JAVS Fall 2023

Speaking of Alice’s Davenport home: this magnificent mansion built right on the banks of the Mississippi River by her grandfather, Nathaniel French, in 1914, still today exudes an abundance of luxurious space in a storybook setting. I feel quite certain that William absolutely loved the sounds he was able to produce in the extremely large and heavily wood-paneled ballrooms while calling this luxurious abode “home!”

The ultimate result was the disintegration of USC’s “Heifetz-Primrose-Piatigorsky Institute.”

As you may recall from earlier in this article, it was in Spring of 1965 when Primrose finally made the decision to accept the Professorship offer from Indiana University. Shortly before William’s move to Indiana, he reached out to Heifetz and very politely requested an autographed photo which he had hoped to hang upon the walls of his new teaching studio at IU. After several weeks of deep consideration by Heifetz, the humble request was surprisingly denied! When Primrose then questioned his colleague of many years as to the reasoning behind Heifetz’s negative decision, he was told, “Since Primrose had never asked for such a photo during the years they were teaching together at USC, he certainly doesn’t need one now that he is departing!” Somewhat stunned Primrose once again countered Heifetz’s negative response; this time by reminding his former colleague that throughout their mutual tenure at USC, he and Heifetz had actually shared the very same studio, therefore making such a request rather inappropriate. In the end, Heifetz maintained his refusal, pathetically sealing a bitter end to their years of friendship. Sadly, every time Primrose would re-tell this incident he would both tear and choke-up almost instantly. He never could understand how anyone who had been such a close friend and professional colleague for so many years could just suddenly, in an instant, erase it all. Well, senza an autographed photo of Heifetz, that following Fall (the Fall of 1965) William and I, together, made the move from California to Bloomington, Indiana. Prior to our California departure, Alice and William had decided, in an attempt to minimize any significant disruption for their children that—at least for William’s first year at IU—Alice and the kids would remain in California. Although I personally believe that this family separation did indeed reduce some of the stressful issues of daily life impacting William at home in California, it was not long before he became quite lonesome in Indiana. He had secured a very pleasant apartment at a complex known as “Maxwell Terrace” where, at the time, several Music

Figure 5: One of William’s favorite practice rooms in his mansion in Davenport, Iowa.

Transition from Master Performer to Master Teacher In 1961, William Primrose, Jascha Heifetz, and Gregor Piatigorsky—in discussions with the University of Southern California—made the decision to establish, on the campus of USC in downtown Los Angeles, a unique training center focused on the highest level of coaching and instruction for brilliant young string players with great potential for performing careers. Shortly thereafter, Alice, William, and the children moved to the Brentwood area of Los Angeles and took up residence in a beautiful home located just off of the world-famous “Sunset Blvd.” It was almost immediately following their move to L.A. that my very first meeting with William Primrose (as described earlier in this article) took place. Unfortunately, by 1964, Heifetz had done his best to create a great deal of stress between himself and his dear colleagues. The primary origin of this stress had derived from Heifetz’s decision to go very public about his strong displeasure with Primrose’s increasing hearing infliction, marginal physical health, and what he perceived as an all around deterioration of Primrose’s performance abilities.

Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall 2023


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