My love of Fritz Kreisler’s violin music began when I was 5 years old. I had just been adopted and the new family met every other weekend at the grandparents’ home. At this gathering of around 12 adults and children, I was totally intimidated by all these people I didn’t really know. My new grandfather recognized this immediately and beckoned me over to his side.

Kay Wheeler’s career as a musician began at the age of 6, when she “ran around the house pretending to play Fritz Kreisler.” Photo courtesy of Kay Wheeler

“I have something I want you to hear,” he whispered as he took my hand. We went into his study where he had a wind-up floor cabinet Victrola. He wound it up and put on an old 78 record and the most beautiful music began. It was a recording of Fritz Kreisler’s compositions and his playing. I was entranced. I sat down on the floor with my ear to the fabric-covered speakers and calmed down; lost my fears. Thus began my love of violin music.

At 6, I made a toy violin out of a piece of cardboard and a ruler and ran around the house pretending to play Fritz Kreisler. My mom got the message. The violin lessons began and so did my future career.

My last public performance was playing for my deceased husband’s 60th Dartmouth class reunion memorial service. Of course, we played Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, “Love’s Sorrow.”

Years earlier, several of my musician friends had been organizing a concert featuring a composition by a local retired violinist. I went to his home to get the information for an article in the newspaper.

His daughter answered the door and took me to the music room to meet her father. This 90-year-old man was absolutely charming. He had played in the orchestra for the Perry Como TV show and had quite a career. We chatted for a while and I noticed he kept looking closely at me while we talked.

I looked away and happened to see an autographed photo of Fritz Kreisler on the wall. This particular photo had a reputation: Kreisler was from Austria and sold these photos to raise money for Austrian war orphans after World War I. I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo.

He noticed and said, “You seem to be fascinated with my photo of Fritz Kreisler.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied. “I’ve read the history of these signed photos and love Kreisler’s music.” The elderly man’s expression was pensive as he continued to study my face.

“Your visit is filled with good memories for me,” he mused. “You remind me of my beloved mistress from years ago.”  He paused, looked again at the photo then at me. “I’ll give you that portrait of Kreisler if you let me kiss you.” I wasn’t married, but it seemed to be a really off-color request. My brain was racing. I was thinking, “What did I do to provoke this? What is going on?!”

While I was still in shock, he stepped forward, put both his hands on my shoulders and very gently kissed me on the cheek. Then he stepped away. His eyes were wet with tears, but he had such a loving, sweet smile on his face. I was speechless. Then he walked to the picture, carefully took it down and softly handed it to me.

Not one to kiss and tell … however, the autographed photo of Fritz Kreisler hangs on the wall opposite my piano. It is such a precious keepsake for me. Such good memories.

This happened 40 years ago.

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