The Life and Times
of Josef Hassid
by Gerald S. Spear
“Yosi: The Life and Times of Josef Hassid” is an intimate biography of my cousin, legendary violinist Josef Hassid. It is a complimentary E-book with interactive links.
The book describes his early childhood in the shtetl of Suwalki, Poland; his years in Warsaw attending the State Conservatory of Music, competing at age 13 against David Oistrakh, age 27, at the 1st Wieniawski International Violin Competition; his life in the Warsaw ghetto; Bronislaw Huberman and the Palestine Symphony Orchestra later to become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Josef’s studies in Belgium and London with Carl Flesch; detailed documentation of his professional career, which lasted but 11 months; his iconic recordings at Abbey Road Studios totaling less than 29 minutes; his experience in the Blitz of London during WW II; his ill-fated first and only love affair following which schizophrenia became evident, notwithstanding that he continued to concertize; although afflicted, his commended final concert (“a magnificently assured performance" “with a fine sense of the power and stature of the work”), a concert unmentioned in conventional biographies; and his institutionalization for the last nine years of his life. Included are contemporaneous history such as Flesch’s elusive flight as a Jew through wartime Germany; the near concordance of Josef’s initial recordings and the British War cabinet’s consideration of whether to negotiate with Hitler or continue the war; the history of Hebrew Melody; and an eyewitness description of Josef playing Hebrew Melody, accompanied on the piano by its composer, Joseph Achron.
Carl Flesch is said to have called him "My most gifted pupil.” Fritz Kreisler is quoted as saying “a fiddler like Menuhin is born every 100 years, one like Hassid every 200 years.” Samuel Lipman, pianist and music critic, concluded “The violinist of the age” thus “on the overpowering evidence of his few records, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Josef Hassid was the greatest violinist of whose playing we can have any firm knowledge.”