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Monday, September 10, 2012

Heifetz and the Low F

Heifetz Week Dept.: For no reason other than a wish to stay in sync with the arbitrary nature of the universe and a sudden desire to share some pieces about my favorite musician, it’s Heifetz week at this blog. We kick off with a fascinating piece of trivia.

Jascha Heifetz and Jack Pfeiffer
The late John F. Pfeiffer, who produced many of RCA Victor’s benchmark “Living Stereo” recordings in the late 1950s, was especially proud of being able to release onto compact disc the complete official output of two of his favorite artists: Arturo Toscanini and Jascha Heifetz. The meticulously documented, 65-disc Heifetz Collection won a Grammy for the care lavished on bringing these hundreds of hours of recordings back to life.

Both sets first appeared in lavish jewel-box compilations, now long out of print, but both more recently reappeared in cardboard packaging. The Heifetz set recreates the LP release of his output; the Toscanini set reproduces the 1992 CD extravaganza.

In a December1994 interview, just after that first release of the Heifetz Collection, Pfeiffer revealed a secret about one of the recordings, something that has gone practically unnoticed by critics and listeners.

He described it as follows: “In the beginning (of the LP days), Heifetz was fascinated by the technology of being able to edit a note or a phrase. When we recorded the Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas (in October 1952), we did a lot of editing because he was so fascinated by it. In fact, there was one passage where he stopped, re-tuned the violin, played a few bars, stopped again, tuned the violin back up, and continued.

It's in here someplace
“He did that so he could play a low F, because in Bach’s score there is a pattern where obviously it should go down to a low F, but of course that note doesn’t exist on the violin. All throughout this section of the fugue (of the Sonata No. 2 in A Minor), a pattern is established, but Bach had to change one note because the violin only goes down to a G.

“So Heifetz re-tuned and played a low F here, and I spliced it in, and no-one has ever caught it. It’s so logical that you don’t think of it in terms of what might have happened. It’s in the same harmony and it passes very quickly.

“All these years later, I couldn’t even find it at first. When we started work on the Heifetz Collection, I remembered that I’d done it, but I couldn’t remember which passage it was. I finally found it in the score as we were working, but I still had to listen very carefully to hear it, even knowing where it was.”

To save you the agony, it’s in the second movement of Bach’s Sonata No. 2, BWV 1003. In the score, you’ll find it at measure number 247, where the sequence in the lower voice is G-A-G. On the Heifetz recording, it’s at 4:52. As Pfeiffer observed, it’s so clean and quick and logical that it draws no attention to itself at all, a stunt made all the more amusing by its utter lack of guile.

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