Fritz Kreisler


Cygnus and friends gave a Kreisler celebration at the Library of Congress on February 3 of this year.  The Library cleverly paired a living American composer--Haorld Meltzer--with Kreisler.  The Library had Meltzer write a new work for violin and piano, Kreisleriana, a McKim Fund commission.

Charles T. Downey describes the event here-->

I appreciate the good fight that Mr. Downey is waging against bourgeois Washington.  I was delighted to see Harold Meltzer benefit from a juxtaposition with Fritz Kreisler!   Yes, as Kyle Gann says, Meltzer is "generous".  So much more remarkable for the fact that Meltzer's generosity does not involve a rejection of the 20th C. musical developments that Kreisler was avoiding.  There wasn't even a name for it when Kreisler was alive.  Meltzer calls it set class music, and as dry as that may sound, that is a very important distinction.  (I write about set class music elsewhere, coining a more poetic description-- "the collection *an sich*.)  Meltzer's occassional aural connections with post-minimalism are sneaky, subversive, perhaps. 

I got a kick out of all the Kreisler stuff, especially the string quartet.  (The word, "verklärte" appears in the parts.  The piece has some ambitious program that I'd like to know about.)

Obviously the audience ate up the Kreisler.  I was angling for some mention in the program notes of Hermann Broch's essay Hugo Von Hoffmansthal and His Time.  Broch's essay on kitsch is also indispensable.  A very broad gloss-- Baroque mannerisms in music and architecture, and also Baroque political institutions were the empty gestures and emblems of pomp and power to the bitter end of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Kreisler and Segovia and Manuel Ponce did not kick the habit. (***See below, on Segovia)  Stravinsky's neo-Baroque music knowingly spoofs the habit.  Mahler, likewise, but he died with the empire.

Several things make the world safe for the enjoyment of Kreisler now.

1--two world wars and the Cold War
2--the Broch essays, Mahler, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and a line of composers that for the moment might culminate with---
3--the success of Meltzer

The Broch essay as a preemptive strike would have helped  the audience bridge the gaping chasm  between Kreisler and Melzer. (To qualify Kreisler's legacy is not at all an insult to it.  I see it more as an act of generousity.) I assume everyone makes all these connections, but I suppose Mr. Downey is wiser to avoid that assumption.  The fight isn't really over.

Let's compare Kreisler's quartet with David Del Tredici's recent quartet.  The Orion Quartet recorded Del Tredici's piece, and I imagine it will be available soon. Del Tredici makes me ponder - is the world safe for scale degrees?  No one has figured out how to traverse from scale degrees to set classes, certainly not Del Tredici.  Those who appreciate the significance of set class music are too afraid of appearing like a reactionary.  Early Carter and Stravinsky could do it.  A few, like Harold Meltzer, are moving in this direction.  More will do so, I think, this century.

I will try to scan the Broch essays (in translation) and post them somewhere.  I think they are out of print. 


In 2006 or 7  I did a guitar and harpsichord concert at Weill Hall that focused on the Segovia repertoire, including Manuel Ponce's faux-Baroque stuff.  The exercise led to this realisation---  When we listen to the voices of such arch musical conservatives you get magic realism and the perpetual Picaresque.  Stravinsky understood this when he did Rake's Progress.  South American music is still steeped in Baroque mannerisms--Piazzola.  Augustin Barrios, for example, has two styles, the folkloristic and the quasi-Baroque.  Villa-Lobos and others show 3 sides--the Baroque (Bachianas Brazileiras), the modernistic, and the folkloristic.  Time & progress are in magic realist dream space.