ClassicsOnline Home » KREISLER, Fritz: Complete Recordings, Vol. 3 (1914-1916)
Fritz Kreisler is often represented as an indolent charmer, yet it is clear that his vast acclaim was founded on a great deal of hard work in both the concert hall (at the start of the 1913–14 season the great violinist had 90 American concerts scheduled over five and a half months) and the studio, where long sessions were not uncommon. For the main work on this album of American recordings made at the time of the Great War, Bach’s Double Concerto in D minor (slightly abridged so as to fit on three 78rpm sides), Kreisler is joined by the Russian violinist Efrem Zimbalist. The Appendix features three tracks with soprano Geraldine Farrar and the only surviving recording of Kreisler-as-pianist, playing Dvořák’s Humoresque.
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
The Complete Recordings • 3
These recordings cover a tumultuous period not just for Fritz Kreisler but for the entire world, as the Great War erupted. At the start of the 1913–14 season, the great violinist had ninety American concerts scheduled, from mid-October to the end of March. They included important New York dates, a recital at Carnegie Hall and two concerts with the visiting Boston Symphony under Karl Muck, at which Kreisler played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in the evening and Mozart’s K218 and Viotti’s A minor at the matinée. Back in Europe, he and his wife Harriet were taking a cure at a Swiss spa when, on 31 July, they read in a newspaper that Kreisler’s old regiment had been mobilized. Although he had resigned his reserve commission two years previously, he at once set off for Vienna to report for duty and discovered that he was being called up anyway. Sent to the eastern front at Lemberg, he found himself fighting the Cossacks. On 6 September he was knocked over by a charging horse and wounded in the leg by a lance, but fortunately shot his main adversary before he passed out. He was not found by his orderly for hours and in the confusion was reported dead, news that was flashed round the world. Harriet did not know he was alive until the 10th. Discharged after recuperation and promoted to captain, he was free to resume concertgiving and set off with Harriet for America, arriving on 24 November walking with a stick and still injured in the right shoulder. Jacques Thibaud, who had also been wounded fighting on the other side, was in New York but after some awkwardnesses, the friends were reconciled. Kreisler took up his career again, playing through the pain. In New York alone he had four Carnegie Hall recitals. With the BSO and the city’s own orchestras he played Mendelssohn’s Concerto (twice), Bruch’s G minor and Scottish Fantasy and the Beethoven and Brahms Concertos. Four Weeks in the Trenches, his account of his war experiences, was published in April and, with America not yet involved in the war, he became even more of a hero. He and Harriet spent the summer of 1915 at Seal Harbor, Maine, and in the 1915–16 season he carried on with his American career, his popularity undiminished.
The man who was to become the epitome of Viennese style was born Friedrich Kreisler in Vienna on 2 February 1875, the son of a Polish physician. He could read music at three. His first violin lessons came from his father Salomon, a keen amateur, and he went on to Jacques Auber, leader of the Ringtheater orchestra. In 1882 he became the youngest student admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where among his tutors were Josef Hellmesberger Jnr (violin) and Anton Bruckner (composition), and made his début at Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) with the singer Carlotta Patti, sister of Adelina. ‘Some very great men played at the Conservatory when I was a pupil,’ he recalled. ‘There were Joachim, Sarasate in his prime, Hellmesberger [Snr], and [Anton] Rubinstein, whom I heard play the first time he came to Vienna. I really believe that hearing Joachim and Rubinstein play was a great event in my life and did more for me than five years of study!’ At ten he won the Conservatory gold medal, was given a three-quarter-size Amati by friends and transferred to the Paris Conservatoire (studying violin with Joseph Massart, composition with Leo Delibes). He met César Franck, played in the Pasdeloup Orchestra and in 1887 took a first prize in violin. In 1888–89 he toured America with the Polish pianist Moriz Rosenthal, making his début in Boston on 9 November 1888 with the Mendelssohn Concerto conducted by Walter Damrosch. He spent two years back in Vienna, broadening his education, considered following his father’s profession and did two years’ medical training, then his military service. In 1896 he opted for music and, turned down for the Court Opera Orchestra by the concertmaster Arnold Rosé, began his career as a virtuoso. He toured Russia, met Glazunov, found a wealthy sponsor and gradually advanced himself, getting to know Joachim, Wolf and Schoenberg as well as Brahms. In January 1898 he made his concerto début in Vienna with Bruch’s G minor, conducted by Hans Richter, and in March 1899 had an even greater triumph when he played Bruch’s D minor, Vieuxtemps’s F sharp minor and Paganini’s ‘Non più mesta’ Variations for his Berlin Philharmonic début under Josef Rebicek. In November 1899 he was back in Berlin for the Mendelssohn E minor under Arthur Nikisch. In 1900 he toured America and in 1902 appeared in London, playing the Beethoven Concerto at the first of Richter’s concerts, on 12 May, and the Bruch G minor at the third. That year he married Harriet Lies. In 1904 he received the Philharmonic Society gold medal, in 1910 he toured Russia again and by World War I, he was known worldwide. Domiciled in the United States after his brief war service, he gave generously to help war orphans and refugees and played charity concerts. When America entered the war, he was sidelined as an enemy alien, writing his operetta Apple Blossoms and his String Quartet. From 1924 Kreisler made his home in Berlin but spent much time in America and recorded with Sergey Rachmaninov. In 1932 his second operetta, Sissy, was given its successful première in Vienna. With the rise of Hitler in 1933, he boycotted Germany because of the treatment of his fellow Jews. When he admitted in 1935 that many ‘Baroque’ pieces in his repertoire were his own compositions, he caused an international scandal—the English critic Ernest Newman was particularly miffed. After the Anschluss of Austria by Hitler in 1938, Kreisler became a French citizen, then emigrated permanently to the United States, taking citizenship in 1943. His career was more or less ended in 1941, when he was hit by a van while absent-mindedly crossing a New York street. He was in a coma for four weeks; and although he recovered and did not stop playing in public until 1950, he was never the same again. He died in New York on 29 January 1962.
When Kreisler re-entered the Victor studios on 19 January 1914, he had not made any records for thirteen months and a major change had occurred. In place of George Falkenstein, he now had the American Carl Lamson as his accompanist: this affiliation was to endure on record until 1929 and in the concert hall for more than three decades. At this first session Kreisler successfully recorded Handel’s Largoand Gärtner’s Aus Wien, as well as one of his few unaccompanied sides, his arrangement of Haydn’s Austrian national anthem. But a first take of Mendelssohn’s May Breezes was published only in Britain; and Take 1 of The Old Refrain was not liked at all—this title would go to five takes before everyone was happy. Victor were so keen to please Kreisler that they were even prepared to record him as a solo pianist, and on 6 February he set down six titles—now lost—including the original version of Dvofiák’s Humoresque. The Irish tenor John McCormack, a friend of Kreisler, was also touring America with his old teacher Vincent O’Brien as accompanist; and on 25 and 31 March the two stars recorded together, with O’Brien at the piano (their joint tracks may be found on Naxos 8.110331 and 8.111315). The sessions on 31 March evidently took all day, with McCormack due only after lunch. In the morning Kreisler had further attempts at recording as a solo pianist; and although nothing was published at the time, his one surviving take in this role, No. 3 of the Humoresque, dates from this session. At the end of the afternoon session with McCormack, there was time for O’Brien to join Kreisler in two takes of Indian Lament, the violinist’s arrangement of the Larghetto of Dvofiák’s Sonatina. It was frustrating that the last Kreisler session of 1914, on 3 April, produced no results, as he not only made eight more solo piano takes but played violin obbligato to the greatest tenor of them all, Enrico Caruso, in the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria. As he had already achieved a publishable take of this title with McCormack, it was no loss as far as Kreisler was concerned, but it was his sole recording with Caruso—who never successfully recorded this Ave Maria.
The next Kreisler session, on 4 January 1915, was indeed historic: with the Russian violinist Efrem Zimbalist, Victor musical director Walter B. Rogers and a string quartet consisting of Howard Rattay, Pasquale Bianculli, J. Fruncillo and Rosario Bourdon, he recorded Bach’s Double Concerto in D minor. The music had to be trimmed slightly, so as to fit on to three sides, and success was not achieved until Take 4 of the Vivace, Take 3 of the Largo and Take 2 of the Allegro, but the final result was a triumph and initiated a generation into the joys of this music. On 25 February, probably at Victor’s behest, Kreisler made further publishable takes of the Haydn anthem—this time with Lamson’s rather clunky piano—Aus Wien and May Breezes. Of three Dvofiák Slavonic Dances, Op. 72/2, and the composite G minor were each done on one take; but Op. 72/8 would have to wait until 1928 for a successful outcome. The Old Refrain still eluded him and a take of Tambourin Chinois also went for nothing—but this title was put right on 22 April, when two new ones were also achieved. A major casualty was Mendelssohn’s Spring Song, which was repeated the following day but never published. Also lost for ever were Thomé’s Andante religioso and Schumann’s Träumerei. Further sessions with singers followed. On 24 May 1915 Kreisler joined the soprano Geraldine Farrar, who initially wanted him to play along on Mighty Lak’ a Rose. ‘Well, what could I do but oblige her?’ he recalled. ‘I made up something or other, and the record went out in that form.’ In the end he stayed for two more numbers. On 10 June he again recorded with the genial McCormack. Our programme ends with the only three successful takes from a long session on 8 January 1916 which included experiments with 12-inch and 10-inch versions of Granados’s Spanish Dance No. 5—the winner would be a 10-inch take from a later session. Godowsky’s Wienerisch was managed in one take, as were the Tchaikovsky and Bach pieces, bettersounding replacements for 1910 records with Falkenstein (the high take numbers are confusing, as the earlier versions had already gone to Take 4 and Take 3 respectively).
Fritz Kreisler is often represented as an indolent charmer, and there was truth in this stereotype. But when we see how much effort he often expended in the studio, it is clear that his vast acclaim was founded on a great deal of hard work.