For a limited one-month engagement, the famed violin “The David” made by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (del Gesú) is on display at the Legion of Honor through August 10!
Bequeathed to the Museums in 1989 by Jascha Heifetz, who was one of the world’s greatest violinists, this instrument currently spends most of its time at the San Francisco Symphony in the skilled hands of Concertmaster Alexander “Sascha” Barantschik.
Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri del Gesù (1698–1744) came from a long line of master violinmakers working in Cremona, Italy. Guarneri, a contemporary of another celebrated violinmaker Antonio Stradivari, made Heifetz’s violin from spruce and maple wood around 1742.
Known as the “David” ever since the 19th-century German violinist Ferdinand David owned and played it, the violin was Heifetz’s principal concert and recording violin throughout his long career. In addition to David and Heifetz, the well-known violin teachers Professors Hans Wilhelmj of Mosbach and Professor Florian Sajic of Strasbourg owned the violin during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987) was born in the now Lithuanian town of Vilnius. Heifetz’s father, Reuven, was also a professional violinist and the boy’s first teacher. The young musician’s talents were readily apparent by the time he turned 3; at the age of 6 he could play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and was performing publicly. By 1910, Heifetz had entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study under the great violinist Leopold Auer.
Heifetz’s highly lauded 1912 debut in Berlin resulted in an engagement playing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Throughout this period, the success of Heifetz’s musical career allowed he and his family to remain in St. Petersburg until revolution broke out in 1917.
Shortly after his debut, Heifetz landed a contract with the Wolfson Musical Bureau to tour the United States. Mere months after the onset of the Russian Revolution, this contract enabled Heifetz and his family to emigrate to America; and in that same year, Heifetz’s Carnegie Hall debut made the teenager an international sensation.
Heifetz entered into the most important partnership of his lifetime in 1922, when he purchased the “David” Guarneri violin from William E. Hill & Sons. Upon his death in 1987, Heifetz who lived in Los Angeles, left the “David” to the Fine Arts Museums with the strict stipulation that it be “played on special occasions by worthy performers.”
A musical instrument of this caliber is meant to be played lest it deteriorate; so in 2002, the Museums offered the violin as an extended loan to the San Francisco Symphony. Since then, it has been cared for and played by Mr. Barantschik, taking a brief summer hiatus to go on display at the Legion of Honor. In addition to the Symphony’s centennial, this year also marks Mr. Barantschik’s 10th anniversary with the orchestra.
In celebration of the San Francisco Symphony’s 100th anniversary, stop by the Legion to visit this shared treasure before it returns to the hands of its current master!