Michael McCooe: Composer – Fritz Kreisler

Born in 1875, Fritz Kreisler was an accomplished Austrian composer and violinist. Since his death, in 1962, Kreisler has come to be regarded as one of the most skilled violinists of all time.

Musical prodigy

Growing up in 19th Century Vienna, Fritz Kreisler was a child prodigy. During his childhood, Kreisler studied with various master such as Jacques Auber. He was admitted to the prestigious Vienna Conservatory, at just seven, going on to study violin and composition at the Paris Conservatory.

Fritz Kreisler won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome gold medal, competing against 40 other violinists, at age 12. Capitalising on this momentum, Kreisler went on to successfully tour the US as a violinist between 1888 and 1889. Kreisler then abandoned his musical career, in favour of studying medicine and art, and a stint in the Austro-Hungarian army, but he could not stay away from music for ever.

Global stardom

The Austrian resumed his musical career in 1898, when he appeared as a soloist performing alongside the Vienna Philharmonic. One year later, as the 19th Century was drawing to a close, Kreisler launched his global career, by performing with the Berlin Philharmonic. Kreisler’s reputation reached new heights in 1910, when he debuted Sir Elgar’s Violin Concerto, which was written specifically for him.

After serving in World War One, Kreisler toured Europe regularly, as well as the US, where he eventually settled. The violinist became known as a master interpreter. He wrote a range of pieces in the style of classical composers like Pugnani and Vivaldi, only admitting in 1935 that these works were in fact his own. Kreisler also famously owned several antique violins, created by master luthiers like Carlo Bergonzi and Pietro Guarneri, most of which eventually came to bear the Austrian’s name.

Lasting legacy

The Austrian was hit by a truck in New York in 1941. Unbelievably, Fritz Kreisler recovered from this accident and started performing again, regularly appearing as a violinist until 1950. After this point, Kreisler started suffering from hearing loss and sight deterioration, forcing him away from the stage. Fritz Kreisler died in 1962, by which point his stature as a skilled violinist was cemented worldwide.

Fritz Kreisler may have passed decades ago, but the Austrian’s work has only become more popular with time. He is perhaps best-remembered today as an early pioneer of continuous vibrato, which imbues one’s tone with warmth, along with his penchant for the pre-war Austrian ‘gemütlich’ (cosy) styles, which characterised his music. Some of the most iconic violin pieces of the 20th Century can be attributed to Kreisler, like Caprice Viennois, Tambourin Chinois, Schön Rosmarin, and Liebesfreud.

Iconic violinist

Fritz Kreisler was a violinist living ahead of his time. Kreisler, despite his extensive education, allegedly never practised, giving his performances an authenticity that’s really rare. Warmness characterised Kreisler’s work and he was as much known for his magnetic personality, as for his skill as a violinist, something which very much resonates in this post-modern, celebrity conscious world.

You can listen to some of my favourite classics on my Michael McCooe SoundCloud profile, which is updated on a regular basis.