This installment of our A to Z of Carnegie Hall features the letter K for Kreisler—superstar violinist Fritz Kreisler.
If Vladimir Horowitz is the pianist often most closely associated with Carnegie Hall, perhaps the violinist with the strongest connection to the Hall in the first half of the 20th century was Austrian virtuoso Fritz Kreisler.
Fritz Kreisler made his Carnegie Hall debut on December 7, 1900 with the New York Philharmonic and conductor Emil Paur. The program for that concert included the New York premiere of Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
Between 1900 and 1947, Kreisler performed here more than 170 times, either in recital or as soloist with multiple orchestras. He most frequently appeared with the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
For his final Carnegie Hall concert on November 1, 1947—with his long-time accompanist, pianist Carl Lamson—Kreisler included several of his own compositions alongside Schumann, Bach, Brahms, and others. Although he did participate in some radio broadcasts after that time, it is believed that his Carnegie Hall swansong was also his final live performance anywhere.
1915 and 1931 photographs signed to Carnegie Hall from Fritz Kreisler. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Everyone knows the "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? / Practice, practice, practice" story—a line often attributed to another great violinist, Jascha Heifetz. There is, however, another widely told apocryphal tale associated with the Hall. Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesconi relates, "There's an old Carnegie Hall joke in which Rachmaninoff and Kreisler were performing together on stage. Kreisler got lost in the music, and whispered to Rachmaninoff asking, 'Where are we?' Rachmaninoff—without missing a beat—said, 'Carnegie Hall,' and kept playing."
You can imagine it happening but there's just one problem with that story ... there is no record of Kreisler and Rachmaninoff ever having played together at Carnegie Hall.
There is a more satisfying follow up to that story, however, one that can be recorded as fact. Francesconi continues, "One night a few years ago, Osvaldo Golijov was performing Terry Riley's In C as part of an enormous accumulation of more than 70 musicians on stage. At one point he was actually lost in the music. He leaned over to Philip Glass and said, 'Where are we?' And Philip Glass said, 'Carnegie Hall,' and kept performing. It's a sweet story, and we actually now have proof that somebody really did say that inside the Hall!"
Although they never performed together at the Hall, Rachmaninoff wrote well-known arrangements of Kreisler's Liebesfreud and Liebeslied. Rachmaninoff premiered his arrangement of Liebesfreud at Carnegie Hall on November 29, 1925.
Flyer for Fritz Kreisler's November 18, 1913 concert at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
In 1960, when it still looked as though Carnegie Hall would be demolished to be replaced by a bright red skyscraper, Kreisler threw his weight behind the campaign—led by the violinist most associated with the Hall in the second half of the 20th century, Isaac Stern—to save it.
Stating that "In the minds of civilized men everywhere it is the gateway to musical America," Kreisler—who had long since retired—affirmed his belief in the "importance of keeping Carnegie Hall as a permanent clutural monument."
Fritz Kreisler's 1960 letter in support of the saving of Carnegie Hall from demolition. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
RelatedA to Z of Carnegie HallThe Rose MuseumThe History of the Hall