About this Recording
8.112053 - KREISLER, Fritz: Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (1904, 1910)
English 

Fritz Kreisler
The Complete Recordings • 1

 

The acoustic recording process was amazingly good at capturing string players and vocalists; and early in the last century great artists in both disciplines made records that still sound wonderful. Among the existing stars were such names as Patti, Melba, Tamagno, Sarasate and Joachim, but some reputations were partially made by the new-fangled gramophone. Enrico Caruso was a purely local phenomenon when he cut his first records in 1902, and Fritz Kreisler was still causing astonishment in the concert hall—and consternation among his rivals—when he first stepped into the studios in 1904. Both men were to sell millions of discs and give pleasure to myriad listeners across the world who had no hope of hearing them in the flesh. For those who did manage to catch their live performances, the discs acted as precious souvenirs and confirmations of sounds that had already disappeared into the ether. So there were advantages to the artist in making records; but the actual sessions were nerve-racking in the extreme. The piano had to be jacked up to bring it nearer to the recording horn, and the soloist had to position himself dead in front of the horn. For the violinist, there was an added irritation: he could not move his torso from side to side, as he was wont to do, because the violin had to stay in the same position vis à vis the horn—or the volume would change with each movement. Considering that Kreisler steadfastly refused to broadcast until virtually the end of his career, we are fortunate that he quickly became inured to studio conditions. For 42 years he remained an exclusive artist of the same record labels in Europe and America—in those days they were closely associated.

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 BrucknerThe acoustic recording process was amazingly good at capturing string players and vocalists; and early in the last century great artists in both disciplines made records that still sound wonderful. Among the existing stars were such names as Patti, Melba, Tamagno, Sarasate and Joachim, but some reputations were partially made by the new-fangled gramophone. Enrico Caruso was a purely local phenomenon when he cut his first records in 1902, and Fritz Kreisler was still causing astonishment in the concert hall—and consternation among his rivals—when he first stepped into the studios in 1904. Both men were to sell millions of discs and give pleasure to myriad listeners across the world who had no hope of hearing them in the flesh. For those who did manage to catch their live performances, the discs acted as precious souvenirs and confirmations of sounds that had already disappeared into the ether. So there were advantages to the artist in making records; but the actual sessions were nerve-racking in the extreme. The piano had to be jacked up to bring it nearer to the recording horn, and the soloist had to position himself dead in front of the horn. For the violinist, there was an added irritation: he could not move his torso from side to side, as he was wont to do, because the violin had to stay in the same position vis à vis the horn—or the volume would change with each movement. Considering that Kreisler steadfastly refused to broadcast until virtually the end of his career, we are fortunate that he quickly became inured to studio conditions. For 42 years he remained an exclusive artist of the same record labels in Europe and America—in those days they were closely associated.

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 completed two years’ medical training; then did his military service. In 1896 he opted for music and, turned down for a job in 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 he 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 Concerto in E minor under Arthur Nikisch. In 1900 he toured America and in 1902 he 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, in 1911 he gave the première of Elgar’s Concerto in London and by World War I, in which he was wounded and discharged with the rank of captain, he was known all over the world. He moved to the United States, made records with John McCormack, 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 made records with Sergey Rachmaninov. In 1932 his second operetta, Sissy, had its successful première in Vienna. With the rise of Hitler in 1933, he refused to play in Germany any more 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. Among Kreisler’s colleagues, Mischa Elman was upset but Albert Spalding, George Enescu, Adolf Busch, Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist took it in their stride. 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 quite the same again. He died in New York on 29 January 1962.

Part of Kreisler’s quality as a fiddler stemmed from his hands. ‘He had soft pads on his fingertips, which appeared to be unique,’ the Australian violinist Daisy Kennedy recalled. He developed the silvery vibrations of Franco-Belgian players such as Ysaÿe and Massart into a warm, sensuous, continuous vibrato, virtually overlapping it from note to note. It was a revelation to his fellow string players: Lionel Tertis adapted it to the viola and Pablo Casals worked on similar lines to create a new cello sound, so that within a decade or so the revolution spread to the orchestras. Another Kreisler speciality was extracting varied colours from the violin, by playing notes in unusual positions—an ability he used especially in pieces such as those on this disc. In these trifles he demonstrated his glowing tone, natural rubato, fine intonation —his double stops were legendary—and economical bowing. He kept the bow hair very tight (not even loosening it between performances) and varied the pressure: at one moment the bow seemed glued to the string, at another it moved with the deftness he had learnt in Paris.

Kreisler’s 1904 Berlin records for G&T comprised just four sides—the Sulzer piece and François Schubert’s busy Bee occupied a single side. The Bach items were the best-loved violin pieces by the composer at that time, and few listeners would know that the Gavotte should be unaccompanied. The Tchaikovsky Song Without Words was one of the violinist’s transcriptions. ‘I began to compose and arrange as a young man,’ he said. ‘I wanted to create a repertory for myself.’ The 1904 discs are important because Kreisler never returned to three of the pieces. The Gavotte and the Song Without Words, however, featured in his next sessions, held in New York for Victor after a gap of six years. For the first time, he recorded five of his most popular compositions. Tambourin chinois and Caprice viennois were fully acknowledged as original creations. ‘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.’ The matching pair Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy) and Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow) were original, but were actually published as ‘Old Viennese Dance Tunes’. Variations on a Theme of Corelli (La folia) was among the pieces that were passed off for decades as compositions by Baroque musicians—in this case Tartini. Dvořák’s Humoresque, originally for piano, became a worldwide hit through Kreisler’s transcription. The second and more popular section of Smetana’s From My Homeland, on the other hand, was just one of the many pieces with which Kreisler filled his recital programmes. It was usual to make at least two takes of each 78rpm side, in case of accidents; and sometimes, as with the Smetana and Caprice viennois, more than one take was released. Take 1 of Liebesfreud and Take 2 of the Méditation from Thaïs were not issued at the time but survived in the archives. Incidentally the Schubert who wrote the Moment musical was the expected one, Franz.

Tully Potter

 

Producer’s Note

This is the first volume in a series chronicling the solo recordings of one of the most celebrated violinists of the 20th century, Fritz Kreisler. These will complement other recordings already issued on Naxos Historical and form part of The Complete Fritz Kreisler Edition. We intend to present every extant Kreisler recording, including all known alternative takes, many of which are previously unreleased. In addition, the series will include all of Kreisler’s collaborations with his cellist brother, Hugo Kreisler, and Fritz Kreisler’s only known piano solo recording, Dvořák’s Humoresque in G flat. Finally, an entire volume will be devoted to Kreisler’s recordings with soprano, Geraldine Farrar, and tenor, John McCormack.

Here, we present Fritz Kreisler’s first six recording sessions. Kreisler’s earliest commercial recordings were made for the Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd. in Berlin. The year was 1904 though the specific date and the name of the accompanist are unknown, since the recording ledgers no longer exist. This session produced four 10 inch single-faced discs, which were quickly released, and are now highly prized by collectors. He began with his own arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Chant sans paroles, Op. 2, No. 3. This may have been a favorite of his since he chose to record it three more times in the next 12 years. His second disc comprised two short pieces he would never again record, Sulzer’s Sarabande and François Schubert’s The Bee. For his third recording, Kreisler chose his arrangement, for violin and piano, of the prelude from Bach’s unaccompanied Partita No. 3. (He recorded this a second time in 1912.) Kreisler concluded this session with another piece which he never again recorded, Bach’s Air on the G String. For reasons of musical continuity, I have chosen not to present these recordings in matrix order.

In 1910, Kreisler began recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company, an association which continued until 1946. His first group of Victor records were made during five sessions, all in May 1910. Fifteen sides were published, all of which became popular sellers. It should be noted that takes 1 and 2 of Smetana’s ‘Bohemian Fantasy’ were both published under the same catalogue number. Likewise, takes 2 and 3 of Kreisler’s Caprice viennois were both published. We are pleased to include two alternative takes that were not originally released: take 1 of Massenet’s Méditation; and take 1 of Kreisler’s Liebesfreud. The second volume in this series will comprise Kreisler’s recordings from 1911 and 1912.


Ward Marston


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