Josef Hassid

Josef Hassid (December 28, 1923 - 1950).

"A violinist such as Hassid is born every 200 years." This quote is by none other than Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler was not alone in his praise. Many other musicians were of the same opinion regarding the young Josef Hassid. Szigeti, Huberman, Thibaud, Feuermann and of course his famous teacher Karl Flesch, considered him a talent who had no equal among his peers. His sad story has been reasonably well documented in music circles. Born in 1923 in Poland and having lost his mother in his early childhood Hassid was brought by his father to study with Flesch when he was 12. He started to concertize and in 1940 he made his only recordings of several short pieces for EMI. In 1935 at the suggestion of Flesch Hassid entered the Wieniawski competition in Warsaw. The eventual winner was another Flesch student the great Ginette Noveau. The second prize went to the 26-year old David Oistrakh. Henri Temianka, the leader of the Paganini String Quartet was third and yet another Flesch prodigy Ida Haendel (10) was fourth. What happened to Hassid, you'll ask? He didn't make it to the second round because of a memory slip - the problem that would plague him throughout his short career. In the summer of 1937 Hassid went to Spa, Belgium where Flesch taught during the summers. Among other pupils there was a young lady with whom Hassid fell in love. The fact that she was not Jewish and he was did not go well with the kids' parents. The young couple's relationship was forcefully terminated, which probably put some considerable strain on the already fragile psyche of the young boy. In the 1940's his behavior became noticeably erratic. He lashed out at his father and the violin. He was admitted to a hospital several times after he was diagnosed with an acute case of schizophrenia. He withdrew from life and music refusing to admit that he ever played the violin. Pleading letters from Flesch reminding him of his extraordinary talent mattered not. The appeal to come back to reality and to his violin fell on deaf ears, he was slipping away. Hassid died in 1950 of complications from brain surgery. He was 27. We are very fortunate that Walter Legge persuaded Hassid to record several short pieces for EMI at the age of 16. These only recordings of this magnificent talent suggest the level of musicianship unsurpassed before or since (even by young Michael Rabin). When we listen to him play we feel as though there is no gap between us and his emotions, no gap of time and place. His music is alive and vibrant, and it goes directly into our souls. We feel as if he is standing in front of us with no one else around, the young boy producing these magical sounds and pouring out his feelings to us. Aside from his musicianship what we also notice is his impeccable bow control, exquisite articulation (reminiscent of another tragic Flesch pupil Josef Wolfsthal), clean intonation and dashing technique which never dominates but rather serves the music. His sound is full yet light and not a bit of it is forced - the impediment that hampers many of today's violinists. What else can you say about this genius? Aside from the fact that he was probably too talented to stay on this earth a little longer. Now we can only imagine how Hassid might have played the major concertos of the violin repertoire such as Tchaikovsky or Bruch. Or perhaps it's for the best since sometimes someone so extraordinarily successful in miniatures has trouble with works in larger form. So as we see yet another supposed prodigy make her debut on EMI Records we can't help but think back to the time when little Josef Hassid came to the EMI studios in London once in "200 years" and forever etched his name among the immortals despite being so mortal himself.

Melodía hebrea
Nam stat fua cuiq~ dies, breue et irreparabile tempus.