Friedrich Kreisler

Friedrich 'Fritz' Kreisler was an Austrian-born violinist and composer.

Considered to be one of the best violinists from around the world, he was able to produce a characteristic sound which anyone could recognize upon hearing. Those qualities included expansive tempi, continuous vibrato, expressive phrasing, and the considerable use of portamento and rubato. Combined with an incredibly sweet tone, his style is incredibly reminiscent of pre-war Vienna.

Born in Vienna to a Jewish father and German Protestant mother, Kreisler studied at the Vienna Conservatory and in Paris. His teachers included Jules Massenet, Anton Bruckner, and Leo Delibes.

Kreisler’s United States debut was in New York City’s Steinway Hall on November 10, 1888. He continued to tour the U.S. until 1889, and returned to Austria. Back home, he applied and auditioned for a position in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, but was rejected by the concertmaster, Arnold Rosé. Speculation states that Kreisler would not have blended into the orchestra easily, as he frequently used vibrato whereas the rest of the orchestra used the technique sparingly.

When he discovered that he did not receive a position in the orchestra, Kreisler changed his focus from music to medicine. He spent some time in the Army, but ultimately returned to the violin in 1899 with the Berlin Philharmonic. During a series of concerts from 1901-1903 in America, he began to attract a fair amount of attention from the public. It was his premiere of Elgar’s Violin Concerto in 1910 that brought him fame and notability. (Fritz had the work commissioned, and Elgar also dedicated it to him.) He briefly rejoined the Austrian Army and served in World War I, and was honorably discharged after being wounded. Following the discharge, he went back to America for the remainder of the war. In 1924 he returned to Europe and lived in Berlin, but then moved to France in 1938. At the start of World War II, Kreisler returned again to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1943. His last public performance was in 1947, though he did give a few radio broadcast performances in the following years.

During his lifetime, Fritz was involved in two serious traffic accidents that had a profound impact on his life. The first occurred in 1941, when he was hit by a truck while crossing the street in New York. He fractured his skull and was in a coma for over a week. Another automobile accident near the end of his life left him blind and deaf in his last days, but he remained in good spirits. He died in New York City in 1962, and is interred in a private mausoleum in the Bronx.

In addition to being an outstanding performer, Kreisler wrote a considerable amount for the violin, including solos for encores, such as "Liebesleid" and "Liebesfreud". A few of his compositions were written to mirror the styles of other composers such as Vivaldi or Tartini, much like a pastiche. When it was revealed that those compositions were actually Kreisler’s, there was an uproar amongst critics. However, Fritz himself pointed out that although the name changed, the value in the pieces remained, since the same critics had already praised the works. In addition to the violin solos, he also wrote operettas, a string quartet and cadenzas, including those for the D major concertos of Paganini, Brahms, and Beethoven. The Beethoven D major violin concerto cadenza is most popular among violinists today.

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