See also Kolisch Archives at Harvard University

Kolisch, Rudolf

(b Klamm am Semmering, 20 July 1896; d Watertown, MA, 1 Aug 1978). American violinist of Austrian birth. An injury to his left hand in childhood, after he had begun violin lessons, compelled him to hold the violin with his right hand and the bow with his left. He studied at the Vienna Music Academy and Vienna University (where he attended Guido Adler's musicology lectures), and after graduating in 1913 continued to study the violin with Sevcik and theory and composition with Schreker and Schoenberg (who married Kolisch's sister Gertrud in 1924). Kolisch began his career as a conductor and violin virtuoso, and from 1919 to 1921 played a leading role in Schoenberg's Verein fur Musikalische Privatauffuhrungen. In 1922 he formed the Kolisch Quartet, which became internationally known. Its membership changed in the early years, but by 1927 consisted of Kolisch, Felix Khuner, Jeno (Eugene) Lehner and Benar Heifetz. This quartet toured in Europe, Africa, South America and the USA, where the members settled in 1935.

The Kolisch Quartet was the first to insist on playing the standard repertory from memory, and made a still stronger impression as the champion of new music, particularly of works by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Among its important premieres were Schoenberg's String Quartets nos.3 and 4 and Quartet Concerto (after Handel), Berg's Lyric Suite in its original form, Webern's String Trio and String Quartet, and Bartok's Quartet no.6. Schoenberg dedicated his Fourth Quartet jointly to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (who commissioned it) and to 'its ideal interpreters, the Kolisch Quartet', and wrote to the former that they were 'the best string quartet I ever heard', praising 'their virtuosity, their sonority, their understanding, their style'. Tonal richness was helped by their instruments: Kolisch played a Stradivari violin, Lehner a viola by Gasparo da Salo, Heifetz an Amati cello. They disbanded in 1939 after a reorganization of membership proved ineffective. Kolisch was leader of the Pro Arte Quartet from 1942, and from 1953 again appeared in Germany, most often at the Darmstadt summer courses. He taught violin and chamber music at the University of Wisconsin, 1944--67, and was artist-in-residence and head of the chamber music department at the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston.

E. Stein, ed.: Arnold Schoenberg: Ausgewahlte Briefe (Mainz, 1958; Eng. trans., enlarged, 1964)
A. Mell: 'In memoriam: Rudolf Kolisch (1896--1978)', Journal of the Violin Society of America, iv/1 (1977--8), 142--5
M. Steinberg: 'Rudolf Kolisch (1896--1978): Encomium', Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, iv (1980), 7--11
Rudolf Kolisch zur Theorie der Auffuhrungen: ein Gesprach mit Berthold Turcke, Musik-Konzepte, nos.29--30 (1983)