Kreisler, Fritz (actually, Friedrich)

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Kreisler, Fritz (actually, Friedrich)

Kreisler, Fritz (actually, Friedrich), great Austrian- born American violinist; b. Vienna, Feb. 2, 1875; d. N.Y., Jan. 29, 1962. His extraordinary talent manifested itself when he was only 4, and it was carefully fostered by his father, under whose instruction he made such progress that at age 6 he was accepted as a pupil of Jacob Dont. He also studied with Jacques Auber until, at 7, he entered the Vienna Cons., where his principal teachers were Hellmesberger Jr. (violin), and Bruckner (theory). He gave his first performance there when he was 9 and was awarded its gold medal at 10. He subsequently studied with Massart (violin) and Delibes (composition) at the Paris Cons., sharing the premier prix in violin with 4 other students (1887). He made his U.S. debut in Boston on Nov. 9, 1888; then toured the country during the 1889-90 season with the pianist Moriz Rosenthal, but had only moderate success. Returning to Europe, he abandoned music to study medicine in Vienna and art in Rome and Paris; then served as an officer in the Austrian army (1895–96). Resuming his concert career, he appeared as a soloist with Richter and the Vienna Phil, on Jan. 23, 1898. His subsequent appearance as a soloist with Nikisch and the Berlin Phil, on Dec. 1, 1899, launched his international career. Not only had he regained his virtuosity during his respite, but he had also developed into a master interpreter. On his 2nd tour of the U.S. (1900–1901), both as a soloist and as a recitalist with Hofmann and Gerardy, he carried his audiences by storm. On May 12, 1902, he made his London debut as a soloist with Richter and the Phil. Soc. orch.; was awarded its Gold Medal in 1904. Elgar composed his Violin Concerto for him, and Kreisler gave its premiere under the composer’s direction in London on Nov. 10, 1910. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Kreisler joined his former regiment, but upon being quickly wounded he was discharged. He then returned to the U.S. to pursue his career; after the U.S. entered the war in 1917, he withdrew from public appearances. With the war over, he reappeared in N.Y. on Oct. 27, 1919, and once again resumed his tours. From 1924 to 1934 he made his home in Berlin, but in 1938 he went to France, and became a naturalized French citizen. In 1939 he settled in the U.S., becoming a naturalized American citizen (1943). In 1941 he suffered a near-fatal accident when he was struck by a truck in N.Y.; however, he recovered and continued to give concerts until 1950.

Kreisler was one of the greatest masters of the violin. His brilliant technique was ably matched by his remarkable tone, both of which he always placed in the service of the composer. He was the owner of the great Guarn-eri “del Gesù” violin of 1733 and of instruments by other masters. He gathered a rich collection of invaluable MSS; in 1949 he donated the original scores of Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Chausson’s Poème for Violin and Orch. to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He wrote some of the most popular violin pieces in the world, among them Caprice viennois, Tambourin chinois, Schön Rosmarin, and Liebesfreud. He also publ. a number of pieces in the classical vein, which he ascribed to various composers (Vivaldi, Pugnani, Cou-perin, Padre Martini, Dittersdorf, Francoeur, Stamitz, and others). In 1935 he reluctantly admitted that these pieces were his own, with the exception of the first 8 bars from the “Couperin” Chanson Louis XIII, taken from a traditional melody; he explained his motive in doing so as the necessity of building up well-rounded programs for his concerts that would contain virtuoso pieces by established composers, rather than a series of compositions under his own, as yet unknown name. He also wrote the operettas Apple Blossoms (N.Y., Oct. 7, 1919) and Sissy (Vienna, Dec. 23, 1932), publ. numerous arrangements of early and modern music (Corelli’s La Folia, Tartini’s The Devil’s Trill, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Granados’s Spanish Dance, Albéniz’s Tango et al.), and prepared cadenzas for the Beethoven and Brahms violin concertos. He publ. a book of reminiscences of World War I, Four Weeks in the Trenches: The War Story of a Violinist (Boston, 1915).


L. Lochner, F. K. (N.Y., 1950; 3rd ed., rev., 1981); A. Bell, F. K. Remembered: A Tribute (Braunton, Devon, 1992); A. Biancolli, F. K.: Love’s Sorrow, Love’s Joy (Portland, Ore., 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire