Did you know that two of the most famous violinists in history – Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler – are birthday twins? On Feb. 2, 2020, it will be Heifetz’s 119th birthday and Kreisler’s 145th birthday. Lucky for In the Muse readers, you can engage with both of the birthday boys’ legacies right here in the Music Division because we are the repository for the Jascha Heifetz Collection, the Fritz Kreisler Collection, and Fritz Kreisler’s violin by Giuseppe Guarnieri.
In the Correspondence series of the Fritz Kreisler Collection, you will find multiple folders of telegrams for Kreisler’s 75th birthday, which was February 2, 1950. Famous people from all over the world sent Kreisler birthday telegrams, like President Harry S. Truman; conductors Eugene Ormandy, Serge Koussevitzky, and Leopold Stokowski; Queen Elisabeth of Belgium; soprano Geraldine Farrar; and violinist Joseph Szigeti. Serendipitously for this blog post, a birthday telegram arrived on February 1, 1950 for Fritz Kreisler from Jascha Heifetz.
If you read the finding aid (pro tip: always read the finding aid, especially the front matter), you will not see a list of names in the folders for the 75th birthday telegrams. The finding aid says that Box 14, folders 38-40 are “Telegrams sent to Fritz Kreisler on the occasion of his 75th birthday (1950) (arranged alphabetically by correspondent).” So, to all of you who perform archival research: date ranges, alphabetical ranges, and the word “miscellaneous” are still vital descriptive headings for you to explore. In fact, if you search within the online EAD finding aid for “Heifetz,” there will be zero search results because that text is not in the body of the document itself. That result will still hold true if you “Command-F” in the PDF version of the finding aid if you downloaded it.
Let this birthday telegram from Heifetz to Kreisler serve as a vital lesson. Finding aids are just a starting point to give researchers an idea if a collection, series, or subseries is relevant; they are not meant to be exhaustive, item-level inventories. The research, like digging through a folder and finding telegrams from specific individuals just as I did, is all up to you!
Given this telegram from Heifetz to his birthday twin, I can only hope that he had a soft spot for birthdays. In the Jascha Heifetz Collection, there are three letters from soprano Dame Nellie Melba from 1920. Two letters are dated May 20 and May 26, 1920, and speak in the past tense about the contents of the third undated letter; therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that the undated letter is before May 20, 1920. In this earliest letter, Dame Melba writes, “I am so very happy that you are playing for me on my birthday May 19th because you are very, very wonderful…” She goes on to ask if Heifetz received the music she sent him and if he can rehearse with her upon his arrival. A house concert performance with none other than Jascha Heifetz on your birthday? That’s some gift!
In the spirit of birthday gifts, let’s use this blog post as an opportunity for In the Muse readers to interact with a primary source and help solve a mystery. There is a single word I cannot make out in Dame Melba’s earliest letter to Jascha Heifetz. Here is my transcription: can you fill in the blank? It will make her statement about performing with him on her own birthday so much more meaningful!
Transcription by Melissa Wertheimer:
Dear Jascha Heifetz –
I am so very happy that you are
playing for me on
my birthday May 19th
for you are very, very
wonderful & I am
[????] to be associated with you. Will you
kindly be here at
10 & I hope your Mother
& Father will come
with you. Can we
rehearse some time
on Tuesday? It
will not take long. I hope you received
the music –
In great admiration
Yours very sincerely,
Please send me a tiny
photo of yourself. My
big one is in Australia.
My hunch is that the word in question is “dying,” and another colleague suggested “proud,” but I could not get a consensus from my colleagues. What do you think? Leave a comment below!
Now, far be it from me to let Dame Melba upstage Heifetz and Kreisler on their birthdays, so stream a great vintage recording of Fritz Kreisler on National Jukebox, and come to the Performing Arts Reading Room to research in their collections – after diligently reading the finding aids, of course!