Three Pieces for Violin and Piano
February 12, 2023 – Gloria Chien, piano, Benjamin Beilman
Fritz Kreisler, one of the outstanding masters of the violin and, indeed, one of the most individual performing musicians in history, was famous for his sweet tone and the charm and aristocracy of his playing. As a composer Kreisler is known primarily for his arrangements of works by others and his salon-style pieces, almost exclusively for violin, though he did compose several operettas. While he never claimed intellectual greatness for his compositions, many of them have achieved immortality because they stand above the typical virtuoso “lollipops” of this genre.
Kreisler is also known as the perpetrator of a rather delightful hoax: he passed off many of his own compositions as works by Vivaldi, Pugnani, Couperin, Padre Martini, Dittersdorf, Francœur, Stamitz, and others. He reluctantly took credit for these pieces in 1935 saying he had done it in order to round out recital programs with established “names” rather than with his own as-yet-unknown name. Many accepted his shady deeds with amused tolerance, but others took offense, notably English critic Ernest Newman, with whom Kreisler was goaded into a public feud on the pages of London’s Sunday Times.
The Marche militaire viennoise probably dates from around 1924 when it appeared on a recording in a piano trio version. It was published the following year for violin and piano as well as in the trio version. The charming outer march sections impart a certain Hungarian flavor, which after all was a significant influence in Vienna.
The Old Refrain provides a perfect example of Kreisler appropriating a tune by another composer, in this case “Du alter Stefansturm” from Der liebe Augustin (1887) by Johann Brandl, words by Alice Mattulath. Here, as the title divulges, there is a refrain, a lilting tune that returns after each of two verses. In one version published in 1915, Kreisler wrote out the song with text, dedicating his arrangement entitled “Viennese Popular Song, words by Alice Mattullath” to his “dear friend” tenor John McCormack.
Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta was the latest of the present set to be composed, c.1941–42. Following a rhapsodic violin cadenza, Kreisler launches into a lush tune made even richer by the violin’s double stops. Vienna is again invoked by the lilting triple meter in both slow and fast waltzes. The whole concludes with a majestic climax and dazzling feats of violin gymnastics.
© Michael Parloff