1921 Recording: Rachmaninov Plays Kreisler

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)

 

The legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler and Sergei Rachmaninov performed frequently together, luckily leaving behind a few recordings of their collaboration. On one occasion, as the story goes, Kreisler had a memory slip during a performance. Fumbling around the fingerboard and attempting to improvise his way out of the predicament, he inched his way towards the piano, whispering helplessly, “Where are we?” Rachmaninov answered, “In Carnegie Hall.”

As a tribute to their friendship, Rachmaninov created piano arrangements of three of Kreisler’s violin miniatures, including Liebesleid (“Love’s Sorrow”), and Liebesfreud (“Love’s Joy”). Kreisler’s original compositions are charming slices of pre-war Vienna (listen here). In Rachmaninov’s hands they become thrilling new music…variations on the original themes, infused with Rachmaninov’s distinct sound and spirit.

Here is Rachmaninov’s 1921 recording of Liebesleid. Listen for all of the unexpected harmonic twists and turns and the sparkling virtuosity of the fast passages. One of my favorite moments comes towards the end, with the sudden, darkly expressive chord at 3:36 and the embellishments which follow (3:44).

Here is Rachmaninov’s recording of Liebesfreud from 1925. Kreisler’s original piece is fairly straightforward and melodic. Rachmaninov turns it into a tour de force of motivic development:

Love’s Sorrow, Love’s Joy

Fritz Kreisler
Fritz Kreisler

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962 ) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s most important violinists. Born in Vienna, he fled to France during the Second World War and later became a naturalized American citizen. Even through scratchy old recordings we can get a sense of his sweet, sensuous tone, musical warmth and elegant phrasing. His intense, expressive vibrato, used on almost every note, was revolutionary.

Kreisler’s contribution as a composer for the violin is also significant. He performed these pieces as encores at the end of concerts. Some of his music, written in the style of past composers and attributed to them as newly discovered works, were part of an elaborate hoax. (An example is Sicilienne & Rigaudon). Other gems such as Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow) and Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy) represent the last vestiges of pre-war Vienna, a world he watched disappear.

Here are a few of his recordings. Notice that the style of the day included expressive portamento (connecting certain notes with slides) reminiscent of a singer:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Liebesleid[/typography]

This clip features two performances of Liebesleid. The first was recorded in Berlin on February 14, 1930. The second, featuring orchestra accompaniment, was recorded at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music in 1942.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”] Liebesfreud[/typography]

This recording of Liebesfreud comes from 1938. In this clip and one which follows, notice Kreisler’s sparkling spiccato (bouncing bows) and perfect sense of rhythmic timing:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Schön Rosmarin [/typography]

Schön Rosmarin, or “Lovely Rosemary” recording in 1936:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Caprice Viennois[/typography]

Finally, here is Caprice Viennois from a 1942 recording:

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