Fritz Kreisler

1875 1962

Fritz Kreisler

Composer

Biography

Kreisler’s talent extended beyond the violin; he was able to teach himself piano and possessed so much talent that the Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski exclaimed, “I’d be starving if Kreisler had taken up the piano. How beautifully he plays.”

After his studies in Vienna, Kreisler went to Paris on a scholarship to study violin with J.L. Massart, the teacher of Wieniawski, and composition with Delibes.

Kreisler’s first opportunity to conduct came unexpectedly when the orchestra conductor failed to show up; Kreisler took over with great success.

When Kreisler left the Paris Conservatoire in 1887, he won the premier prix, along with four other violinists who were all about a decade older. From the age of 12, he no longer had any further violin instruction.

Kreisler made his American début in 1888 in Boston and toured during the 1889-90 season with pianist Moriz Rosenthal, with only moderate success.

Fritz Kreisler was an Austrian-born violinist and composer who later became a naturalised American. Kreisler’s youthful talent on the violin was unprecedented and his compositions have added much charm to the violin repertoire.

Kreisler was born in Austria where he learned to play violin at the young age of four from his father, a doctor and amateur violinist. By the age of six, Kreisler’s talent had surpassed that of his father and he became a pupil of Jacob Dont and Jacques Auber. At the age of seven, he entered the Konservatorium in Vienna; he was the youngest child to ever enter the school. For three years, he studied violin with Joseph Hellmesberger jr and theory with Anton Bruckner. He gave his first public performance at the age of nine and won the gold medal at 10.

Kreisler was also a gifted composer whose output includes a string quartet, operettas, cadenzas and many short pieces. His operettas includeApple Blossoms (1919) andSissy (1932) while his cadenzas to the Beethoven and Brahms concertos, written at the age of 19, have become very popular.

He also published many arrangements of early and modern music such as Corelli’s La Folia, Tartini’s The Devil’s Trill, Dvorák's Slavonic Dances and the especially famous arrangement of Dvorák'sHumoreske. Some of his short pieces include his most popular worksTambourin chinois (1910) and Caprice viennois (1910).

Kreisler also composed many pieces under the names of 18th century composers such as Pugnani, Francoeur and Padre Martini. He admitted to this hoax in 1935, and reasoned that he needed a well-rounded program for his concerts that did not only feature his own compositions, as he was a relatively unknown composer at the time, but from established composers.

Kreisler originally only composed for himself, stating “what I composed and arranged was for my own use, reflected my own musical tastes and preferences. In fact, it was not till years after that I even though of publishing the pieces.” His personal style is thus prevalent throughout all his pieces.

Upon Brahms’ urging, Kreisler revised Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C major for violin. This task took him 20 years to complete and was included in his 1915-16 concert tour.

Kreisler’s cadenzas have become standard and his charming pieces  have also taken their place in the repertoire, giving pleasure to audiences worldwide.

He then returned to Vienna where he spent two years at the Piaristen Gymnasium (a Catholic grammar school) and two as a pre-medical student at the University of Vienna. He also studied art in Rome and Paris. From 1895-6, Kreisler served as a military officer. During these years after his return from the US, he barely touched his violin. However, he decided on a musical career and quickly regained his technique. In 1896 he was rejected from the orchestra of the Vienna Hofoper supposedly for poor sightreading. Just two years later, he was a successful featured soloist there under the preeminent conductor Hans Richter.

Kreisler’s 1899 début with the Berlin Philharmonic under Nikisch launched his international career, prompting his return to the US in the 1900-01 season. While there, he “carried his audiences by storm” as a soloist and recitalist with Hofmann and Gerardy.

He appeared again under Richter in London with the Philharmonic in 1902. Two years later he was presented with the Philharmonic Society’s gold medal. In 1910 Elgar composed a Violin Concerto for him, which he premiered the same year at the Queen’s Hall under Elgar.

Kreisler was known for his dedication and is said to have once given 57 concerts in a period of 27 days, though the outbreak of World War I disrupted his musical activities. He joined his former regiment with the Austrian army in 1914 but was discharged shortly after for medical reasons after suffering an injury. Later, he wrote a book about his experience,Four Weeks in the Trenches: the war story of a violinist (1915).

After being discharged, Kreisler travelled with his wife Harriett Lies (whom he married in 1902) to her native country, the USA, in 1914. Tension was high and anti-German (and Austrian) feelings abundant, leading him to avoid public appearances until 1919 when he resurfaced in New York.

After the war he moved to Berlin, where he lived from 1924 to 1934. When Austria was annexed by the Nazis, the French government offered him citizenship, which he gladly accepted.

Kreisler returned to the US in 1939 and became an American citizen in 1943. A traffic accident in 1941, in which he was struck by a truck in New York, impaired his hearing and eyesight, but he continued to perform and compose. His last appearance in Carnegie hall was in 1947 but he continued to broadcast until 1950. At this time, his interest in the violin vanished and he sold his entire collection of instruments, with the exception of his 1860 Vuillaume.

Kreisler’s violin playing has greatly affected modern violin playing and one of Kreisler’s biographers, Francis Moore said that “there is hardly a violinist in the 20th century who has not acknowledged admiration of and indebtedness to Kreisler.” With very little practise, he was able to achieve effortless perfection characterized by his elegant bowing, graceful phrasing, rhythmic precision and expressively sweet tone. His vibrato was modeled after Wieniawski, who Kreisler said, “intensified the vibrato and brought it to heights never before achieved, so that it became known as the ‘French vibrato.’”

Kreisler died in 1962 in New York. 

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