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Rudolf Kolisch

Also Known As: "Rudi"
Birthplace: Klamm, Semmering, Austria
Death: August 01, 1978 (82)
Watertown, Middlesex County, MA, United States
Place of Burial: Vienna, Austria
Immediate Family:

Son of Dr. Rudolf Rafael Kolisch and Henriette Anna Theresia Kolisch
Husband of Lorna Beth Kolisch
Ex-husband of Josefa Kolisch
Brother of Maria Sofia Adolfine (Mitzi) Seligmann and Gertrud Bertha Schoenberg

Occupation: violinist, Kolisch Quartet
Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:

About Rudolf Kolisch

Rudolf Kolisch (July 20, 1896 - August 1, 1978) was a Viennese violinist and leader of string quartets.

Kolisch was born in Klamm, Lower Austria and raised in Vienna. His father (also named Rudolf Kolisch) was a prominent physician and a Dozent at the University. Following service in World War I, Kolisch attended both the University and the Musikakademie, where he studied violin with Ottokar Ševčik, composition with Franz Schreker and conducting with Franz Schalk, intending at first to make a career as a conductor.

In 1919 he began studying composition with Arnold Schoenberg, who soon put Kolisch to work in the "Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna" (Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen in Wien). This led to the creation of a string quartet ("Wiener Streichquartett") which had the purpose of performing Schoenberg's music, but also performing the classical string quartet repertoire in a manner which would take into account the principles of Schoenberg's teaching; Schoenberg himself directed many rehearsals of this quartet. By 1927 the ensemble had become known as the Kolisch Quartet. Numerous works were written for this ensemble by composers including Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Schoenberg, and Béla Bartók.

Stranded in New York by the entrance of the United States into World War II, Kolisch at first tried to keep the Quartet together. When this failed, he took a position on the faculty of The New School, lecturing on "Musical Performance: The Realization of Musical Meaning" and co-founding (with Otto Klemperer) a chamber orchestra at the school, with which he gave the first U.S. performances of Bartók's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta," Igor Stravinsky's "l'Histoire du Soldat" and Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1. During this time he prepared the ensemble and participated in the recording of Schoenberg's "Pierrot lunaire" conducted by the composer, and researched and wrote an article, "Tempo and Character in Beethoven's Music" which was presented to the New York chapter of the American Musicological Society and later published in two installments in the magazine "Musical Quarterly".

In 1944 Kolisch was invited to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to become the new leader of the Pro Arte String Quartet (apparently the first "Quartet in Residence" at any U.S. university). He was also granted a full Professorship. In the 1950s he began to tour in Europe again as a recitalist, and he became a member of the faculty at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt, Germany, along with his close friends and long-time associates Eduard Steuermann and Theodor Adorno. Except for one year (1956) spent in Darmstadt, he remained active in Madison until reaching the mandatory retirement age in 1966. At that time he was invited by Gunther Schuller to become head of the Chamber Music department at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he remained on the faculty until the end of his life. During the summers of 1974 through 1977 he also taught chamber music performance at the annual Schoenberg Seminars in Mödling, Austria near Vienna.

Mr. Kolisch was married in the 1930s to Josefa Rosanska (b. 1904, d. 1986), a concert pianist; the marriage ended in divorce. In the early 1940s he married Lorna Freedman (b. 1917, d. 2006), a professional violinist and violist.

The papers of Rudolf Kolisch are kept in the Manuscript Department of the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

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Rudolf Kolisch's Timeline

July 20, 1896
Klamm, Semmering, Austria
August 1, 1978
Age 82
Watertown, Middlesex County, MA, United States
August 14, 1978
Age 82
Vienna, Austria