Heart and Soul of the Fritz Kreisler Competition

Michael Frischenschlager looks back at 45 years at a great Vienna institution

Soloist, chamber musician, violin pedagogue from Salzburg - Michael Frischenschlager was born into a musician´s family of long tradition. He studied violin, conducting, and musicology at the universities in Salzburg, Cologne, Vienna and Rome. His violin teachers were Theodor Müller, Andrè Gertler, Franz Samohyl and Yehudi Menuhin. After several years of experience with major orchestras, he performed as soloist and chamber musician in almost all European countries, in North America and Asia.
In 1971, Frischenschlager began to teach at the University of Music and Performing Arts of Vienna, becoming head of the String Department in 1984, vice chancellor in 1989, and finally chancellor in 1996. He is worldwide in demand as a jury member at many renowned violin and chamber music competitions.
Since 1989, he has been president of the International "Fritz Kreisler" Competition in Vienna. 

“I was studying the violin at Mozarteum in Salzburg, when the Mozarteum Orchestra went on a tour to the United States. It was in 1956- we celebrated Mozart´s 200th anniversary- I was 20 years old, and the orchestra hired me for this tour. We played at Carnegie Hall, and at a reception after the performance, the concertmaster took me along to meet Fritz Kreisler- an old man with very white hair. He was surrounded by a hundred people or more, including the Austrian Consul, the mayor of New York, and many others. I was introduced as “the youngest player in the orchestra” and shook Kreisler´s hand.
Somehow, I will never forget this moment. His face, and especially his eyes. He was 81, but he had these wonderful eyes, looking at you with warmth, with kindness… and I began to realize that I had met a real legend- an incredible artist.”

Frischenschlager began to study Kreislers music and to read about his life. In 1971, he became Professor for Violin in Vienna, and in 1975, he organized a concert in honor of Kreisler´s 100th birthday. At this particular concert,  the idea was born to hold a violin competition with Fritz Kreisler´s name. It took four years before the First International Fritz Kreisler Competition took place at Vienna´s Musikverein: Wolfgang Schneiderhan, famous Austrian violinist and concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic, became its first president, and Michael Frischenschlager was invited to be in the jury, along with Yehudi Menuhin, Max Rostal and other great artists.

“Our goal was to establish an act of homage to Fritz Kreisler, making both the younger generation and the audience aware of his significance as a musician, artist, and human being — as well as of his origin in the unique cultural environment of Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century. Today more than ever, this competition is a symbol of cultural diversity and tolerance, and a remembrance of the tragedy that occurred in Central Europe during the 20th Century, when many scientists and artists such as Kreisler were forced to flee as a result of racism and dictatorship.”

Four years later, in 1983, the competition was held again but ended with a financial fiasco. But Schneiderhan was able to persuade the City of Vienna to help, and a few years later the competition could resume: this time under the presidency of Michael Frischenschlager.
After nine years, the Kreisler Competition was finally held again: this time at the Vienna Konzerthaus and with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. With the finals being broadcast live on Austrian television, the competition had finally become an integral part of music life in the Austrian capital.


“I will never forget the Gala-final of the 3rd competition in 1992. After the concerts played by the three best finalists with orchestra at the Main Hall of the Vienna Konzerthaus, the 4th, 5th, and 6th prize winners played some of Kreisler’s famous short pieces with piano accompaniment on Kreisler’s famous Guarneri violin. It has been absolutely touching to hear the wonderful sound of this marvelous violin — played by young virtuosos — in the same hall Kreisler had performed his concerts many years earlier. The Library of Congress generously had given the permission to bring to Vienna the precious instrument (with a bodyguard!) just for the Kreisler Competition. “

The Kreisler Competition had first been accepted as a member of the World Federation in 1980, but was suspended following the financial collapse of its second edition. In 1989, the suspension was lifted and the membership was revived. 
1996, Vienna, together with Budapest, became host of the 40th General Assembly of the Federation. A close friend of Renate Ronnefeld, who once had been studying violin in Salzburg as well, Frischenschlager became a member of the WFIMC committee and was elected Vice President at the 44th General Assembly in Pretoria in 2000.
After ten editions of the Kreisler Competition and 44 years since it first became a member of the World Federation, Michael Frischenschlager will retire this year and hand over the presidency of the Kreisler Competition to Clemens Hellsberg, former director of the board at the Vienna Philharmonic. 

The World Federation is grateful for his longtime support and loyalty. Michael Frischenschlager has been a wonderful friend and colleague, and his great contributions will be remembered for many years to come. He is a role model for his passionate commitment towards gifted and talented young musicians.
Peter Paul Kainrath


©WFIMC 2024/FR