About the album
Along with his friend Caruso, Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962) was one of the superstars of the early gramophone era. He was “the master musician among the violinists of the day” (New York Times); he died 50 years ago (29 January 1962).
As a composer, he is famous for his Viennese-style melodies, such as Liebesfreud and Liebesleid, for his notorious pieces “in the style of” various 18th-century masters (which he passed off as their original works, claiming to have rediscovered them in old manuscripts), and for his arrangements of well-known works by other composers – all still played today by budding violinists and as encores by the greatest virtuosi.
We remember one of the world’s greatest violinists with a two CD album that includes a first time release on CD of a tribute LP from 1961, original Kreisler recordings, and an array of great modern violinists playing his works.
Here’s an overview of the contents:
CD1: A Ruggiero Ricci American Decca LP of original Kreisler compositions and arrangements – on CD for the first time; plus six original Fritz Kreisler recordings from 1910 to 1913, lovingly transferred from the original matrices
CD 2: An array of Deutsche Grammophon artists offer their take on Kreisler favourites: Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Christian Ferras, Shlomo Mintz, Gidon Kremer and Anne-Sophie Mutter are all there!
Homage to Fritz Kreisler
Half a century after his death, Fritz Kreisler is as famous as ever, although his reputation has undergone a subtle transformation. In his lifetime, he was a great violinist who composed, whereas now he is a composer who, it is rather dimly recalled, played the violin. The few music college teachers who take the trouble to play historic records to their students will tell you that the artistry of Kreisler or his contemporaries Bronisław Huberman, Joseph Szigeti, Erica Morini and Adolf Busch comes as a shock to the youngsters. Today, when the old national schools of violin playing have coalesced into a single style, it is difficult to appreciate that such extraordinary individuals once bestrode the concert platform. This set of compact discs juxtaposes a few recordings of Kreisler in his prime with reinterpretations by modern admirers of his compositions and arrangements. In his own era, these pieces were so closely connected with their composer that, while many other violinists played them in concert, few recorded more than a token number of them. But if music is to have a life, it must be susceptible to a variety of interpretations – and Kreisler’s œuvre has triumphantly passed that test.
Though he was born in Vienna, on 2 February 1875, and was always considered the epitome of the yielding, lilting Viennese style, Kreisler actually represented a break with the past. In 1882 he was the youngest student ever to be admitted to the Conservatory, but aged ten he transferred to the Paris Conservatoire, where his teacher was Joseph Massart. He always considered himself a player of the Franco-Belgian school, and he intensified the light vibrato of Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps and Ysaÿe into continuous vibrations, virtually overlapping from note to note. After various false starts, in 1896 he began a full-time career as a travelling virtuoso, causing a sensation wherever he appeared and influencing countless other string players. From 1900 he visited America regularly and his London début in 1902 began a long relationship with British audiences. The Great War, in which he served and was wounded, brought a slight disruption to his progress, as did the coming to power of Hitler in Germany in 1933. Two years later a worldwide scandal broke when Kreisler admitted that many “Baroque” and “Classical” pieces in his repertoire were actually his own work. He survived the headlines and after Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938 became a French citizen, before emigrating to the United States. He was badly injured when he was knocked over by a truck in New York and his career never recovered, although he played on until 1950. He died in New York on 29 January 1962.
The six pieces played by Kreisler on Disc 1 were recorded in New York and London in 1910–12. Four of them were published in 1910 as Classical Manuscripts. The matching pair Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy) and Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow) were first ascribed to Lanner, but a Berlin critic smelt a rat; so on publication they and Schön Rosmarin were described as Old Viennese Dance Tunes. The Andantino appeared under Padre Martini’s name. Tambourin chinois was acknowledged from the start as an original inspiration. “I enjoyed very much writing my Tambourin chinois,” Kreisler said. “The idea for it came to me after a visit to the Chinese theatre in San Francisco – not that the music there suggested any theme, but it gave me the impulse to write a free fantasy in the Chinese manner.” Tchaikovsky’s Chant sans paroles, third of the piano pieces making up Souvenir de Hapsal, was arranged by Kreisler and recorded by him as one of his very first discs, in 1904. It was remade in 1910 at one of his earliest American sessions (the version here) and again in London the following year.
The tributes by other famous violinists have value in themselves, but also include pieces that Kreisler did not record. Ruggiero Ricci interestingly takes a virtuoso view. The Praeludium and Allegro, originally ascribed to Pugnani, is perhaps Kreisler’s finest piece. The next two, beautifully written for the violin, were naughtily attributed to Francœur and Louis Couperin, while Ricci’s final piece, La Chasse with its hunting horn imitations, was said to be by Cartier. La Précieuse, played by Shlomo Mintz, was another “Louis Couperin” concoction. The Recitative and Scherzo-Caprice was Kreisler’s major contribution to the literature for solo violin – sadly, he never recorded it, indeed he recorded only two unaccompanied pieces. The Tartini-Corelli Variations are unusual among Kreisler’s “Baroque” creations in actually including two of Tartini’s own variations on the Gavotte from Corelli’s Sonata op. 5 no. 10 – the other variations are pure Kreisler. The Rondino, a virtuoso elaboration of the opening theme of Beethoven’s G major Rondo for violin and piano (WoO 41), was dedicated to Mischa Elman to “punish” him for clowning around with the piece just after it had been composed.
Among Kreisler originals, Polichinelle was described as a Serenade and La Gitana was subtitled “Arabian-Spanish gypsy song of the eighteenth century”. Gypsy Caprice demands considerable virtuosity from the player. Syncopation and Marche miniature viennoise show that, although phrasing was the dominant aspect of Kreisler’s own playing, as a composer he had a highly developed feeling for rhythm. Many pieces here are transcriptions. The Old Refrain is based on “Du alter Stefansturm” from Johann Brandl’s 1887 operetta Der liebe Augustin; Rimsky-Korsakov contributes two operatic arias; the Gluck is from the ballet music in Orphée et Euridice; and the Danza española is an orchestral episode in Falla’s opera La vida breve. Of the two Spanish serenades, Cécile Chaminade’s – which exploits the violin’s high register – was originally for piano, Glazunov’s for cello and orchestra. The Albéniz and Granados are among their best-known piano pieces and Mendelssohn’s Frühlingslied is one of his Songs Without Words for piano. The Weber Larghetto is borrowed from an 1810 sonata for piano with violin obbligato and the Wieniawski Caprice, “Alla saltarella”, is the fifth Étude from L’École moderne. Kreisler could be quite radical in transcribing Dvořák’s music, but the Humoresque and the E minor Slavonic Dance stay close to the piano originals.