Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler (1875–1962) was an Austrian-born American violinist and composer. One of the most noted violin masters of his day, and regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time, he was known for his sweet tone and expressive phrasing. Kreisler was born in Vienna, the son of Anna (née Reches) and Samuel Kreisler, a doctor. Of Jewish heritage, he was however baptised at the age of 12. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory between 1882-1885 under Anton Bruckner, Jakob Dont and Joseph Hellmesberger Jr., and in Paris Conservatory between 1885-1887, where his teachers included Léo Delibes, Lambert Massart and Jules Massenet. He was graduated from Paris Conservatory with a degree of “Premier Prix” gold medal at the age of 12, competing against 40 other players, all of whom were at least 20 years of age.
He made his United States debut at the Steinway Hall in New York City on November 10, 1888, and his first tour of the United States in 1888–1889 with Moriz Rosenthal. He then returned to Austria and applied for a position in the Vienna Philharmonic, but was turned down by the concertmaster Arnold Rosé. As a result, he left music to study medicine. He spent a brief time in the army before returning to the violin in 1899, when he gave a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Arthur Nikisch. It was this concert and a series of American tours from 1901 to 1903 that brought him real acclaim. Kreisler was also an excellent pianist, and his piano playing is preserved on Ampico reproducing piano rolls.
During a concert tour of the United States in 1901, Kreisler met Harriet Lies, a New York-born divorcée who was a Vassar graduate and the daughter of a German American tobacco merchant. They fell in love immediately and were married a year later, though they repeated the ceremony three more times because of legal technicalities. They had no children, and Harriet devoted her life to his career. They were married for 60 years, until his death in 1962.
In 1910, Kreisler gave the premiere of Sir Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto, a work commissioned by and dedicated to him. He served briefly in the Austrian Army in World War I before being honourably discharged after he was wounded. He arrived in New York on November 24, 1914, and spent the remainder of the war in America. He returned to Europe in 1924, living first in Berlin, then moving to France in 1938. Shortly thereafter, at the outbreak of World War II, he settled once again in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1943. He lived there for the rest of his life, giving his last public concert in 1947, and broadcasting performances for a few years after that.
On April 26, 1941, he was involved in a serious traffic accident. Struck by a truck while crossing a street in New York, he suffered a fractured skull and was in a coma for over a week.
Kreisler died of a heart condition aggravated by old age in New York City in 1962.
He wrote a number of pieces for the violin, including solos for encores, such as “Liebesleid” and “Liebesfreud”. Some of Kreisler’s compositions were pastiches ostensibly in the style of other composers. They were originally ascribed to earlier composers, such as Gaetano Pugnani, Giuseppe Tartini and Antonio Vivaldi, and then, in 1935, Kreisler revealed that it was he who wrote the pieces. He also wrote operettas, a string quartet, and cadenzas, including ones for Brahms’s Violin Concerto, Paganini’s D major Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. His cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto are the ones most often played by violinists today.