What Did They Play? By Isabel Dammann
PART II: Fritz Kreisler (b. 1875 – d. 1962) and his Violins
Kreisler’s acquisition of fine violins was far from over. In 1911, Kreisler purchased another violin from Alfred Hill: a c.1715 violin by Daniel Parker, who was one of the first makers to copy Stradivarius. It was such a close replica that Kreisler liked to pass it off as a Strad, and by the 1940’s he was referring to it as the ‘Parker Stradivari’. When he performed the Elgar and Brahms concertos on this violin, apparently no one could tell the difference between this violin and his ‘Hart’ Guarneri that he was particularly associated with. In 1948, he sold the Parker to Wurlitzer.
In 1925, Kreisler purchased an unusually fine c.1850 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume copy of Paganini’s ‘Cannon’ Guarnerius from Hill & Sons. Kreisler showed the Vuillaume side by side with his ‘Hart’ Guarneri to his colleague, Mischa Elman. Kreisler asked, “Do you see any difference in quality?” Mischa replied that he did not.
Soon, in 1926, another violin gained Kreisler’s affection: the c.1730 (labeled 1733) Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ which is now named for Kreisler and is most associated with him. Alfred Hill considered this violin to be the finest Guarneri he had ever seen, and “one of the few of the first rank”. By the 1930’s, this violin had surpassed the 1733 ‘Huberman’ Strad as Kreisler’s favorite, and it was this instrument that Kreisler likely used to re-record the Mendelssohn Concerto in 1935 with Sir Landon Ronald, the 1936 re-recordings of the Brahms and Beethoven concertos with Barbirolli, and the 1939 re-make of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 with Sir Malcom Sargent. By 1952 Kreisler was no longer performing, so gave this ‘Kreisler’ Guarneri to the Washington Library of Congress.
In 1926 Kreisler bought the ‘Lord Amherst of Hackney’ c. 1734 Stradivarius, which he sold in 1946 to Rudolph Wurlitzer, and in 1928 he acquired the c. 1711 ‘Earl of Plymouth’ Stradivarius from Alfred Hill. He sold it in 1946 on advice from his wife Harriet: “I didn’t want six fiddles hanging around when so many violinists need them.”
Kreisler was equally versatile in his use of bows and strings. When asked about bows, he said, “I have a beautiful Tourte, a gift from Mr. Tubbs, which I use frequently”. He also had half a dozen Hill bows that he often used, a Pfretzschner, and a Franz Albert Nürnberger Jr. He preferred the bow hair very taut, and some accounts suggest that he did not often loosen the hair of his bows between concerts.
When asked what strings he used, Kreisler responded, “I find very good ones wherever I happen to be. I am not a faddist”. Up until 1912, he used gut D, A and E, at which point he switched to a wound gut D, and then to a steel E in 1916-18. By the late 1920’s, he was using wound gut G, D and A strings, and a steel E. In his later years, Kreisler consistently bought strings from a friend in Chicago at Armour & Co, a meatpacking firm that also made both steel and gut strings.
…But for all that, a violin is not simply wood and catgut. It is a personality, and goes through the world looking for its rightful master. It has moods, and must be wooed. It selects, gives itself to one and withholds itself from another. At times its humors and whims must be combatted with everything at command… For sweetness of tone, Stradivarius is still king… If they seem timeless, it is because of their destiny. To crush a “Strad” would be to kill an immortal. -Fritz Kreisler
OTHER KREISLER QUOTES ABOUT HIS VIOLINS:
“Can a man say that he prefers a blond beauty to a brunette beauty, and vice versa? One does not make a choice when face to face with beauty. My choice is a polygamous one as regards to violins.” 
“The Strad is excellent for a small concert hall. At the time when Strads were built, only small halls were available for concerts. The Guarnerius has much more power. Recently a younger violinist bought a Strad. He wondered why, although it is such a marvelous instrument, he was not doing well with the audiences as he used to do. Th answer is simple: our concert halls today for the most part are too big for a Strad.” 
“One might imagine that Kreisler would watch his priceless instruments most carefully while on tour. The contrary is true. He is serenely confident that so costly an instrument will turn up again, even if someone should steal it, as every instrument dealer in the world knows who the owners of the most famous fiddles are… Occasionally Fritz forgot one of his precious violins at a hotel or in a taxicab… Kreisler usually left his expensive instrument in the recording studio when he went out, say for lunch, while other artists did not.” 
Stay tuned for my next blog on Hot Club jazz legend Stephane Grappelli!