Some ten years ago, I set out to write the first full biography of Jascha Heifetz. The violinist was then still living—in a grand, gated mansion toward the top of Beverly Hills—but, despite intercession on my behalf from several mutual acquaintances, Heifetz refused to cooperate in any way. He had never much cared for publicity; in 1939, he summed up his life for Deems Taylor: “Born in Russia, first lessons at three, debut in Russia at seven, debut in America in 1917. That’s all there is to say, really. About two lines.”

Over the next months, however, I conducted almost twenty hours of taped interviews with those who had known Heifetz throughout his life. Mistaking quantity for quality, I thought I was making progress until the evening I played through part of my archive. And then I realized that I had absolutely nothing on which to build a book—only a vague portrait of...


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