Happy Birthday, Mr. Kreisler - and Mr. Heifetz!
After writing about Kreisler the pianist, I continued to listen to the recordings particularly the Caprice Viennois that was recorded by Veikko Viljanen. What I found MOST extraordinary was that while listening to this recording, I totally didn’t miss the violin. It almost sounded as if the piece were MEANT for the piano.
The piano roll was made in 1920 and originally cost $2.00. Adjusting for inflation that is about $26.09 today. It wasn’t inexpensive to have Kreisler play in your home. But you could hear him play it again and again I suppose. And if you thought your mp3 player was a large investment, think about buying a piano?
Listening to it carefully, I wondered if I could learn more about this piece from the piano performance than from his violin performance. In essence, Kreisler is in control of the melody and the accompaniment. He is free do whatever he wants WHENEVER he wants. There are some small notation changes as there are in his own violin recordings. However no matter what he does, it feels correct.
Could I learn the piece better if I followed him with this playing the piano part? So for fun, I decided to record with the Fritz Kreisler piano roll. Though I wasn’t quite with him, I thought, man, I get to play with Fritz Kreisler!
It reminded me of those duet recordings of famous recording artitsts that have passed away and people do virtual duets with them. I suppose the first big use of this was Nat King Coles recording of Unforgettable with his daughter Natalie.
In pop music it is the practice to record parts separately. Which is how the Beatles were able to do much of their innovative things. When they decided to record two new songs for an Anthology collection, they didn’t want to be the Threetles so they got two songs from Yoko Ono and worked at it as if John Lennon had gone out for a “cup of tea”
As today is Kreisler AND Heifetz’s birthday I am happy to share this multi track version of Bach Double Violin Concerto.
I mean they do say there was only one Heifetz……I guess he had to clone himself if he wanted a partner!
My favorite multi track recording is actually of another violinist playing the piano. Artur Gruimaux grew up playing both the piano and the violin.
Kreisler was good friends with Sergei Rachmaninoff. The story of the two of them playing the Beethoven Kreutzer together and Kreisler getting lost is a great one, even if it turns out not to be true. Kreisler got lost and started to improvise. Rachmaninoff was bemused and followed him rather than helping him. Rachmaninoff who had been described as a six foot tall scowl, followed him at every turn, “Sergei, where are we?” Kreisler asked, to which Rachmaninoff replied “Carnegie Hall.”
They recorded a number of sonatas together and it was Rachmaninoff who wanted to do more takes, while Kreisler felt that each take they had was wonderful and they didn’t need to do it again. These were two very different personalities.
However, Zenph Sound Innovations decided that they wanted to take old recordings of pianists and digitize them then feed them into computer for analysis and reproduce that on a modern piano. They made cd’s of Glenn Gould, Art Tatum and most importantly for this blog Sergei Rachmaninoff. This allowed Joshua Bell to record part of the Greig Violin Sonata with the great Russian pianist composer
Bell described the experience: “When I first played it, it was really eerie because it feels like Rachmaninoff is in the room. You see the keys going down, you feel the nuance, and if you squint you feel like he’s actually there.”
I felt strange working with the recording. I have been playing the piece since I was a young student and whatever way I play it has become almost second nature. But then again, who am I to argue with Kreisler? In this case, I was relearning the piece to fit the pianist. Some things I had learned form the violin recordings, I had to unlearn. He really had an incredible rubato and sometimes played MUCH faster on the piano than he would have on the violin.
I have read from some sources that there could be some manipulation in the recording as wrong notes could be repaired and speeds could be adjusted. I still think it reflects what Kreisler wanted.
Indeed, I found it quite a joy to play this piece with Kreisler on the piano., but what did I learn?? There is only one Kreisler, and though I might have copied what he was doing, I certainly couldn’t say I unlocked some secret. I just had fun and had a laugh at the irony that I was practicing really hard to play with someone who never practiced.
Just in case you think I forgot that February 2nd is also Heifetz’s birthday,
Let’s hear a 10 year old Heifetz show us how it’s done
I would like to thank Veikko Viljanen for allowing me to use his wonderful recording.
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