Emmy- and Peabody-winning filmmaker Peter Rosen (American Masters — Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, The Cliburn: Playing on the Edge) uncovers the story of legendary musician Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), the first truly modern violin virtuoso, for THIRTEEN’s American Masters series. Tony-nominated actor Danny Burstein (Boardwalk Empire, Cabaret, Follies) narrates, reading from Heifetz’ personal letters.
Setting the standard in violin playing for nearly a century, Heifetz’ name became shorthand for excellence for everyone from Jack Benny to The Muppets to Woody Allen. Through vintage performances and master classes, God’s Fiddler portrays an artist for whom only perfection would do. New interviews include other great violinists influenced by Heifetz, including Itzhak Perlman, Ivry Gitlis and Ida Haendel, former student, accompanist and longtime companion Ayke Agus, former student and master assistant in charge of his world-renowned violin class at the University of Southern California Sherry Kloss, and biographers John Anthony Maltese and Arthur Vered. They reveal how Heifetz was a mysterious, idiosyncratic, solitary figure who embodied the paradox of artistic genius: a dedication to his craft at all costs, including two failed marriages, estrangement from his children and very few friends. Characterized as serious and intense while performing and teaching, his students describe him as generous and playful when socializing.
Filmed in Heifetz’ native Vilnius, Lithuania; Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he studied with the influential Leopold Auer; and in his rebuilt studio in Los Angeles, Calif., American Masters — Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler also features Heifetz’ previously unseen 16mm footage from 1917-1985, which Rosen discovered at the Colburn Music School in Los Angeles. A self-professed “camera fiend,” Heifetz’ home movies show scenes from his apartment in Saint Petersburg just months before the Russian Revolution, his immigration to America, his early social life in New York City, his family life, his travels through Europe, the Middle East and Japan, and his later years in Los Angeles.
“I’ve made previous documentaries about great figures in the arts, and there’s always a debate on who was the greatest conductor, who was the greatest pianist, who was the greatest tenor or soprano. But in making this film, I found no debate in music circles on who was the greatest violinist: Jascha Heifetz,” says Rosen.
“Heifetz is thrilling to watch, even if you rarely listen to classical music,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “His technique was just astounding and he was revered around the world. What makes Peter Rosen’s film so compelling is the way that it takes a deeply personal look at the struggle of an artist to realize greatness.”
Launched in 1986 by series creator Susan Lacy, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. Now in its 29th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.