haendel is no more


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2020

Ida Haendel, last of the golden age violinists, died yesterday at the age of 91. Or maybe 92 or 94. She once showed me three different birth certificates. They were not very accurate in Poland, she said.

We were friends, for a very long time.

A student of Carl Flesch in 1930s London, she became the outstanding interpreter of the Sibelius and Walton concertos, among much else. Her playing was almost masculine in its strength and virility – she was proud of that – and colourful in all ways. She shopped for her concert frocks with great care and once took me along to observe.

Neither married nor ever in a stable relationship, she had a romantic fixation on the conductor Sergiu Celibidache, and one or two others. Among other violinists, she revered Heifetz, and not many more.

Her last years, lonely in Florida, were miserable.

She had a series of dogs called Decca, after her principal record label.

photo: Jelle Pieter de Boer

UPDATE: Ida as her family knew her

Tributes to Ida


  • Paul Dawson says:

    RIP. My first experience was the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the RFH in the early 70s. Her performance was sublime. I became an instant fan.

  • We privatize your value says:

    Visibly, Jelle Pieter de Boer was not as fond of her as you! What a demeaning photographic portrait (but very well done, and expressive).
    Ivry Gitlis is the last of the golden age violinists. He’ll be a centenarian in 2022.

    • Bruce says:

      It is possible to see beauty in the signs of a long life, lived with passion, dedication, and discipline. If you want young and pretty with smooth skin, there’s always Vanessa-Mae.

      • We privatize your value says:

        You miss my point, which is, you don’t honor the dead by demeaning them. As for the statement that she was the last golden age violinist, it’s an insult towards Ivry Gitlis and Sir Norman should correct that molto prestissimo!

        • Simon Scott says:

          Ivry is now the last of the Golden age

        • Bruce says:

          And my point was that the photo is not demeaning.

          As for Ivry Gitlis, sure. No argument there (but don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology or correction.)

      • buxtehude says:

        @Bruce — I have experience with portraiture. This is the worst portrait I have ever seen.

        Especially offensive when an artist who deserved so much better is the subject.

      • Enquiring Mind says:

        The point is that a woman as conscious about her dress as she was, would prefer a picture taken maybe a few years earlier to be remembered by. Have you ever noticed how flattering people’s Facebook and Instagram pictures are? They are always younger and from that perfect angle, especially the women.

        • Bruce says:

          Huh. I was just coming back here to add that, while she certainly was into the colorful dresses, she never seemed interested (judging from the photos I’ve seen) in trying to make herself look different than she looked.

          I guess I just see it differently. I don’t see a woman made to look “ugly,” just as in her earlier photos I don’t see a woman trying to look “pretty.” I see a woman who could have had plastic surgery and didn’t (actually I have no idea, but she doesn’t have that marzipan-wrapped-in-plastic look), who is not interested in hiding her age or her battle scars. To me the picture says, “This is what I look like. I earned these wrinkles. If you don’t like it, fuck off.”

          I don’t get the impression that she would have disapproved of this portrait. Even if I found out she hated it, I would still see what I see.

          And on that note, well…. you see what you see. And there we are.

    • DannyT says:

      Ugh, what a pathetic statement – you need help! Some people just need to find something negative to say about everything. To enlighten your sad, shallow, judgemental, opinion on BEAUTY, and truly disturbing statement – I am close personal friends of Ida and Jelle (who were very, very close!) and Ida very much liked that photo of herself – which is BEAUTIFUL, because she was beautiful. I am a better person having known her – she was smart, witty, funny, and a beautiful soul. Please do yourself a favor and shut up with pathetic views on life – cleary you are a person that feels a need to have an opinion on everything – how UGLY! You need some help – get it and, in the meantime – shut up!

  • Robert Roy says:

    Very sad news indeed.

    I first heard her in 1977 playing the Sibelius Concerto with the (R)SNO under Paavo Berglund. As a youngster, I was amazed that anyone could play such a difficult work with a mastery that was almost disdainful. Her autobiography, ‘Woman with Violin’ is a searing document of the trials and tribulations that even the most talented have to endure.

    R.I.P, Ms. Haendel.

  • batonbaton says:

    RIP. I heard her last at Wigmore Hall only a few years ago.
    She was one of the last great surviving students of Enescu.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Didn’t she say something along these lines: that while Flesch taught her how to play violin, Enescu taught her to make music?

      A great loss of a great artist.

  • Ida Haendel was the most colourful lady I had the pleasure to meet. It was for a surprise party I had organized for the 75th birthday of the music critic of the daily La Presse in Montréal, Claude Gingras. When I invited her to be one of the guests she accepted and came over -her dog in tow. Gingras and Ida had a tumultuous relationship. He once wrote disparaging remarks on the very colourful “robe” she was wearing. The next time they met she yelled at him: “You may criticize the way I play, but don’t criticize the way I dress!” Among highlights of her career stands a performance of the Sibelius Concerto for the Finnish Radio in 1949. Sibelius sent her a telegram to congratulate her. She also created Allan Pettersson’s Second Violin Concerto, probably the longest Concerto in the whole repertory. Both works are part of Ida Haendel’s discography.

  • KANANPOIKA says:

    I always go back to Ida Haendel’s recording of the Sibelius
    which she made with Berglund and Bournemouth. Searingly intense, done with the greatest yet most tasteful imagination.

    Had the great privilege to perform with her once…the
    Stravinsky Concerto…miraculous playing, the experience marred only by the piece at hand….

    • Robert Rpy says:

      Clearly, you don’t rate the Stravinsky Concerto but it was obviously good enough for Ms. Haendel to learn and perform it…

    • Violin Accordion says:

      I would choose the vast landscape of Walton she created in the BSO recording

  • Joel Lazar says:

    RIP indeed; I remember with pleasure hearing her in the early 1970 in Walton [Hallé, Loughran] and Beethoven [BBCNSO, Berglund] and I believe at least one Sibelius with Berglund…a grand artiste….

  • David J Hyslop says:

    Worked with her once in my early years here with the

    Minnesota Orchestra . She was a tough one but a superb


  • JamesM says:

    More than many violinists, she had a special frisson when heard live. Something extra above the extraordinary playing; maybe an unspoken communication of some kind. Her recording of the Britten is tremendous. That work should be added to her Sibelius and Walton as specialties.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    RIP. She was treated badly by the London Proms which suddenly dropped her. And she was upset by LSO in their Sibelius series where they gave the concerto to A-Sophie Mutter and the crumbs (Romances?) to Ms Haendel.

    Key recordings in my view: Walton + Sibelius concertos with Berglund plus Enescu/Szymanowski/Bartok recital with Ashkenazy

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Sad but I suppose hardly surprising news. There was very little of her on records when I started to avidly collect violin recordings by as many different artists as I could, her earlier recordings being deleted by then. Then there was a resurgence of interest as if both conductors and the public realized that here was a pupil of Carl Flesch (and also let it not be forgotten, Enescu) who was still playing brilliantly at a time when other artists of her vintage were gone or retired or in decline. My fault entirely but I do not think I noticed her until she released the Britten Violin Concerto (another discovery for me). Fortunately the record industry took note but even so, her discography is thin on sonatas with piano. I never had the chance to hear her “live” to my regret.

    I was not aware (and sad to read) that her final years in Florida were so unhappy. There are some charming YouTube videos of her playing at somewhat informal concerts in Florida that at least suggest she was greatly appreciated, and could still play with virtuoso spirit (and magnetic stage presence) well into old age.

    Her 1995 recording of the Bach Partitas and Sonatas on Testament is one of the most highly personal and compelling sets that you’ll hear. It cannot and should not be imitated by anyone. Unless you are a period instrument absolutist, or a “oh this just isn’t DONE” purist, you’ll be drawn in from the way she pulls and stretches at the opening chord of the Sonata No. 1 in g minor – and then a pause! Her calling card has been presented and she commands attention.

    And she was a brave artist. There are 20th century violin concertos out there so punishingly cruel in their technical expectations and so unlikely to bring easy rewards and gratitude from audiences — what I have sometimes termed “two/three rehearsal concertos” (which explains why we so rarely hear them “live”) that those who dare tackle them deserve special thanks. After all these years the Schoenberg Violin Concerto is in that class, as is the Roger Sessions Violin Concerto. I’d add the Fritz Werder Violin Concerto which likely few outside of Australia have heard or heard of. And then there is Allan Pettersson’s Concerto No. 2.

    If you can track it down, try to hear Ida Haendel in Pettersson’s Violin Concerto No. 2. It was released on Caprice. How this can be played without breaking every string and every bow hair, and without causing every finger tip to bleed, I do not know (I believe Pettersson, who was keenly aware of physical pain himself) eventually revised the orchestra part before his death, perhaps to avoid physically damaging those violinists who wanted to take it up. Haendel prevails but for sure, it is a struggle that makes plain exactly what she’s going through.

  • Michael Turner (conductor) says:

    My first encounter with Ida Haendel was her playing the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1 with Simon Rattle and the CBSO in the 1980s.

    It was the first time that I’d heard the piece and her rip-roaring account cemented the work as one of my all-time favourite concertos.

    A sad day indeed.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    The BBC Proms folk should go to their archive and re-broadcast their film of her doing Shostakovich 1st Concerto from 1976. If they haven’t destroyed or taped over it yet.

  • lori says:

    She was an institution in and of herself. A true original with a huge presence.

  • erich says:

    A fabulous musician and a true eccentric. I was once in the BA lounge in Heathrow where I saw her surreptitiously empty the entire bowl of peanuts into her handbag as sustenance for the flight!

  • Aubrey Hepburn says:

    There is the well-known and fascinating documentary about her, ‘I Am The Violin’ on Youtube.

  • Simon Scott says:

    I rather think that Ida Haendel was born in 1923…..

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    A force of nature, may she rest in peace. I met her in Verbier in 2000 when the Verbier Festival Orchestra was founded.

    I was in an elevator in 1984 at Curtis with Celibidache taking him to one of his “conducting seminars” where he spoke about almost everyone (Karajan, Toscanini, Stokowski, Muti, Ormandy, etc, etc) and everything EXCEPT conducting.

    He asked that we call him Professor because he said that Maestro was too pompous.

    RF: Professor, someone keeps calling and wants to speak to you directly.

    SC: who is it?

    RF: Ida Haendel.

    SC: OMG, she follows me everywhere, what an artist, but I don;t want to speak to her. Please tell her that I am too busy with my 18 rehearsals preparing for Carnegie Hall.

    RF: OK, Professor.

    Next day.

    SC: Did Ida Haendel call back?

    RF: No. (he looked disappointed!)

    Later that month, guess who showed up at Carnegie Hall?

  • E. says:

    This is a beautiful photographic portrait. It seems to have caught a moment of questioning.
    There is a fine video portrait, “I am the Violin.”

  • John Rook says:

    What a character. I played for one of her Masterclasses in Manchester in the 1980’s and loved how she got straight to the core of the music. Quite a flirt, too, as I recall.

  • Nigel Goldberg says:

    Another step towards the end of an era of the early born
    20th century greats. I heard Ida Haendel many times and her playing was never less than insprational. Shen was an absolutely heroic figure, a one off, totally true to herself and she and her kind will be greatly missed.

  • M2N2K says:

    Why calling her “last of golden age violinists”? She never needed such label because she was a very good one, but for example Michael Rabin was born several years later than she was and Ivry Gitlis was still performing more than a decade after she stopped.

  • Myrtar says:

    In the documentary “I am the Violin”, there’s a part where she’s eating alone in her bungalow in Miami, in a tiny kitchen, tiny table and a single chair. It really showed her lonely existence. It’s very sad that someone with such talent, was never truly happy.
    She also seemed very bitter towards other violinists who she thought were responsible for her gigs being cancelled.

  • JSO says:

    May she rest in peace. Even more sad to read that she had hard last days…

    But isn’t Ivry Gitlis the last one of the golden age? How can one leave him out??!!

  • Fiddlist says:

    Yes indeed, a great tragedy, but yes, we can’t not call Gitlis a golden-age violinist.

  • I heard her first in 2006 playing the Bach Chaconne with indescribable musicality, simplicity and beauty of tone. In 2008 Ida came to Montréal where I had the great privilege to perform with her and Matt Haimovitz the Brahms Double Concerto with the McGill Symphony. She was physically not well at that time, and yet her performance left an unforgettable impression – what a triumph of mind and fantastic will power! She told me afterwards that she had performed the Brahms only once before, with Paul Tortelier…An artist of unique qualities, and one who put music first above anything else.
    Ida Haendel R.I.P.

  • Paul Carlile says:

    RIP marvellous violinist and artist. I was lucky to have heard her several times in concert, notably Shostakovich at the Proms and Sibelius in Bournemouth with Paavo Berglund. As encores after the superb concerto, they gave a couple of the Humoresques, making one regret to not have her record all six, such was the quality.
    My mother heard her London début and recalled at one early Prom she played Brahms’ Concerto with rich intensity, making her a lifelong fan.
    “Woman with Violin” is worth a read.

  • Novagerio says:

    R.I.P. Ida, and Shalom Aleichem.
    Of all remaining Carl Flesch students there’s Ivry Gitlis left. He turns 98 in August (!)

  • Hannah Goldstick says:

    this is an awful tribute. nothing about her influence as a violinist and strong female figure in classical music – just useless gossip. a sorry excuse for a memorial and piece of writing. you have no idea the kind of influence she has had on violinists of all generations. the bad grammar doesn’t help.