Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Franz Kneisel

Franz Kneisel was a German (some would say American or Romanian) violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher born (in Bucharest) on January 26, 1865.  He is known for having taught for many years at the Institute of Musical Arts (Juilliard) and for having led the famous Kneisel Quartet for more than thirty years (1886-1917.)  Together with Theodore Thomas, Max Bendix, Simon Jacobsohn, Theodore Spiering, Ferdinand Laub, and Hans Letz, he was a violinist who set the groundwork for the establishment of classical music as a viable and serious art in the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century.  In Europe, that tradition had already been in motion and thriving for over 200 years.  Kneisel graduated from the Bucharest Conservatory in 1879, at age 14.  In Vienna, he studied with Jacob Grun and Joseph Hellmesberger at the Vienna Conservatory for three years.  In 1882, he made his debut in Vienna.  He then soon became concertmaster of the Hofburg Theatre Orchestra in Vienna.  He was 18 years old.  The following year (1884), he became concertmaster of Benjamin Bilse’s Band in Berlin, the precursor of the Berlin Philharmonic.  By then, however, it was actually known as “Former Bilse’s Band,” since most of its musicians had broken away (in 1882) from conductor Benjamin Bilse to form their own organization.  It did not adopt the Berlin Philharmonic name until 1887.  Eugene Ysaye had just left the concertmaster’s post in that orchestra to become a concert violinist, teacher, and composer.  Kneisel left Germany for the U.S. in 1885 and was soon appointed concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, where he played for 18 years (1885-1903), and with which he appeared as soloist many times.  He was also its assistant conductor.  He was 20 years old.  It has been said that over the years, Kneisel conducted the Boston Symphony over a hundred times.  Joseph Silverstein was probably the last concertmaster in Boston who enjoyed the privilege of being an assistant conductor as well.  Kneisel formed the Kneisel Quartet from among members of the orchestra (Emanuel Fiedler, Louis Svecenski, and Fritz Giese.)  Kneisel and Svecenski (violist) stayed with the quartet until it was disbanded in 1917 but the other positions were filled by many other players later on.  The Kneisel Quartet became known all over the U.S. and Europe.  Several sources state that Kneisel gave the premiere performances of the Brahms and Goldmark violin concertos in the U.S. as well as the famous Cesar Franck A major sonata.  According to Bridget Carr, Archivist for the Boston Symphony, Kneisel first performed the Brahms concerto in Boston on December 6, 1889 (almost ten years after it was premiered in Germany by Joseph Joachim) and the Goldmark concerto almost exactly a year later, on December 5, 1890.  In 1897, Kneisel acquired a 1714 Stradivarius which he owned until his death.  It is known as the Grun ex-Kneisel Strad but I have no idea who plays it now.  He had previously played (and presumably owned) a G.B. Guadagnini from 1752.  He also acquired a 1780 Guadagnini in 1914.  In 1905, Kneisel moved to New York to become the head of the violin department at the Institute of Musical Arts (Juilliard) which was newly established.  He was fifty years old.  Eventually, Kneisel became so busy teaching that he had to disband his quartet, by then, considered the best in this country and one of the best in the world.  He taught at Juilliard until the day he died – about 11 years.  Kneisel’s pupils include Elias Breeskin, Louis Kaufman, Joseph Fuchs, Jacques Gordon, Sascha Jacobsen, Samuel Gardner, Michel Gusikoff, Robert Talbot, Bernard Ocko, William Kroll, Lillian Fuchs, Joan Field, and Olive Mead.  He published several study books which are probably no longer in print.  He also wrote a Grand Concert Etude for violin which, as far as I know, nobody plays anymore.  The Kneisel Quartet may have recorded only once – in 1917.  Kneisel died (in New York City) on March 26, 1926, at age 61.  

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