A fiddler like Heifetz is born every 100 years; one like Hassid every 200 years.
So said the great violinist, Fritz Kreisler, after attending an impromptu concert at the home of the noted Hungarian pedagogue, Carl Flesch. The “fiddler” was the Polish teenage virtuoso, Josef Hassid (1923-1950). Kreisler was so impressed with Hassid’s playing that he lent him a fine instrument made in 1860 by the French luthier, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.
Yet, Josef Hassid’s career was destined to be brief and tragic. Onstage, he was plagued with memory lapses. Offstage, a mental breakdown led to a diagnosis of acute schizophrenia. Following an unsuccessful surgery in 1950, he died of meningitis at the age of 26.
Years later, the pianist Gerald Moore, who accompanied Hassid at his Wigmore Hall recital debut in 1940, called him
the greatest instrumental genius I’ve ever partnered. I don’t know how to explain his incandescence. He had technical perfection, marvelous intonation, glorious tone – but there was something above that which was quite incredible, a metaphysical quality.
The metaphysical power of Hassid’s playing is documented in eight brief recordings. Sir Edward Elgar’s delectable trifle, La Capricieuse comes to life with carefree and sparkling staccato. Joseph Achron’s Hebrew Melody is filled with deep lament and a sense of improvisation. Playera by the nineteenth century Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate rises above the piano’s dancelike ostinato with simmering, sensuous energy.
These recordings from 1940 were made with Kreisler’s Vuillaume violin. Gerald Moore is the accompanist.
Elgar: La capricieuse, Op. 17
Achron: Hebrew Melody, Op.33
Sarasate: Spanish Dances, Op. 23: No. 1. Playera
- Josef Hassid, Teenage Genius (His complete published oeuvre) Amazon
Featured Image: Josef Hassid, circa 1940