Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler (February 2, 1875 – January 29, 1962) was an Austrian-American violinist and composer who was born of a Jewish heritage on February 2, 1875, in Vienna, the son of Anna (née Reaches) and Samuel (or Salomon) Kreisler, a Polish-born doctor and a good amateur musician who gave young Fritz, who could read music when he was three, his first violin lessons. His extraordinary talent manifested itself when he was only four, and it was carefully fostered by his father, under whose instruction he made such progress that at age six he was accepted as a pupil of Jacob Dont. He also studied with Jacques Auber, leader of the Ringtheater orchestra, until, at seven, after making his debut in a collection of short works, he entered the Vienna Conservatory, despite a policy that no one younger than 14 be accepted, where his principal teachers included Anton Bruckner (theory) and Joseph Hellmesberger Jr. (violin). He gave his first public performance there when he was nine and was awarded its gold medal at ten.
After studying at the Paris Conservatory with teachers Léo Delibes (composition), Joseph Massart (violin), and Jules Massenet, sharing the premier prix in violin with four other students in 1887, meeting Cesar Franck, and playing in the Pasdeloup Orchestra, Kreisler made his United States debut at in Boston on Nov. 9, 1888 and then at Steinway Hall in New York City on November 10, 1888, and his first tour of the United States in 1888–1889 with the pianist Moriz Rosenthal, then returned to Austria and applied for a position in the Vienna Philharmonic. He was turned down by the concertmaster Arnold Rosé. As a result, he left music to study medicine in Vienna and art in Rome and Paris; then served a brief time as an officer in the Austrian army (1895-96), before returning to the violin. Resuming his concert career, he appeared as a soloist in Bruch’s G minor concerto with Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic on Jan. 23, 1898.
After that Kreisler toured Russia, met Glazunov, found a wealthy sponsor, and gradually advanced himself, getting to know Brahms, Joachim, Wolf, and Schoenberg. The next year he had an even greater success when he played Bruch’s D minor concerto, Vieuxtemps’s F sharp minor concerto, and Paganini’s Non più mesta Variations for his début with the Berlin Philharmonic under Josef Rebicek. His subsequent appearance as a soloist playing the Mendelssohn E minor concerto with Arthur Nikisch and the Berlin Philharmonic on Dec. 1, 1899, launched his international career. It was this concert and a series of American tours from 1901 to 1903 that brought him real acclaim. On this second tour of the U.S., both as a soloist and as a recitalist with Hofmann and Gerardy, he carried his audiences by storm.
On May 12, 1902, Kreisler made his London debut as a soloist with Richter and the Philharmonic Society Orchestra. His marriage to Harriet Lies that year was crucial to his career, as she organized and motivated him. He was awarded the Society’s Gold Medal in 1904. In 1910, Kreisler gave the premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto, a work commissioned by and dedicated to him. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Kreisler briefly joined his former regiment, but upon being quickly wounded he was honorably discharged. He then returned to the U.S., arriving in New York on November 24, 1914, to pursue his career and spent the remainder of the war in America. After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, he withdrew from public appearances and retired to Maine to pass the remaining period of hostilities. With the war over, he reappeared in New York on Oct. 27, 1919, and once again resumed his tours.
Kreisler returned to Europe in 1924 and from 1924 to 1934 he made his home in Berlin, but with the Anschluss in 1938 he went to France and became a naturalized French citizen. He wrote a number of pieces for the violin, including solos for encores, such as “Caprice viennois,” “Tambourin chinois,” “Schön Rosmarin,” “Liebesleid,” and “Liebesfreud.” Some of his compositions were pastiches in an ostensible style of other composers, originally ascribed to earlier composers such as Gaetano Pugnani, Giuseppe Tartini, Antonio Vivaldi, Padre Martini, and others. Then, in 1935, Kreisler revealed that he actually wrote the pieces. When critics complained, Kreisler replied that they had already deemed the compositions worthy. “The name changes, the value remains,” he said.
Kreisler also wrote operettas including Apple Blossoms in 1919 and Sissy in 1932, a string quartet and cadenzas, including ones for the Brahms D major violin concerto, the Paganini D major violin concerto, and the Beethoven D major violin concerto. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, he settled once again in the United States before the Nazi invasion of France. On April 26, 1941, he was involved in the first of two near-fatal traffic accidents that marked his life. Struck by a truck while crossing a street in New York, he suffered a fractured skull and was in a coma for over a week. However, he recovered and continued to play publically until 1950. He became a naturalized citizen in 1943. He lived in the United States for the rest of his life, giving his last public concert in 1947 and broadcast performances for a few years after that until 1950.
In his later years, Kreisler suffered from not only some hearing loss but also sight deterioration due to cataracts. Towards the end of his life, he was in another accident while traveling in an automobile and spent his last days blind and deaf as a result. He died of a heart condition aggravated by old age in New York City on January 29, 1962, and was interred in a private mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. One of the most famous violin masters of his or any other day, and regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time, he was known for his sweet tone and expressive phrasing. Like many great violinists of his generation, he produced a characteristic sound which was immediately recognizable as his own. Although he derived in many respects from the Franco-Belgian school, his style is nonetheless reminiscent of the gemütlich (cozy) lifestyle of pre-war Vienna.
My collection includes the following works by Fritz Kreisler:
For violin and piano—
Andantino in the style of Martini.
Aubade Provencale in the style of Couperin.
Aucassin and Nicolette, Medieval Canzonetta.
Berceuse Romantique, Op. 9.
Caprice Viennois, Op. 2.
Chanson Louis XIII and Pavane in the style of Couperin.
La Precieuse in the style of Couperin.
The Old Refrain, Wiener Volkslied based on Du alter Stefansturm from Der liebe Augustin of Johann Brandl.
Tambourin Chinois, op. 3.
Toy Soldiers’ March.
Variations on a Theme of Corelli in the style of Tartini.
For violin and string quartet—
Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven.
For violin and orchestra—
March Miniature Viennoise.
Stars in My Eyes from The King Steps Out.
Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta.
Who Can Tell? From Apple Blossoms.
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources