About this Recording
2.110353 - KREISLER, F.: Violin Music (Kraggerud Plays Kreisler) (NTSC)

Henning Kraggerud plays works by Fritz Kreisler


Fritz Kreisler was born on 2 February 1875. His father Salomon, who was originally from Poland, was a medical doctor and amateur violinist. Salomon had his own quartet and organized weekly chamber music gatherings at their house where, amongst others, Sigmund Freud (also a keen violinist) often played. He stopped playing the violin when Fritz became more proficient than him. He went on to play the cello but gave this up too when his other son Hugo surpassed him. Salomon ended up playing the viola for the rest of his life. He also collected tropical animals, even crocodiles, for which Fritz and the other members of the family had to warm sand. It was indeed quite a household.

Fritz started to play the violin at a very early age and immediately showed great talent. He was big for his age and, when only seven years old, his mother (having lied about his age) managed to secure him an undergraduate place at the Vienna Conservatory. Fritz thus became their youngest pupil ever, and at the age of 10 he received the Conservatory’s gold medals for his playing. Fritz also learnt composition and was taught by Anton Bruckner himself. Bruckner was a highly religious man and habitually fell to his knees whenever church bells were heard, and it was not uncommon for him to suddenly desert his students and run to church.

Kreisler went from Vienna to Paris where, at the age of 12, he received the Conservatory’s First Prize, the highest achievable honour. His composition teacher while he was in Paris was Léo Delibes. Interruptions in teaching were also frequent here: young women would often come to the class, whereupon Delibes would frequently disappear for some time. The story goes that in his teacher’s absence Kreisler would often continue composing in Delibes’s scores, which he had left on his desk. Kreisler’s additions would apparently go unnoticed to Delibes after he returned.

After Paris, Kreisler began touring the United States as the Wunderkind he was prophesied to be, and the road to stardom looked mapped out. Alas, Kreisler didn’t receive particularly good reviews for his playing. He decided to return to Europe, give up playing the violin and begin studying again; he went on to study medicine, followed by a period in the army. But seven years away from the violin proved to be too hard to bear. He started to play again and auditioned for a tutti post in the Vienna Opera, which (thankfully for us) he did not get. He began to compose and practise and only slowly did his career begin to evolve. Later in life he said he was very grateful for this slow development, as it gave him time to find his own voice.

One of his great idols was Eugène Ysaÿe who, at the turn of the century more or less ruled the violin world, was often referred to as the ‘King of violinists’. Ysaÿe played with extensive vibrato and inspired Kreisler to form his own very personal form of continuos and expressive vibrato, which he even applied to fast notes. Many people found this unusual way of using vibrato rather strange and it took some time before it was accepted.

Kreisler started to compose pieces in the so-called ‘old style’, perhaps inspired by Christian Sinding’s Suite in Old Style, a piece which Kreisler loved to play. There are indeed some striking similarities between this piece and Kreisler’s Preludium and Allegro. Though his contemporary-sounding pieces were written under his own name, Kreisler’s old-style pieces were published under other composers’ names. He used mostly obscure, little-known composers such as Louis Couperin (the grandfather of François) Pugnani, Martini, Francoeur and Vivaldi (at that time Vivaldi was still totally unknown, and didn’t gain renown until the 1930s).

Kreisler was not entirely honest about the origins of his music. He related in countless interviews that, during his travels, he had discovered some 57 old manuscripts in a monastery which he had then transcribed for violin and piano. His story changed regularly and since at the time it was not possible to corroborate his information (the internet would have been of help!) he managed to fool the music world for more than three decades. Many reviewers accused him for playing his own pieces along with those of the great masters from the past, not realizing that they were in fact composed by the same man. He did also play arrangements of genuine old masters at the same concerts, which did not make it any easier to uncover his deception. He wrote in all about 17 pieces under false names and one can assume that he planned to play many more, given his original claim of 57 ‘discoveries’.

In the middle of the 1930s it was popular to precede concerts with lectures about the music to be played. On one such occasion, the American presenter Olin Downes began to research the Preludium and Allegro prior to a New York recital. Of course, no information on the original by Pugnani was to be found. Kreisler, who was at the time living in Europe, was confronted via telegraph and was subsequently forced to admit all. He probably did not predict the media storm that was to follow: accusations of fraud were printed on front pages of the New York Times and other newspapers around the world, and several critics who had evidently failed to notice Kreisler’s deception wrote nasty articles about the man.

In the oldest arrangement in this programme—Chanson Louis XIII et Pavane by Louis Couperin—the score is hand written in an ornate, old-fashioned style and bears no reference to Kreisler’s name. When the piece was first published, it was common knowledge that Kreisler had made an arrangement of the original for violin and piano but had presumably had no hand in this string orchestra arrangement. Despite the now known truth about these so-called ‘arranged’ works, this piece is still rented out today in this same handwritten form with no reference to Kreisler.

For this performance I have played on Kreisler’s own Bergonzi violin, the last instrument he owned and which is today owned by the Dextra Musica Foundation. There exist recordings of Kreisler himself playing this same instrument from both 1942 and 1946. The 1942 recording marked his first appearance after a serious accident in New York, where he was hit by an truck carrying eggs. Once again he made front page headlines and doctors did not expect him to survive; he lay in a coma for a long period and when he awoke was able to speak only ancient Greek and Latin.

In researching material for this programme I have gone through all of Kreisler’s available original compositions. We have included some obscure and rarely played works which were found after searching manuscripts and libraries. Episode, for example, in my opinion shows influence from his friend Rachmaninov, as well as Sinding’s Élégie in D minor.

The Sicilienne et musette has a peculiar story connected to it. In 1908 Kreisler was on tour in Norway and, according to the magazine URD (Issue No. 47, 21 November 1908, available in the National Library in Oslo), he visited Trondheim and Bergen. Kreisler wrote about a Sicilienne by François Francoeur which exists as a nearly complete manuscript draft, privately owned in Bergen. It would appear that this was believed to be the famous Sicilienne et rigaudon which Kreisler published, but the manuscript reveals a different piece. Amusingly to us perhaps is that Kreisler had originally attributed the piece to Ludvig Holberg but subsequently crossed out his name and replaced it with Francoeur’s. The musette part does indeed bear a striking resemblance to Grieg’s own musette from his Holberg Suite. Kreisler had obviously thought that the baroque playwright Holberg was a composer!

Nils Thore Røsth, who has written most of the arrangements performed in this programme, has based his work almost entirely on Kreisler’s original piano accompaniments. The only exception is Syncopation which is based on a recording made by Kreisler with his cellist brother Hugo. Røsth’s score includes a solo cello part here and he has also taken the liberty of including a solo viola part in the aforementioned musette (as did Grieg in his Holberg Suite).

The keen listener may hear quite a few differences from the published scores in the solo violin part. Most of these are inspired by Kreisler’s own alterations in his recordings; he was obviously not concerned with editing these changes into his scores, presumably thinking these were just small issues, close enough to what he (or other composers) had written and nothing to worry about!

Kreisler died on 29 January 1962; 2012 therefore celebrates the 50th anniversary of his death. A few days after Kreisler died, the violinist Micha Elman interrupted his Carnegie Hall recital to play Preghiera (‘Prayer’) in the style of Martini, on a muted violin.

These notes (except those relating to Norway) are sourced from Amy Biancolli’s biography of Kreisler, Love’s Joy, Love’s Sorrow. They are written mostly from memory after reading this excellent book.

Henning Kraggerud

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