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Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)

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Creativity and beauty characterize Fritz Kreisler’s life. A world renowned violinist and composer, Kreisler was born in Vienna on February 2, 1875. He began studying the violin with his father, at the tender age of four. Kreisler was then taught by the well reputed pedagogue, Jacob Dont, and was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven. An attentive pupil and a daring performer, Kreisler quickly captured the Vienna Conservatory’s gold medal. He then worked under the direction of Massart at the Paris Conservatoire. Following his studies with Massart, Kreisler did not seek out further instruction. He proved to be a virtuoso on the violin, and received little formal direction after the age of twelve.

Kreisler’s life was as colorful and rich as his music. As a young boy, Kreisler was interested in a career as a violinist. However, he did not immediately meet with success. He was introduced to American audiences in 1888, touring with pianist Moriz Rosenthal. Although his technique was commended, Kreisler’ s musical interpretations were not held in high standing. Somewhat disappointed, Kreisler directed his energy into new fields, pursuing the study of medicine, and abandoning the violin. He spent two years in medical school, and then served in the Austrian army.

At the age of twenty-one Kreisler returned to the violin. After a lengthy hiatus from his beloved violin, it took Kreisler merely eight weeks of focused, secluded practice to reacquaint himself with the instrument. Newly committed to building a career as a violinist, Kreisler surmounted many initial setbacks, and strove toward success. His debut was with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1898. Conducted by Hans Richter, Kreisler’s performance with the Vienna Philharmonic won the long awaited acclaim he deserved. Sustaining the high caliber of his concert performances, Kreisler built on his successes and later became known as one of the greatest violinists of all time.

Kreisler moved to the United States during World War II. Settling in New York, he refused to perform while the war continued. Following the establishment, he quickly captured the attention of American audiences. Although American critics had not responded well to his playing when he toured as a boy, Kreisler now won great approval and applause wherever he went. He toured in major cities throughout the world, and continually charmed audiences with his wit and stunning technique. Kreisler’ s final performance was in 1947, at Carnegie Hall.

Known as one of the last great violinist-composers, Kreisler published over one hundred and fifty compositions and arrangements. He incorporated Viennese themes, Eastern scales, and stunning, harmonic cadenzas into his works. An audacious young performer and composer, he incited the wrath of music critics by confessing to the authorship of “Lanner” and “Classical Manuscripts”. He had previously published these works under the names of 18th century composers in order to avoid the derision of critics.

A contemporary of Caruso and Paderewski, Kreisler was affectionately known as the “King of Violinists”. An excellent pianist, he was able to bring an understanding of sonorous chords into his violin compositions. Kreisler’s timeless pieces continue to delight and comfort. They express the imagination and character of a truly extraordinary musician.

Notes by Shanaira Udwadia (May-2001)