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'Like Electricity': Jascha Heifetz Made His American Debut 100 Years Ago

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Violinist Jascha Heifetz in 1917, the year he made his American debut at Carnegie Hall.
Library of Congress/Bain News Service

Violinist Jascha Heifetz in 1917, the year he made his American debut at Carnegie Hall.

It was 100 years ago this week that Russian violinist Jascha Heifetz made his American debut at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1917. Considered by many to be one of the greatest violinists in history, he was just 16 years old at the time. NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with commentator Miles Hoffman about that appearance and the career that followed.

"The technique was stupendous," Hoffman says about Heifetz's appeal. "Nobody had heard about a technique like [his.] And he set a completely new standard for the violin for technical excellence. But he always used this technique with an amazing musical imagination. He had a warmth and a beauty to the sound, a passionate intensity, this unique quality that was like electricity. I was talking the other day that with a former student of Heifetz's and he reminded me of a great quotation by Schopenhauer, the German philosopher. Schopenhauer once said, 'Talent is like the marksman who hits a target that others cannot reach. Genius is like the marksman who hits a target that others cannot even see.' And that was Heifetz on the violin."

Hear the rest of their conversation at the audio link above.

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