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Master of the Comeback


Fritz Kreisler was a master of the comeback, large and small. After World War I, the Austrian violinist had to win back his American audiences, and did so by playing concert after concert with irresistible virtuosity and taste. In 1935, when he admitted that many of the Baroque masterpieces he played were actually his own compositions, he rode out the scandal by defending his actions in the press and continuing to perform. His resilience was put to the test again in 1941 when he stepped off a New York curb and was hit by a truck.

After nearly a month in a coma, Kreisler began the slow process of recovery, which included listening to classical music on the radio and attending a concert in Carnegie Hall featuring the New York Philharmonic led by Leopold Stokowski. But Kreisler had not recovered yet. He had to cancel all twenty-six of his remaining engagements for the 1941-42 season

A few months later he ventured a performance in Philadelphia for an audience of orchestral players and sound engineers, and then played a cautious concert in Albany in which he performed a familiar but demanding program of Grieg and Bruch and some of his own compositions.

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Three months after that success and eighteen months after the accident, Kreisler performed a full-fledged Carnegie Hall comeback recital that began with a standing ovation. The enthralled audience included violin virtuoso Jacques Thibaud, who was so involved in Kreisler’s playing that he subconsciously fingered every note against his cheek.

Fritz Kreisler was also a master of the little comeback. When a socialite engaged him to perform a private concert for a fee of a thousand dollars and added, “We ask that you not mingle with the guests afterward,” Kreisler replied, “In that case, madam, my fee will be five hundred dollars.”