Benjamin Schmid plays Fritz Kreisler
Benjamin Schmid, violin · Miklos Skuta, piano
Improvisations on Kreisler
Benjamin Schmid, violin · Biréli Lagrène, guitar
Georg Breinschmid, bass
As early as 1995, the Wiener Zeitung wrote: “Undoubtedly, Schmid has what it takes to someday become the most significant Austrian violinist since Fritz Kreisler.” And indeed, Vienna-born Benjamin Schmid seems to have a par-ticular affinity to the legendary violinist and his unique sense for the charm of the musical miniature. On this recording, Benjamin Schmid introduces ten of Kreisler’s most famous compositions and arrangements.
The following five tracks allow Schmid to reveal another side of his musical activities: as a jazz violinist in his trio, following an exceptionally successful career in the tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grapelli, The standards presented here, however, come from a very special songbook. Themes by Fritz Kreisler like “Liebesleid” and “Schön Rosmarin” are transferred with great care and imagination to the sphere of classic jazz. Schmid is accompanied by no less than Biréli Lagrène on guitar and Georg Breinschmid on bass.
Singing with the Violin
Music of Fritz Kreisler. First-class melodic
encores, served as dessert by the composing master of the languishing
vibrato, full of lustrous melody and noble sentimentality. The operetta Sissy, Liebesleid and Liebesfreud. The irresistible sound of old Austria, resounding into the wide world. A cliché? Perhaps, but even so, the listener’s ear shouldn’t be deterred from discovering a brilliant musician and imaginative master of small forms. Fritz Kreisler, violinist-of-the-century during the fin d’siècle, was born into a Viennese Jewish family; his father was a doctor. Not only did he study violin with such luminaries
like Joseph Hellmesberger, he also studied music theory with Anton Bruckner, as well as Jules Massenet and others in Paris. The sensitivity of his French teachers
influenced him more than is generally known, but he always remained in touch with the chiaroscuro Viennese tone of Schubert, Strauss etc. The road to a career as a wunderkind seemed paved with roses when he won the Premier Prix in Paris, but this route ended unhappily with an unsuccessful
try at joining the Vienna Philharmonic.
The young man studied medicine and painting for a while, tried the glamour of the k. u. k. army for a short time, debuted a second time in Vienna in 1898 and finally, in 1900, began to take the music world by storm. After triumphal tours and a military intermezzo, including the sustaining of an injury in World War I, Kreisler became a citizen of the world, living in America, Berlin and Paris. He was forced to flee his home in 1938, performed publicly for the last time in 1947 and died – already a legend – in New York in 1962.
So much for a time-lapse biography of Kreisler. “He sings like no other on the violin,”
said the great singer Lotte Lehmann. Kreisler was the last significant composing virtuoso and “the first major soloist who really entered into a dialogue with the listener.”
He was a musician of the turn of the century. One who had to take time to mature – and did it. No “standardized shooting-star of the media industry”, but a “person who moved others”, the “best musician” among violinists, who “got the listener dancing” (Benjamin Schmid). One who simply could not be compartmentalized as either a “classical” musician or an “entertainer”. He was a grandiose Beethoven performer who simultaneously premiered the time’s new music and engaged in “crossover” long before the term had been dreamed of. When it comes down to it, he was a singularly
talented ‘minstrel’ in the best sense of the word: one who never sacrificed his feelings on the altar of pure intellect.
This recording offers a variety of Kreisler’s compositional styles. Here the “exotic”, or “gypsy” arrangements: the harmonically
not at all simple Zigeunercapriccio;
the atmospheric “puszta” romanticism of Liszt and Brahms; La Gitana, the gypsy, surrounded by the sweet scent of Andalusia and closely resembling Lehár’s Giuditta; the dreamy Lotusland, based on a piano piece of the obstinate English composer, philosopher
and mystic Cyril Scott (1879–1970); the torrid Spanish rhythms of Manuel de Falla (Danse espagnole); a Slavic minuet based on music of the Polish star pianist and politician Ignacy Jan Paderewski – all contemporaries
and colleagues. The second sphere is the homeland he dearly loved his whole life – sometimes more, sometimes less. Who still knows the short-lived author of Viennese songs, Alexander Krakauer (1866–1894) – from Komorn in Hungary! – whose Paradise was almost the symbol for the particularly artistic, sometimes artificial,
but exceptionally fruitful world of the old monarchy. More well known is Richard Heuberger’s noble operetta The Opera Ball. The piece’s ‘midnight bells’, as intoned by Kreisler’s violin, are seductive. The third element on this recording is “compositions in the style of…” – which Kreisler originally published as rediscovered originals of old masters before revealing his authorship of them. Exquisite gems, excellent stylistic exercises
a la François Couperin or Christoph Willibald Gluck.
In 1941, while on foot in Manhattan, Kreisler was seriously injured when he walked in front of a delivery truck. The Viennese
Rhapsodic Fantasietta, the ‘youngest’ piece of this collection and one of Kreisler’s longest, is music of recovery, music of sorrow
empathizing with the horrors of World War II and music of longing for Vienna – the old Vienna, which the Nazis, according to Kreisler, had humiliated and painted brown. A declaration of faith in dreams, a return to images of a sunken world, full of restrained sadness for beauty that will never be seen as before – but not without hope for the creation of new, free life. Benjamin Schmid places it with reason at the beginning of this CD.
Gottfried Franz Kasparek
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
On my Kreisler-Fantasietta in the style of Django Reinhardt”
I got this idea during the intermission of a jazz concert, when I was improvising with Biréli and Georg on this thing or the other. I suddenly noticed that Biréli knows many of Kreisler’s pieces and could accompany them incomparably, and that Georg jumped right in. It occurred immediately to me that that was what the great Fritz Kreisler did with the music he loved: he arranged it according
to his taste. And we were improvising
on it… Biréli told me that Django Reinhardt
absolutely venerated Fritz Kreisler; he even recorded various Kreisler pieces, e.g. Liebesfreud – in 4/4. There are many other
similarities between the two: they lived in the same epoch, were both uncontested
masters of their time, could elevate “simple” music to the highest art, loved to improvise, left behind an undying compositional
memorial and … are Biréli’s and my personal gods! As a jazz musician, Biréli got to know and love Fritz Kreisler’s music from an early age. And I, as a classical musician, became acquainted in the same way with Django Reinhardt’s music. We had no other choice but to try out our idea: what would have happened if Fritz had met Django? In any event, the improvised accompaniments
of Biréli and Georg play no second fiddle to Kreisler’s brilliantly notated ones! They are full of wonderful details, support the main musical ideas, comment on them virtuosically and with utmost sensitivity and always with unabashed swing!
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler