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Jascha Heifetz in South Africa

Insights from 1932

Michael Brittan
March 19, 2021

321 pp.

125 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-57647-353-5


Out-of-Print. This book is no longer available from Pendragon Press.


Jascha Heifetz was the most celebrated violinist of the 20th century whose influence on violin playing endures to this day. His one-and-only tour of South Africa in 1932 is at once compelling and revealing. In this thoroughly-researched and illustrated book, Michael Brittan drills down into the Heifetz legend and legacy. At the same time, he brings to life the fascinating saga of the makings of Depression-era South Africa and its musical life, along with hints of what the future would hold. Against this backdrop, engaging narrative documents the never-published details of Heifetz both on and off the South African concert stage. The book reveals how the Heifetz phenomenon was perceived by the South African public through the commentaries of the press, music critics and interviews. Scrutiny through the South African lens of Heifetz the musical master and Heifetz the man adds a new chapter to his life and times, providing fresh insights into the enigmatic Heifetz genius and personality.


Michael Brittan: Michael Brittan is an amateur violinist. Born in Johannesburg, his life has been divided between South Africa and the United States. He holds masters and PhD degrees from Yale University, studied business management at the University of South Africa, and has degrees in chemical engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. In South Africa he concertized in solo recitals, chamber music and as soloist on several occasions with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and the national SABC Orchestra. While studying in the U.S. he joined the Yale Repertory Symphony Orchestra as well as the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra in Connecticut. A career in the gold industry has taken him to-far flung places around the world. He has written for Encyclopedia Britannica,, American Scientist and numerous other publications. Southern Africa features in his previous book, Discover Namibia. He owns two Cremona violins, one a 1677 Andrea Guarneri. He lives in Colorado with his wife Elizabeth and family.


February 23, 2022

February 22, 2022

From MusicWeb International: This recent publication from the Pendragon Press documents for the first time Jascha Heifetzs one-and-only tour of South Africa in 1932. The country was the last stop on his fourth international tour, lasting over ten months, in which he visited twenty-two countries in all. It would be the violinists last global circumnavigation; he was thirty-one years old. He had visited Australia and New Zealand between May and August in 1921 and this marked the start of several world tours. In 1923, Isidor Achron became his accompanist for a trip to Japan and China. The position was initially only agreed for one year, but Achron remained in post for ten. In 1925/26 the pair toured Europe, and in 1927 they ventured further afield, calling at China and the Philippines. This was all a prelude to the world tour of 1931/2. The tour of twenty-two countries began in California and ended in South Africa, taking in such exotic locations on the way as Java, Sumatra, India and Egypt.

Heifetz had studied with Leopold Auer, and was the first Russian violinist to make such a far-reaching impact in the 20th Century. Theres much discussion around Heifetzs performance style. His October 1917 debut at Carnegie Hall was a watershed moment, elevating his name to new heights and kick-starting a career that would last half a century. During this time and beyond, he was the undisputed king against whom all other violinists would measure themselves. He set a new standard for technical excellence. He was later lauded as A Virtuoso of Frightening Perfection. Theres discussion of the famous unsmiling, deadpan Poker Face. His lack of physical mannerisms and his tempered emotional restraint led many to regard him and his playing as cold.

Touring South Africa with family members was commonplace in the 1930s for musical artists, who were drawn by the countrys exotic, cultural and ethnic diversity. The wildlife and scenery would also be an alluring factor. Brittan mentions several, including Ignaz Friedman, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Yehudi Menuhin, Mischa Elman and Joseph Szigeti. Heifetzs glamorous wife Florence Vidor accompanied him on his world tour, but only as far as Egypt, due to a pregnancy. Theres a fascinating chapter titled Concert Repertoire and Reviews. Heifetz remarked to a journalist that he tailored his programmes to suit the artistic taste of each country he visits. The question is posed as to whether he was prepared for the audience diversity in South Africa. There were eight separate generic programmes printed, and the works played, both substantial ones and short pieces are conveniently laid out in a colour-coded table. Occasionally there were extra concerts given, with ticket prices reduced, and more popular repertoire substituted, such as the Kreutzer Sonata and Paganini First Concerto (Wilhelmj single movement version).

Brittan also focuses on his relationship with the audiences in South Africa, and his personality on and off stage. The reaction of the press, more especially music critics, is discussed at length. All of this is set against a backdrop of a Depression-era South Africa.

At the end of the book, the artists later life is considered. From middle age on, Heifetz gradually retreated into himself. He became a virtual recluse, seeing hardly anyone and being suspicious of all who tried to contact him. Many of Heifetzs colleagues, acquaintances and students would find themselves on the receiving end of his acerbic tongue. Perlman found him businesslike, not touchy-feely that wasnt him. Yet, during the war, Brittan emphasizes Heifetzs good works, generosity and beneficence. This is a beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated book, packed tight with photographs and facsimiles, written in an illuminating, accessible and fluently readable style. Although some of the photographs were familiar, there are many Ive never seen before. The author Michael Brittan originally hailed from South Africa and is a violinist himself. He had the good fortune to hear the artist live in concert. His many years research has been a labour of love, and the resulting book fills a conspicuous lacuna in the artists career. It certainly makes for rewarding reading for those enamoured of the artistry of this remarkable musician.

Stephen Greenbank

January 25, 2022

Michael Brittans book Jascha Heifetz in South Africa is a masterpiece. When I began reading it, I just could not stop. Jascha Heifetz, a 20th century Russian-American violin virtuoso, is the focus of numerous books, recordings, documentaries, and even the subject of dedicated poems. Given the immense coverage Heifetz received during his life time as well as since his death in 1987, it was naturally a challenging endeavor to add another unexplored angle. Michael Brittan, however, took a novel and nontraditional angle on Heifetzs career by focusing on his tour and his relationship with the audience in South Africa. In doing so, Brittans accomplished a remarkable execution. The Author, himself an accomplished violinists originally from South Africa who was fortunate to attend Heifetzs concerts, spent years collecting data, archiving visits and interviews. His research spanned coverage from South Africa, England, Europe, the United States, as well as materials from (what was at the time) Palestine. The result is a unique, in-depth, unbiased, and realistic study of the fascinating life and career of Jascha Heifetz the all-time violinist of violinists. Not only does Brittan delineate the life of Heifetz focusing on his South African experiences, coupled with numerous third-hand descriptions of the tour captured by news media of the time, but he also delves into the hard-core question of the duality (and contrast) in Heifetz personality on and off the stage. The discussion on this topic is a captivating one informing the reader on the meaning and requirements of the dedicated, non-compromising focus of a true virtuoso. Beyond the high-level painstaking data collection and analysis which served as the base of his research, the writing is impeccable. Michael Brittans book is a great testimony for the life of an enduring violin genius. I have no doubt that Heifetz himself would have been very proud of the book. Heifetz strived for the perfect violin playing, being as he was a strong believer there are always higher bars to be reached. This informs us about perfection, dedication, the human ability to advance as it applies to life in general. In his writing, Brittan is able to skillfully incapsulate all of that - from a unique yet all-encompassing perspective. Jascha Heifetz in South Africa is absolutely a must read for the knowledge seeker curious as to the intrigues of the life and mind of a true international artist; a perfectionist musician coined as The most profoundly, influential performing artist of all time. Or, as some more simply stated, Heifetz was Gods fiddler. Professor Shaul M. Gabbay (Ph.D.)

January 10, 2022

Review of Jascha Heifetz in South Africa Insights from 1932 Michael Brittan Pendragon Hardback 306 pp £39:95 ISBN 978-1-57647-353-5 Musical Opinion Quarterly, January-March 2022, page 60. Here is a rare book indeed: one whose very title commends itself at once to the violin-lover and admirer of the violinist of the century as the RCA blub (sic), invariably added to their advertising, had it. The self-evident commendation refers to the fact that Michael Brittans is a detailed account of a hitherto unknown part of the virtuosos life. All previous biographies of Heifetz have merely included South Africa as one of the stops on a lengthy world tour undertaken when travelling, critical and public response and Heifetzs own impressions of the country a tour undertaken without air travel in any form: all is here and much more besides from this remarkably gifted author. Brittan is a violinist of concert standard having given solo concerto performances in South Africa. He is also a chemical engineer and a specialist in the gold and mineral industries. So the authors twin achievements in art and commerce enable him to write with authority on Heifetz, his art, and of course on this hitherto little-known tour, with the skill and forensic attitude of a trained scientist and businessman. The illustrations are splendid. The result is a book which should be in the libraries of all music lovers of the violin and of 20th-century music-making. Comprehensively recommended. Robert Matthew-Walker

July 20, 2021

Reviewed in the United States on July 19, 2021 This book is not only well researched and well written, but also well illustrated with historical photos and facsimile documents. It covers Heifetz's 1930s tour of South Africa, which inter alia included concerts in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. What is very helpful and interesting, is that the author places everything in context, richly including other artists, local impresarios and more. I recommend the book enthusiastically to all interested in Heifetz specifically and cultural history in general

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