Programme notes by Henning Kraggerud
Fritz Kreisler was born on February 2nd 1875. His father, Salomon, who was originally from Poland, was a medical doctor and amateur violinist. He had his own quartet and organized weekly chamber music gatherings at their house where, amongst others, Sigmund Freud, also a keen violinist, often played. Salomon also collected living tropical animals, including 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 became thus their youngest pupil ever and at the age of 10 received the Conservatory´s gold medals for his playing. Fritz was taught composition by Anton Bruckner himself. Bruckner was a highly religious man and habitually fell to his knees whenever church bells were heard. 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 teacher in composition in Paris was Leo Delibes. Interruptions in teaching were here also frequent. Young women would often come to the class where upon 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. 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 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 Eugene Ysaye, who at the turn of the century more or less ruled the violin world, often referred to as the ´king of violinists´. Ysaye played with extensive vibrato and inspired Kreisler to form his own very personal form of continuos and expressive vibrato, which he applied even 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 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 Francois) Pugnani, Martini, Francoeur and Vivaldi (who was at that time still totally unknown. Not until the 1930´s did Vivaldi start to gain a name again).
Kreisler was not entirely honest about the origin 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 it was not possible to corroborate his information (Google 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 name and one can assume that he planned many more given his original claim of 57 discoveries.
In the middle of the 1930´s 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. No information on the original by Pugnani was of course 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. Several critics who had evidently failed to notice Kreisler´s deception wrote nasty articles about the man.
In the oldest arrangment in this programme - Chanson Louis XIII and 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 hand written form, still 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 ´42 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, which in my opinion shows influence from his friend Rachmaninov as well as Sinding´s Elegie 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 (no.47, 21st November 1908, available in the National Library in Oslo ), visited Trondheim and Bergen. Kreisler wrote about a Sicilienne by Francois 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 and Rigaudon which Kreisler published, but the manuscript reveals a different piece. Amusingly to us perhaps is that Kreisler had originally attributed the piece to L. Holberg but subsequently crossed out his name and replaced 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 here, 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 to include a solo viola part in the aforementioned Musette (as did Grieg in his 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´s father, Salomon, was also a violinist but stopped playing 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.
Kreisler died on January 29th 1962. 2012 celebrates therefore 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
Oslo Camerata Musicians
Musicians performing on this performance:
1st violins: Brynjar Schulerud, Melinda Csenki, Maria Borud, Ine Pollenus
2nd violins: Julia Serafin, Lina Marie Årnes, Amandus Lind, Ambra Nesa
Violas: Soon Mi Chung, Ellen Nisbeth, Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad
Cellos: Øystein Birkeland, Tiril Dørum Bengtsson, Cathy Donnelly
Double Bass: Patrick Wilder