, August 2012
This fascinating documentary film is full of unexpected material. We are so used to the stern image that the later Heifetz projected for promotional purposes. The early, informal photographs and cine-film showing him having fun (driving fast cars, playing tennis, shooting home movies, throwing parties and getting to know girls) come as something of a surprise.
It’s also fair to point out that Heifetz could, when he chose, be rather nice. His students, by all accounts, found him completely intimidating in class (one refers to it as having been a “scary place”). On the other hand he also contributed anonymously to their medical bills and invited them to his home for end-of-term parties. Perhaps the period of Heifetz’s life that showed him in the best light was World War II. He toured extensively for three years while entertaining troops in the field. A particularly vivid vignette is of the time when a violent tropical rainstorm meant that only one soldier turned up and took a seat far off in the back row. Heifetz insisted on going ahead and playing the recital just for that lone soldier and said later that it had been his best performance ever.
Learning the truth about Jascha Heifetz’s life is, overall, a rather depressing experience. On screen, his personal lawyer ruminates “Was he lonely or unhappy? I can’t call him unhappy … I can’t call him happy … He was perfectly stoic at almost all times.” Meanwhile, cellist Nathaniel Rosen offers an even more downbeat verdict: “I don’t know if he really had friends. There were people that called themselves his friends and behaved as if they were his friends, but there was an atmosphere of fear around him quite often.”
Unless, as seems highly unlikely, Heifetz ever consulted an analyst and the reports ever come to light, it’s probable that this film will offer as good an assessment of the man that we are ever likely to have. God’s fiddler doesn’t, it is true, tell us very much about Heifetz’s music-making that we couldn’t discover equally well from listening to his rich recorded legacy. Film-maker Peter Rosen clearly had another aim in mind entirely and has succeeded in his purpose very well indeed. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review