Fritz Kreisler

Fritz Kreisler was the son of a famous surgeon, a good amateur musician who gave young Fritz his first violin lessons. Kreisler made his public debut at seven in a collection of short works. Shortly thereafter, he was permitted to enter the Vienna Conservatory despite a policy that no one younger than 14 be accepted. After three years of study with Joseph Hellmesberger, he was awarded a gold medal.

Kreisler was sent to Paris for further studies with Delibes and Massart. At the age of 12, he won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome gold medal competing against 40 other players, all of whom were at least 20 years of age.

In 1888-89 he toured America with the pianist Moriz Rosenthal. He spent two years in Vienna, broadening his education; thought of following his father’s profession and completed two years’ medical training; then did his military service. In 1896 he decided on music and began his career as a travelling virtuoso.

In January 1898 he made his concerto début in Vienna with Bruch’s G minor, conducted by Hans Richter, and a year later he had an even greater success when he played Bruch’s D minor, Vieuxtemps’s F sharp minor and Paganini’s Non pií¹ mesta Variations for his début with the Berlin Philharmonic under Josef Rebicek. In 1904 he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal, in 1911 he gave the first performance of the Elgar Concerto and by World War I, he was famous.

He moved to the United States, giving generously to help war orphans and refugees and playing charity concerts. When America entered the war, he was sidelined as an enemy alien; the enforced rest resulted in his operetta Apple Blossoms and his String Quartet. From 1924 Kreisler made his home in Berlin but with the rise of Hitler, he refused to play in Germany any more. After the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, he took French citizenship, then moved to United States. In 1941 he was hit by a van while crossing a New York street and was in a coma for four weeks. The accident ended his big-time career, although he remained a much-loved figure in America ( and did not stop playing until after 1950.