Fritz Kreisler, boy wonder

CoverToday is the 75th anniversary of the death of Fritz Kreisler, violinist and Viennese boy wonder. He made his debut at age 7 and was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory at the same age. All of three years later he graduated with a gold medal and went on to study in Paris and then Rome. A detour through the study of  medicine, then a year in the army, led back to a second debut, which was wildly successful and he never looked back. He toured America during 1901-1903 and very soon he was world famous.

Known for his remarkable technique, expressiveness and beautiful rich tone, Kreisler came to be the dominant violinist of his day. Elgar wrote his violin concerto for him, he toured extensively and performed with many famous musicians including Enrico Caruso, Pablo Casals and Rachmaninoff. He is thought to be the first person to record an entire violin concerto, and was famous for his interpretation of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in particular.

He collected rare musical manuscripts, although some of these turned out to have been written by himself, but passed off as works by famous composers. This eventual revelation outraged the critics, but the public didn’t care. In fact some of these beautiful compositions are still considered part of the core repertoire for the violin today.

Part of the explanation for this curious behaviour rests in Kreisler’s unassuming character. Harriet Kreisler’s strong presence in her husband’s career  is said to have saved it. Left to himself Kreisler had surprisingly little confidence. The humility went with a kind heart and according to one of the entries for him in Biography in Context

During World War I, he assumed financial responsibility for the children of many soldiers who died in battle–not only the children of other Austrian soldiers like himself, but also the children of Russian and Serbian soldiers who died in the field hospital where his wife Harriet was a volunteer.

Naxos Music and Music Online both have many lovely recordings of his compositions and some of Kreisler himself playing. Try him playing the Beethoven violin concerto or his own short composition Liebesfreud (from Music Online.)