About this Recording
8.111406 - KREISLER, Fritz: Complete Recordings, Vol. 7 (1921-1925)
English 

Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)
The Complete Recordings • 7

 

Even though peace had come after the turmoil of the Great War, the four years covering these sessions were exceptionally eventful for Fritz Kreisler. As an ‘enemy alien’ he had been under a cloud in the English-speaking world, but he successfully made a comeback in America, and in 1921 he was welcomed back to England as if nothing had happened to cloud his relationship with audiences here. In the spring of 1923 he made his first Far East tour. Having travelled via the west coast of America, he and his wife Harriet arrived in Yokohama on 20 April with the German accompanist Michael Raucheisen, made their way to Shanghai, then back to Japan for eight concerts in the Imperial Theatre, Tokyo. The travellers survived an earthquake before leaving for engagements in Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto, followed by more in Yokohama and Tokyo. The tour took them to Seoul in Korea, then via Mukden in South Manchuria to Peking and Tientsin in China, Kreisler becoming the first European artist to perform for the Chinese intelligentsia in the Forbidden City of Peking. After two more concerts in Shanghai, the party set out for Japan, en route for the US, only to be tossed about for 12 hours by a typhoon; but Kreisler was thrilled by his Oriental sojourn. He experienced the terrible currency inflation in Germany in the latter part of 1923; and he and Harriet took responsibility for feeding 600 to 800 poverty-stricken Berlin children every day. For the first time in 22 years of marriage, they then acquired a home of their own: on several acres in Grunewald, west Berlin, they built a mansion, a house for the caretaker, a conservatory for flowers and vegetables, an Italian rose garden and a landscaped miniature park. Meanwhile they criss-crossed the Atlantic before setting off on a world tour with the pianist Carl Lamson early in 1925: starting with three recitals in Honolulu, they then travelled all round Australasia, with sensational receptions.

All the acoustic tracks included here feature the excellent cello playing of Hugo Kreisler (1884–1929), infused with a breath of Vienna. Although he did appear occasionally as a soloist, he was chiefly known as an orchestral player and a member of several quartets. He and his twin sister Ella were born in the Austrian capital nine years after their brother Fritz, and grew up in a musical household. Hugo studied with Julius Klengel at the Leipzig Conservatory; and when, at one point, his money ran out, Fritz gave him six short compositions to sell to one of the city’s 200-or-so music publishers. The resulting profits were sufficient to finance the rest of his course. Hugo was a good enough cellist to sit at the first desk of the Vienna Konzertverein Orchestra, next to the principal, for a number of years. He played (in succession to Friedrich Buxbaum and Anton Walter) in the Fitzner Quartet and was a member of the first Wiener Konzerthaus Quartet. For a time he emigrated to America, playing in the Baltimore Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra, but never felt comfortable there, saying: ‘How can one live in a country in which they serve grape juice instead of Gipferl for breakfast?’ He returned to Austria to continue his career as teacher at the Academy, chamber musician and soloist, and died all too soon at his home in Baden, near Vienna. His twin Ella survived him by ten years, ending her days in America. Hugo’s playing can be heard to have been much influenced by his brother’s: he makes what we now think of as a typically Viennese sound, with a fine singing legato.

During Fritz Kreisler’s second post-war trip to England, he was especially busy on 16 December 1921: in the morning he and brother Hugo made records at Hayes for HMV with pianist Charlton Keith, including three takes of Jeral’s Sérénade viennoise—the third being successful—and four attempts at his arrangement of the Londonderry Air; in the afternoon he gave a recital at Queen’s Hall; and in the evening he played for Prime Minister David Lloyd George at 10 Downing Street. Harriet suggested he play the Londonderry Air, so he and Keith improvised a solo version on the spot. A successful take with Hugo was recorded the following day, the 17th; but four takes of Leoncavallo’s song Mattinata were abortive and two further takes of the Jeral were made unnecessarily. On the afternoon of the 17th Fritz took to the piano to accompany his brother in 20 takes of seven pieces: only Dvořák’s Songs my mother taught me was unsuccessful. The pieces issued by the Victor Talking Machine Company, though not by HMV, include three compositions by Fritz, the popular Liebesleid and two numbers from his operetta Apple Blossoms (‘I’m in love’ particularly ingratiating); the Serenata from Drigo’s ballet I milioni d’Arlecchino; Chaminade’s Sérénade espagnole; and a Viennese Waltz Fantasy which, as its title implies, is a potpourri of songs strung together by Hugo—anyone who knows the records of Erich Kunz will recognise Pick’s Fiakerlied.

The Kreisler brothers next recorded together on 1 November 1923. First of all, with Keith at the piano, they made two takes of Schubert’s Marche militaire No. 1, three of the ‘Prize Song’ from Meistersinger, and two each of Beethoven’s Minuet in G and his Andante favori in F. Only Take 2 of the Minuet was issued, but Take 3 of the ‘Prize Song’ survived to be published here. In the afternoon Fritz accompanied Hugo in two takes each of Rubinstein’s Melody in F, Fritz’s own Rondino and Gabriel-Marie’s La Cinquantaine. The Rondino is lost but takes of the other two pieces were eventually published. On 5 November the brothers returned to the fray for two abortive takes of Chopin’s Nocturne in D and two redundant ones of the Gabriel-Marie. On 20 September 1924 they were back in the studio with Keith for three more takes each of the Marche militaire and the Andante favori, plus three of a new piece, Schumann’s Abendlied. At the end of the session Fritz accompanied Hugo in two takes of Popper’s popular Gavotte No. 2. A long stint on the 22nd saw the trio try two takes of the Popper, three of ‘Magische Töne’ from Goldmark’s The Queen of Sheba, four of Kreisler’s own Polichinelle Serenade, three of his Marche miniature viennoise (Take 3 successful), four of his Syncopation (Take 3 accepted), two of a Bach Andante and two of the song Nina, attributed to Pergolesi but really by Vincenzo Legrenzio Ciampi—Take 2 was a winner, but nothing came of the three takes of ‘Magische Töne’ and four of Polichinelle that the brothers then made on their own. On the 23rd, two trio takes each of ‘Magische Töne’ and Polichinelle and four of the Marche militaire foundered but success finally came for the Andante favori on Take 7 and Abendlied on Take 6. On their own, the Kreislers made two more takes each of ‘Magische Töne’ and Polichinelle, to no avail. On the 24th the trio had three more abortive shots at the Bach Andante.

To round off the story of Hugo Kreisler’s recordings, in Berlin on 14 October 1927 he and Fritz made 14 electrical takes of Cui’s Cantabile, Drdla’s Legend, ‘Magische Tone’ and the Adagietto from Bizet’s L’Arlésienne, but none reached the public.

Meanwhile on 27 August 1925, having returned from their tour, Kreisler and Lamson went to Victor’s New York studios for their first electrical recordings. Still trying to get a publishable version of Cadman’s From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water (see Volume 6), they began with Takes 10, 11 and 12. They made three takes of Kreisler’s Paraphrase on two Russian Folk Songs—listeners will recognise The Song of the Volga Boatmen, made famous by Feodor Chaliapin, but the other may be a Kreisler invention—and scored with the third take. Four takes of Aloha Oe reflected a rumpus which blew up right at the start of the world tour. Kreisler affronted the Hawaiians by alleging that this song, their national anthem, was actually the Viennese ditty ‘Jetzt geh’n wir gleich nach Nussdorf’, adapted by a German-born violin teacher from San Francisco. A frequent visitor to Honolulu, this man had—according to Kreisler—been asked by Queen Lili’uokalani (1838–1917) for a suitable national anthem and had come up with the Viennese tune. As the Queen had copyrighted the song as her own composition in 1884, this story did not go down well.

On 28 August the duo made three more takes of Aloha Oe, succeeding on Take 7: this side was issued with the Queen named as the composer, so the controversy died down. The rest of that day’s session was devoted to more unfinished business from the acoustic era: the saga of The Girl with the Flaxen Hair continued with Takes 12–16; two further takes were made of the Minuet in G from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook; three takes of ‘Negro Spiritual Melody’ by Dvořák saw Take 14 go for publication; and at last From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water made it, with Take 15. The session on the 29th began with another hangover, Koželuch’s Gavotte in F (then attributed to Beethoven), achieving perfection on the first of three attempts, Take 4. A single take of the Minuet in G hit the jackpot, but Debussy’s flaxen-haired girl continued her travails with five takes. On 1 September eight takes were wasted on pieces already achieved; and on the following 18 February, five takes each of two operetta numbers, Romberg’s Deep in my heart, dear and Friml’s Indian Love Call, all failed. Both were wrapped up successfully on the 22nd: it may have been Victor’s nervous recording team, still struggling with the new system, who required four takes of the first and six of the second.

We can be pretty sure which violin Kreisler used for these HMV and Victor sessions. In 1914 he bought a 1733 Strad from Alfred Hill that became his favourite: it seems likely that he used it for most of his recordings from his 1917 New York sessions onwards. It was certainly employed for the 1925 New York electricals, the 1926–27 Berlin concerto discs with Leo Blech—Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn—and the 1928 sonatas with Rachmaninov. When Kreisler acquired it, the violin did not have a Stradivari head, but one was found and fitted (by the resourceful Hill) a few years later. The great violinist had a lovely bow by Tourte, given to him by Frank H. Tubbs, editor of Music Life, half a dozen by Hill which he used a great deal, a Pfretschner he liked and a Franz Albert Nürnberger Jnr. He preferred to have the bow hair very taut and anecdotal evidence suggests that he often did not loosen it between gigs. Up to about 1911 or 1912, Kreisler used pure gut D, A and E strings, but around 1912 he switched to a covered gut D, and in the 1916–18 period he changed to a steel E. He retained the gut A, but in the mid-1920s, at the time of his first electrical recordings, he went over to a covered gut A; so that by the late 1920s he was using the covered gut G, D and A.

It was one of the strengths of Kreisler’s artistry that even when he changed from pure gut strings, he continued to sound as if he was playing on the warmer gut. And it was our good fortune that microphone recording, with its heightened realism and fidelity, arrived when he was still at his peak, aged 50.

Tully Potter


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