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American Music from A to Z in the NLS Music Collection: K—Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)

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This week’s blog features a musician with a special connection to the Library of Congress, Fritz Kreisler. As a musician, composer, and violinist he shared his talent with the world and showed generosity with his gifts.

Born in 1875 in Austria to a physician and amateur violinist, Fritz Kreisler began study of the violin at the age of four. He was so precocious, the Vienna Conservatory allowed him to begin study with Joseph Hellmesberger Jr. and Austrian composer Anton Bruckner at the age of seven. He continued his development by winning a gold medal from the conservatory at the age of 10. This is truly remarkable for an institution with very high standards. He continued on to the Paris Conservatoire, earning the premiere prix (first prize) with four other violinists, all around the age of 20. After the age of 12, his violin study was complete.

He began touring the U.S. in 1889 (remember he was all of fourteen years old) but returned to Vienna to continue his education and began study in pre-med. This was followed by military service. He didn’t touch his violin until 1896 and auditioned for a position in the Vienna Opera Orchestra. It seems incredible now, but he didn’t win that spot, probably due to poor sight-reading. (Everybody, even Kreisler, has bad days.) He continued concertizing and made a successful debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in December, 1899, followed up with an appearance with the London Philharmonic in 1902. Edward Elgar composed his violin concerto for him in 1910, with the composer conducting at the premiere.

Fritz Kreisler, three-quarter length portrait, standing, facing slightly left, holding violin and bow in left hand]
Fritz Kreisler standing with his violin and bow.

On his second U.S. tour, he met Harriet Lies, daughter of a German-American tobacco merchant. They were happily married for sixty years. Both world wars created pauses for his career and threats for their physical safety. He enlisted in the Austrian army for World War I, was injured, and medically discharged. He returned with his wife to the U.S. in 1914, but kept a low profile fearing anti-German sentiment would be directed at him, even though he was Austrian. He resumed performing in 1919, and moved to Berlin from 1924 to 1934. After the Nazis annexed Austria, he returned to the United States in 1939 permanently, becoming an American citizen in 1941. Tragically, a truck hit him while crossing a street in New York City on April 26, 1941. He had a fractured skull and was comatose for a week. His hearing and eyesight were impaired, but he continued concertizing. The last appearance he made at Carnegie Hall was in November 1947.

Of his technique, (maddeningly he almost never practiced; he was an accomplished pianist as well) critics describe his style as elegant, grace, and charm. For his tone, they called it sweet and expressive. As a composer, many of his shorter works are staples and favorites in the repertoire (Liebesleid, Liebesfreud) and his cadenza for the Beethoven violin concerto are still heard today. He had a delicious moment of payback on the critics. He claimed some of his compositions were from 18th-century composers, and described them as such, being in the “olden style.” When he admitted they were original works, some critics were annoyed they were misled. But those critics are gone, and the music is still here.

A very generous gift was a violin he donated to the Library of Congress in 1952. In a recent development, another Guarneri violin (the Baron Vita) possibly crafted at the same time, was reunited with the Kreisler violin at the Library. It is thought to be the ‘twin’ of the Kreisler violin.

Please note that all materials listed below are also available to borrow by mail, not only through BARD. Please contact the Music Section to borrow talking books on digital cartridge or to borrow hard copies of braille music. Call us at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected].

If you are new to BARD, you may find the following links helpful: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access.

This is a sample of the many pieces composed and/or arranged by Kreisler.

Prelude and Allegro                                                                     BRM 21050

Andantino                                                                                     BRM00854

Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven                                             BRM00285

Caprice Viennois                                                                          BRM00284

Liebesleid (for violin and piano)                                                   BRM20665

Liebesfreud (for piano)                                                                 BRM20649

Liebesleid (for piano, arr. By Rachmaninoff)                                BRM22394

Präludium und Allegro                                                                  BRM30287

Tambourin Chinois                                                                       BRM35886

Have a listen to any of these gems by Kreisler. It’s lovely to have a touch of the Old World now and then; a nice change from the ding of a text or e-mail arrival.

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