Fiddling about

I’m generally a fairly sanguine chap but occasionally I read something that makes my blood boil. The excellent BBC Music Magazine has just published another of its Greatest of All Time polls. These polls always cause controversy and passion – it’s their raison d’etre – but they do provide a bit of harmless fun and a talking point for music lovers. What makes the BBC Mag polls particularly interesting is that the people who nominate their All Time Greats are professionals working in the same field. A few years ago, 100 pianists voted for the Greatest Pianists. This time, 100 fiddle players nominated their greatest fellow violinists. Each violinist was allowed three votes. The result was: 1 David Oistrakh; 2 Jascha Heifetz, 3 Fritz Kreisler. Hurrah – or nearly hurrah!
Only five of the 100 violinists voted for the winning top three (Daniel Hope, Gil Shaham, Yuri Torchinsky, Maxim Vengerov and Elizabeth Wallfisch) though none listed them in the correct order which, obviously, should be Heifetz, Kreisler, Oistrakh.
It was clearly a close-run thing for first and second place. Both Oistrakh and Heifetz garnered 34 nominations – except that one nomination for Heifetz was a negative vote made by a violinist called Robert McDuffie who nominated Heifetz with a special note attached. Heifetz, in case you don’t know, was marketed during his lifetime – not without reason – as ‘The Violinist of the 20th Century’. Even fiddle players who don’t warm to his intense, high octane style acknowledge his technical supremacy and influence on the course of the violin’s history. McDuffie, whoever he is, nominated Heifetz because he was ‘a musical narcissist’ who inspired McDuffie ‘what not to do’, a gesture that in itself takes some beating for narcissism and breathtaking stupidity. Perhaps if he listened more closely to what Heifetz was about he might become a better player and thus rise from the present ranks of obscurity.

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