In 1952 Jascha Heifetz met with the photograph Gjon Mili for an experiment in capturing the movement of his bow. Published in the 2 June issue of Life Magazine, here are some remarkable photographs. I’m not sure what they tell us about violin playing or about Heifetz in particular, but there is something enchanting about them and somehow I think we are musically richer for their existence. From the height of the Cold War, something truly marvellous.
After he saw the pictures Gjon Mili had taken of Pablo Picasso making “light drawings” in the air (LIFE, Jan. 30, 1950), Jascha Heifetz asked Mili to make light photographs of his violin playing. A few weeks ago violinist and photographer finally got together. A light was attached to Heifetz’ bow close to the hand. As the virtuoso played in the dark, Mili opened his shutter to record the moving light on his film. For the three selections on the opposite page Mili used two flashes, moving his camera slightly to the right each time to get two images of the violinist. Each picture reflects the music Heifetz was playing – the fast pizzicato plucking in the Langstrith variations, the intricate, symmetrical pattern of the Bach suite, the legato bowing on the d string in the Elgar concerto, the broad phrase played on a and e strings in the Bach concerto.
Once you have seen these, you can never unsee them. Here is a YouTube clip of Heifetz playing Bach’s Prelude to the third suite. It is the only video I’ve been able to find that directly relates to the photoshoot.
Here are the others from Life Magazine’s archive. For some of them, the answers are already given above, but it may be fun to guess which excerpt Heifetz is playing each time. Good luck.
Life Magazine is digitised on Google Books, and you can find the original edition here. Mili’s work with Picasso from 1950 resulted in some iconic images. Enjoy!