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Romantic Violin Favourites
Popular Transcriptions by Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Fritz Kreisler was born in 1875 in Vienna, and died 87 years later in New York. He was one of the most popular violinists since the time of Paganini, renowned for his apparently effortless skill and unerring fluency.
As a boy Kreisler took lessons first from his father, a doctor and enthusiastic amateur musician, and entered the Vienna Conservatory at the phenomenally early age of seven, studying there under Joseph Hellmesberger and taking theory lessons from Anton Bruckner. He later moved to Paris where he became a pupil of Massart, Wieniawski's teacher. From the age of twelve, when he was one of the joint winners of the first prize at the Paris Conservatoire, playing a three-quarter size Amati violin, he had no further lessons.
The following years brought an interruption in w hat was ultimately to be his career. After touring America, Kreisler returned to school in Vienna, followed by a brief study of medicine and military service. Settling finally on music rather than medicine, he attempted the audition for the Vienna Court Opera in 1896, but failed, apparently through deficiencies in his sense of rhythm. He followed this reverse with renewed concentration on solo work. Two years later his career began, with the greatest success, particularly when he resumed his international appearances in 1919. After the Anschluss he moved permanently to the United States of America, where he died in 1962.
Kreisler's playing was in many ways ahead of his time, particularly in his characteristic and constant use of vibrato, a practice that had earlier been thought unmusical. His bowing technique avoided unnecessary use of the whole bow, once thought essential, and he possessed a happy disbelief in the value of practice, something he described as simply a bad habit.
For his own use Kreisler wrote and arranged a considerable amount of music. He provided transcriptions of a number of popular melodies of all kinds and to this added a number of alleged transcriptions that were, in fact, pastiche compositions of his own, written In imitation of the composers whose names they bore. In all these pieces there is the same insight into the technical possibilities of the violin, coupled with a keen understanding of the contemporary need for music that might, in his day, fill one side of a record or nowadays serve as a dazzling or attractive encore.
Schubert's music for the unsuccessful play Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, has allowed the work a spurious and nominal survival. Kreisler transcribed not the well known dactylic theme that the composer also used in an impromptu and in his A Minor String Quartet, but an equally popular melody from the ballet music for the play.
The Adagietto from Bizet's music for Alphonse Daudet's melodrama, L'Arlesienne, a work in which the girl from Arles never actually appears, was originally scored for string quartet and re-arranged in a Suite the composer derived from the incidental music after the poor reception of the drama In the theatre.
The Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov was equally unlucky with his remarkable opera The Golden Cockerel, which was taken by the censors as an attack on the Tsar and his government in their mishandling of the Russo-Japanese War. Reportedly the Tsar had not been favourably impressed by an earlier work, the opera Sadko, from which the Hindu Song is taken, finding it depressing, a criticism that could hardly have been levelled at the glowing colours and exotic melodies of Sheherazade, an orchestral interpretation of elements from The Arabian Nights.
Handel's Largo, not appropriately named, since it is in fact marked Larghetto by the composer, was originally a satirical aria. 'Ombra mai fu', from the opera Serse (Xerxes), a work unusual among Handel's operas for its element of comedy. Custom has made of the song a much more serious piece than was at first intended.
Kreisler made a number of transcriptions from Dvořák, including the fourth of the Gypsy Songs. A Hungarian gypsy element appeared in Haydn's G Major Piano Trio, an earlier example of Interest in melodic forms that had as much art as tradition about them. Haydn's Austrian Imperial Hymn had its origin in the composer's visits to England, where he heard the English national anthem. On his return to Vienna he provided the Emperor with the birthday present of the Emperor's Hymn, a melody he used in a later string quartet movement that others appropriated for more overtly patriotic purposes.
Gluck is associated in particular with the opera reforms of the later eighteenth century.The Dance of the Blessed Spirits is taken from his opera Orfeo, on the subject of the legendary musician Orpheus and the death and attempted rescue of his beloved Eurydice from the Underworld.
Mozart's Haffner Serenade was occasional music, in common with much of the work of the greatest composers. The Serenade from which the Rondo is taken was written in Salzburg in 1776 in honour of a member of the Haffner family, distinguished locally and friends of the socially ambitious Mozarts.
Schumann's three Romances, for oboe, or cello, or violin and piano, were written in 1849, at a time when he was about to take up his first official appointment as Director of Music in Düsseldorf, a position In which he failed to distinguish himself and which came to an end with his attempted suicide and subsequent insanity and death.
The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, Scottish and a Greig by ancestry, wrote a number of sets of Lyric Pieces for piano during his life. The famous To the Spring forms part of a collection published in 1886. Nationalism of another kind was a feature of the music of his disciple Percy Grainger, an eccentric product of Australia. The popular Molly on the Shore, an arrangement of an Irish folk-melody, was originally written for string quartet, but was to appear in the composer's own alternative versions both expanded and contracted in scoring.
The varied nature of Kreisler's taste is shown in the inclusion of a transcription of a Tambourin from the work of the eighteenth century French composer Rameau, and in two final arrangements of traditional melodies, the Russian Song of the Volga Boatmen and the Irish Londonderry Air.
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ROMANTIC VIOLIN FAVOURITES