Alfred Grünfeld

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Born the son of a Prague leather merchant, pianist and composer Alfred Grünfeld was regarded at the end of his life as one of Vienna's most celebrated musicians, having for years served as court keyboardist…
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Born the son of a Prague leather merchant, pianist and composer Alfred Grünfeld was regarded at the end of his life as one of Vienna's most celebrated musicians, having for years served as court keyboardist for the Austrian Imperial family.

Grünfeld was born in 1852; his parents guided both him and his cellist brother, Heinrich, toward lives as professional musicians from early childhood. In his teens, Grünfeld went to Berlin to study piano with the renowned Theodor Kullak. He moved to Vienna -- then Europe's unchallenged cultural pearl -- in 1873 and set about making a living teaching and performing. His cream-puff transcriptions of Johann Strauss' waltzes made him a favorite with the Viennese public, and he also included these works on his programs when touring abroad. As a composer, Alfred Grünfeld limited himself to piano showpieces, characteristic sketches and to operetta, the latter genre being represented by two items: Der Lebemann (1903) and Die Schönen (1907). Even by the standards of his own time, Alfred Grünfeld's compositions were appropriate for their intended audience, but unremarkable beyond that.

The same is not true in terms of Grünfeld's activity as a pioneer recording artist. Grünfeld was the first pianist of significance to leave behind a sizable legacy of recordings, both on early discs and on Welte piano rolls. Alfred Grünfeld's first recordings were made in 1899 for Emile Berliner's newly-formed Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft label, and by the time Grünfeld made his last records in 1914 he had made more than a hundred. Original copies of Grünfeld's records exchange hands at significant rates, and not all of the titles he is known to have made are believed extant. Grünfeld's recordings reveal that he was an outstanding pianist, and not nearly as stylistically old hat as his compositions might have suggested on their own.