HEBREW MELODY reconstructs the story of Josef Hassid, the Polish-Jewish violin prodigy who was considered by his teacher, Carl Flesch and Kreisler as another Paganini, potentially one of the greatest violinists of all time. But Hassid's career covered only a few short years. At seventeen he went mad and died ten years later after a brain operation. His legacy, four twelve-inch wax records of genre pieces, prove his brilliance and leave us regretting his loss.
Hassid's life is recounted in random flashbacks during his last nineteen days in an Epsom mental hospital after he emerges from a leucotomy operation and is lucid for the first time in ten years. He wonders why there are no bombs and is told it is 1950 and the war is finished.
Through sounds, images and phrases Hassid constructs something of his past. His happy days at Carl Flesch's summer school in Knokke (Belgium) with violin prodigies like Ginette Neveu. And especially Elizabeth Lockhart, the girl he loves. He wonders where his father is' who brought him to London?
He remembers his boyhood in Suwalki, his Polish birthplace, and how he fluffed his performance at the Wieniawski competition in Warsaw. He had played for Kreisler, Thibaud, Szigeti and Kreisler said he'd be one of the greatest. He recalls those wartime recording sessions London with Gerald Moore and the tyrannical ‘recording angel,' Walter Legge, whispering he would be better even than Heifetz.
How ever had he managed to do those concerts with Sir Henrv Wood? The Tchaikovsky and the Brahms, which he hardly knew what he was playing. Yet Bonavia in the Telegraph said he'd never heard a better Brahms.
Where had he gone wrong? Why did he break his violin and attack his father with a knife? Why shout at his father that he wasn't his son and the violin was a Jewish instrument. That was after Elizabeth refused to marry him. They'd sent him to that nightmare mental clinic in Northampton where his friend, Bratley, committed suicide.
Somehow, he had got out. He remembered playing the violin for his father and Harold Holt and returning to London. But then he'd tried to do what Bratley did, commit suicide by drowning himself in the Round Pond. Instead, he landed here in this asylum. He'd seen people like himself die here. His father, too, had died, they said.
Why did he still feel ill when they said the operation had cured him? Funny, his whole life seemed to be flashing past... Suwalki and the small fiddle hanging on the wall... Kreisler offering him a new violin... Flesch and the summer school... Elizabeth with her flaxen hair... and even his father with his hand held out to grasp his.
Joseph Hassid died on November 7, 1950 at 10.1 7pm. He was about two months short of his twenty-seventh birthday.