Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fritz Kreisler and the Musical Ethic of his Time

When asked to give an evaluation of his best work, Fritz Kreisler speaks volumes
"When I’m judging other artists it’s easy for me because I judge them by the standards. . . present standards: by the beauty of their tone, by their musicality, and by their technical achievements. With me it's different. When I play I always try to achieve a certain ideal, and I have never been able to achieve it. When I came near it, and when I advanced in age, well, the ideal had progressed too, so that I came never near it."

Perhaps it might be fair to say that Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) helped mold the musical ethic of his time. He exuded humility. He understood that music is, at its very core, a humble art. Bach understood this, as did Haydn and Schubert.

I wonder if the world of music will, once again, put someone with the humility and humanity of Fritz Kreisler in an influential position. Current standards are very high, and musical ideals are still there, but I feel that more value has been placed on grabbing and holding onto the "brass ring" than on the act of reaching for it. Many people don't quite understand the difference. The proof is in the playing.


Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi said...

Elaine, a beautiful tribute to Fritz Kreisler. One can hear the gentleness and humility of his soul in his playing.

I hope that more young artists today will delve into the artistry of yesterday. As my husband has pointed out often: those who have an interest in "authentic performance practice" might begin by listening to the masters on archival recordings. Just the other day Ilkka and I listened to Joachim and Auer; we were both in awe.

Thank you, once again, for your enlightening posts.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I am curious - that's an interesting statement from Kreisler, but it is not evidence that he helped mold the musical ethic of his time. Are there patterns of statements from other musicians and from music writers indicating that he was particularly influential on the musical ethos? Are there patterns of behavior from others indicating Kreisler's influence? For that matter, what musical ethos do you mean? That is a serious question, not a rhetorical one.

I also have to really question the idea that "the world of music" placed Kreisler in a particularly influential position, because there isn't a centralized world of music - Kreisler certainly earned his spot as an important musician and violinist, but not because he was put there.

There was also plenty of holding on to brass rings in Kreisler's day. There've always been musicians who were showmen, who wanted to stay at the top once they got there, who were less focussed on music than on virtuosity.

How could "the world of music" today go about putting someone in an influential position? What we have now, as then, is musical institutions and individuals, not a unified world.

Also, I think we've got plenty of people out there who are smart, thoughtful, interesting musicians.

Elaine Fine said...


Perhaps you might want to listen to the first video on this post

to understand the kind of influence Kreisler had over his fellow violinists and over the musicians of the generation that followed in his footsteps. Perhaps I should have said "the world of musicians," and not the "world of music." Kreisler's goal was to play to his musical ideals. I feel that the managerial oversight that cost Michael Rabin the career he deserved, and the cartel behind "making" certain soloists' careers embodies the direction that the money-making "ethos" began to take in the post-Kreisler generation.

Jascha Heifetz adored Kreisler. David Nadien too. Discovering what is wonderful in Kreisler's playing is, to me, equivalent to discovering what is wonderful in music making--and music writing. Teaching Kreisler's music to students is the most wonderful kind of teaching, because it is through Kreisler that violin students learn to be musicians. After playing Kreisler they approach all music in a new way.

I can't remember where I read this or where I heard this, but a violinist who lived in New York during the days when Kreisler used to play concerts told me that after he finished his regular program, Kreisler used to play his own pieces as encores. A group of people would routinesly run to the stage to listen, and in that group was Jascha Heifetz.

Kreisler had what they all wanted, and they just don't make 'em like that anymore. We do have some terrific violinists around today. I particularly adore Augustin Hadelich's playing and Corey Cerovsek's playing. I believe that they both have, in proportion to their immense talents and intellects, a good measure of humility, but they are participating in a different musical world, where humility is not always rewarded.