Born in Vienna, Fritz Kreisler attended the conservatoire there from the age of seven, studying theory under Anton Bruckner. At the age of ten his violin playing won the gold medal, and he progressed to the Paris Conservatoire, receiving no instruction after the age of twelve. However, an unremarkable tour of the USA, two years in the Vienna Gymnasium, medical training and military service came between him and a concert career and it was by no means certain that he would make a living from music. After failing at an 1896 audition for the Vienna Opera Orchestra (allegedly owing to poor reading at sight), he eventually joined the Vienna Philharmonic and made his solo debut under Nikisch with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1899. Edward Elgar wrote his violin concerto for Kreisler, and they gave the first performance together in 1910.
During further military service in the First World War, Kreisler was wounded and discharged. He travelled to America in 1914, but due to virulent anti-German feeling was unable to forge a career until 1919. After spending the years 1924 to 1934 in Berlin, he moved first to France then back to America to escape Naziism. He took American citizenship and spent the rest of his life there, performing and recording until semi-retirement in 1947.
As a composer, Kreisler had to fight the prevailing mood of modernism, which he felt was at odds with the manner in which he wanted to write. His many cadenzas for classical concertos were one avenue for him, but eventually he took to writing in the styles of composers such as Pugnani and Martini and passing off his works as long-lost masterpieces, mysteriously "found" on his travels. As such his efforts were greatly appreciated, although many felt cheated when he revealed the hoax in 1935. However, these pieces and others of a similarly capricious nature have since become popular violin encores and showpieces.