OBITUARY: Louis Krasner

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The Independent Online
When Louis Krasner was 82, he was asked about the difficulties of playing contemporary music, in which he excelled. He compared the invention of the sewing machine, which we accepted and understood, with the microchip, which we accept but do not understand. "The language of the music of our day must necessarily be much more complex, if it represents our lives today. It may take another hundred years before it is accepted but I believe that it will be."

Louis Krasner was born in Ukraine in 1903 and brought to the United States at the age of five. He had his first tuition on the violin when he was nine, but his family were so poor that from the age of 12 he paid for his own lessons by playing in local theatres, clubs and social gatherings. It was at a "smoker" that an eminent physician, impressed with his talent, introduced him to one of his patients, Mrs Arthur Livingston Kelly; she took him to the head of the New England Conservatory, where he was immediately accepted as a student and she continued to sponsor all his tuition and living expenses right up until he made his debut.

At the Conservatory he studied violin with Eugene Gruenberg, who hailed from Vienna and had known Mahler; he introduced Krasner to Kreisler when he came to Boston. Krasner once said: "To me, the mark of a great teacher is the influence he has on you in later years, irrespective of what the original subject may have been." Krasner also studied composition with Frederick Converse.

Krasner graduated with honours at the age of 20 and then continued his studies in Europe with three great but widely differing teachers - Carl Flesch, Lucien Capet and Ottakar Sevcik. In his opinion it was the sheer variety of their approach which contributed to his musical development in a way that would otherwise never have come about.

From this time Krasner was based mainly in Vienna, where he made the acquaintance of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, who aroused his interest in 20th-century music. Meanwhile he enjoyed a busy international career as a soloist, appearing with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, at the BBC in London and in recitals throughout Europe. He also visited the US and met Alfredo Casella, then conductor of the Boston "Pops", who invited him to give the first performance of his violin concerto.

In 1931 Krasner heard Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck for the first time in New York and described the experience as "overwhelming". It was this that prompted him to commission a violin concerto from Berg, because he thought it would help "to break down the prejudice against 12-tone compositions as being rigidly intellectual and devoid of human concerns, which was the opposite of the truth".

Krasner gave the premiere of the Berg Concerto in 1936 at the ISCM Festival in Barcelona and in London a month later. He subsequently took the concerto all over Europe - with the exception of Germany - and the US. He also premiered Schoenberg's violin concerto in Philadelphia, under Leopold Stokowski, in December 1940. That same year he went to Cleveland to record the Berg concerto with Arthur Rodzinsky for Columbia. By this time he could no longer return to Europe, so when Rodzinsky offered him a chair in Cleveland, he accepted it. He was also for a time assistant concertmaster under Fritz Reiner with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

From 1944 to 1949 Krasner was concertmaster of the Minneapolis Symphony under Dimitri Mitropoulos and in 1949 was appointed professor of violin at Syracuse University, New York, where he stayed until 1972 until he retired as Professor Emeritus. While there he established the Syracuse Society for Chamber Music which later led to the founding of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. He was also on the Faculty of the New England Conservatory and with the summer schools at Tanglewood from 1969.

Krasner made many recordings and published numerous writings on his art. He sat on a number of juries of international competitions including the Leventritt and the Naumburg, and received several prestigious awards. As a teacher he was greatly loved by his students and as a man respected for his modesty and his wisdom and his tireless efforts to help his fellow musicians.

Louis Krasner, violinist: born Cherkassky, Ukraine 21 June 1903; married Adrienne Galimir (two daughters); died Boston, Massachusetts 4 May 1995.