God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz

God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz

Jascha Heifetz in 1904 at age 3 as seen in GOD'S FIDDLER: JASCHA HEIFETZ, a film by Peter Rosen. Picture courtesy Peter Rosen Productions. All rights reserved.

God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz

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God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz (2011)

Opened: 11/11/2011 Limited

Quad Cinema/NYC11/11/2011 - 11/17/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Facebook

Genre: Biographical Documentary (English)

Rated: Unrated


Not since Paganini had there been such a magician on the violin. The first modern violin virtuoso, about whom Itzhak Perlman says in the film, "When I spoke with him, I thought, 'I can't believe it. I'm talking with God'." A musical wunderkind, Heifetz went on to set the standard in violin playing for nearly a century. This film portrays an artist for whom only perfection would do, so well known in popular culture that his name became shorthand for excellence for everyone from Jack Benny, to The Muppets, to Woody Allen.

Heifetz was a legendary but mysterious figure whose story embodies the dual nature of artistic genius: Is the man and the artist the same person? What is the price each pays? Who was the man behind the music?

Filmed in St. Petersburg, Russia; Vilnius, Lithuania; and in Heifetz's own rebuilt studio in Los Angeles, GOD'S FIDDLER: JASCHA HEIFETZ spans a musical history of the 20th century as seen through archival films photographed by Heifetz himself. While researching Heifetz's career at the Colburn Music School in Los Angeles Rosen happened upon a treasure trove of 16mm footage shot from 1917-1985--material that has never been seen until now. A self-confessed "camera fiend," Heifetz's "home movies" include sequences taken from Heifetz's apartment in St. Petersburg just months before the Revolution; scenes from his immigration to America, and early social life in New York; his family life; his travels through Europe, the Middle East and Japan; and his later life in Los Angeles--a remarkable document of a remarkable life.

Music's elite turned out for Heifetz's debut concert at Carnegie Hall in 1917 and the concert exceeded even the highest expectations. At intermission the violin virtuoso, Mischa Elman complained to the pianist Leopold Godowsky that he felt it was too hot in the concert hall. "Not for pianists," quipped Godowsky. Record contracts and world tours followed. Heifetz began to live the life of a celebrity--large homes, fast cars, girls. Often when he was to be practicing, he was out "taking pictures." "My aim was to enjoy myself," he confessed. "I had to wait until I was a young man until I could play like a child."

In 1921, at the height of his fame, Heifetz read a devastating review written in The New York Sun by W .J. Henderson, a review that accused Heifetz of a lack of depth in his playing, suggesting that he was "content to stand still" and that he was letting himself and his public down and that he should "watch his step".

This first-ever bad review sent Heifetz into a depression--he even considered suicide. His recovery was a recognition that with his gift came responsibility--he called the criticism the best thing that had ever happened to him. Rosen charts Heifetz's recovery as the major turning point in his career and his rededication to the most serious demands of musicianship.

Although there were those that characterized Heifetz's playing as cold and his demeanor as aloof, Rosen rebuts these charges with evidence drawn from interviews with colleagues and close friends, including Itzhak Perlman, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, and Heifetz's biographers, John Anthony Maltese and Arthur Vered, and Heifetz's former student, accompanist, and long time companion, Ayke Agus. What appeared to be coldness was Heifetz's passionate decision to put the music before the gesture--to let the music transcend the performer.

GOD'S FIDDLER: JASCHA HEIFETZ reveals the paradox of artistic genius and asks how a mortal man lives with immortal gifts--gifts he must honor, but which exact a life long price.

About Peter Rosen

Peter Rosen has produced and directed over 100 full-length films and television programs which have been distributed world-wide and have won numerous awards at major film festivals. He has worked directly with some of the most important figures in the arts including Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Stephen Sondheim, Alexander Godunov, Midori, Martha Graham, Placido Domingo, Van Cliburn, Claudio Arrau, Byron Janis, I. M. Pei, and Garrison Keillor.

Rosen won the prestigious Directors Guild of America Award in 1990 for his production "Here to Make Music: The Eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition." The show also won a prime-time Emmy Award in 1990, and was called "enriching and inspiring" by the New York Daily News. He was again nominated for the DGA Award in 1998 for his film, "First Person Singular: I. M. Pei". "The Cliburn; Playing on the Edge", with KERA/PBS, sponsored by ExxonMobil won the prestigious Peabody Award in 2001.