Luigi von Kunits

Kunits, Luigi von (b Ludwig Paul Maria). Conductor, violinist, teacher, composer, b Vienna 20 Jul 1870, d Toronto 8 Oct 1931; D JURIS (Vienna) ca 1891, honorary D MUS (Toronto) 1926.

Kunits, Luigi von

Kunits, Luigi von (b Ludwig Paul Maria). Conductor, violinist, teacher, composer, b Vienna 20 Jul 1870, d Toronto 8 Oct 1931; D JURIS (Vienna) ca 1891, honorary D MUS (Toronto) 1926. In Vienna he studied violin with Jakob Grün and Otakar Ševčík, composition with Bruckner, and music history with Hanslick. At 11 he was asked by Brahms (who knew his father) to attempt the second violin in one of the composer's quartets. He was acquainted with Goldmark and Johann Strauss. At 21 he performed his own violin concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic. He went to the USA with an Austrian orchestra to perform at the 1893 World's Fair and remained there, teaching violin in Chicago 1893-6 and at the Pittsburgh Cons 1896-1910. It was as concertmaster 1897-1910 and assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that he first visited Toronto for a performance with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

In 1912, after two years in Europe performing his own Violin Concerto in E Minor and concertos by Brahms, Wieniawski, Mendelssohn, and Paganini to excellent reviews, he was invited to become conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and at the same time was asked to teach at the Canadian Academy of Music in Toronto. Because of a heart condition von Kunits decided, on advice, to accept the quieter of the two positions. In Toronto he formed the Academy String Quartet (1912-23), which was noted for its repertoire of contemporary music. In 1922 at the request of the Toronto musicians Louis Gesensway and Abe Fenboque he formed the New Symphony Orchestra, which in 1927 became the TSO. The string section contained many of his pupils. The excellence of that section was noted by Stokowski (who had accepted the Philadelphia position declined by von Kunits) when he conducted the orchestra. Two of von Kunits' pupils, Gesensway and Manny Roth, accepted invitations to join the Philadelphia Orchestra. Others of note were Harry Adaskin, Vera Bairstow, the US composer Charles Wakefield Cadman, Ernest Dainty, Frank (Francesco) Fusco, Eugene Kash, Harvey Perrin, Albert Pratz, Paul Scherman, Stanley Solomon, Maurice Solway, Albert Steinberg, Berul Sugarman, and Geoffrey Waddington. Von Kunits shaped a generation of string players, some of whom continued to play with the TS in the 1980s.

Von Kunits' education went beyond music. He knew Latin and Greek, he founded the Canadian Journal of Music (1914-19), he contributed to several periodicals, and he wrote an unpublished book on Beethoven, The Hero as Musician (1913). Many of his critical reviews had the byline 'A.L'. ('All Lies'). His compositions (listed in the Catalogue of Canadian Composers) include two violin concertos, a string quartet (1891), a Scotch Lullaby for violin and orchestra (1916), and a viola sonata (1917). Several works for voice or violin and piano were published by Detmer, C. Fischer, Harris, and G. Schirmer, and three songs appeared in Musical Canada (1931). His string quartet, first performed in 1915 by the Academy String Quartet, was revived in 1975 by the Orford String Quartet. A bronze bust of von Kunits is located in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall. The National Library of Canada holds many of his manuscripts.


Further Reading

  • Bridle, Augustus. 'Luigi von Kunits, master in music, culture and energy,' Luigi von Kunits, brochure (Toronto 1931)

    'Musical bibliographies of Canadian composers, no. 5,' Toronto Globe, 1 Aug 1936

    Campbell, Aglaia. 'He founded the Toronto Symphony,' Mayfair, 2 instalments, Oct, Nov 1957

    Edinborough, Arnold. A Personal History of the Toronto Symphony (Toronto [1971])

    Edwards, Aglaia von Kunits. 'Memories of a musician's daughter,' TS News, Dec-Jan 1972-3, Jan-Feb 1973

    Petrovic, Michael M. 'Luigi von Kunits: the man who made Pittsburg [sic] and Toronto musical,' Voice of Canadian Serbs, 27 Nov 1986