by Caroline Crawford

Felix Khuner was born and raised in Vienna. Trained in math and music, he had thought of becoming a mathematician, but when he was offered a place in the Kolisch Quartet at age nineteen and saw Arnold Schoenberg at one of the Quartet's rehearsals, he decided to join them instead. He played and toured with the Quartet for fifteen years, performing premieres and signal works of Schoenberg, Berg and Bartok. With the advent of Nazism he decided to settle in the United States, where he played with the San Francisco Symphony and Opera Orchestras for more than forty years.

Of his career, Khuner liked to say that he was a "useful" musician, but those who played with him marveled at his memory, his musical knowledge (he could cover nearly every orchestral part) and his outspoken opinions. Kurt Adler solicited his advice often about orchestral matters, and on one occasion a cut in a score bothered him so much he offered Adler $200 not to make it.

Robert Commanday, former senior music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, was first to suggest Felix Khuner as one of the Bay Area's top candidates for an oral history. And although Khuner often claimed that his story would not be of interest to anyone, he enjoyed telling it, with typical candid good humor.

During our five interview sessions, all of which took place in the living room of the Khuner's home just to the north of the University of California, Berkeley campus, Mr. Khuner often picked up his violin to illustrate something he was talking about--a bowing technique or a remembered performance, and just as often he brought an interview to an abrupt end with a not particularly germane story. During the sessions, Mrs. Khuner would often be playing Bach on the piano with a friend in the back room, and son Eliot Khuner, a professional photographer, occasionally listened in and supplied dates or answered questions.

Many of the subjects in the interviews were only touched upon, because Felix Khuner died before he had a chance to review and add to the transcripts. But his freshness of spirit and irreverence for all things pretentious shines through. We have indicated in the text where materials were shifted to make it read more clearly.

We could not have finished the oral history except for the dedication of one of the Khuner daughters, Margo Khuner Leslie, who transcribed the tapes (Mr. Khuner's still- German accent sometimes made understanding the tapes hard), helped with the editing, final typed and indexed the manuscript. Son Jonathan Khuner reviewed the text for accuracy, son Eliot Khuner provided photographs, and close friend and colleague Tom Heimberg wrote an insightful introduction to the volume.

Regarding donors to the oral history, all were friends of classical music, and many were devotees of the Berkeley Opera, where Felix Khuner played several seasons in the orchestra, working with this son Jonathan, who recently became the company's artistic director. We are grateful to Mrs. Arthur J. Brown, widow of the late distinguished attorney (his history is a part of our Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro oral history series), who asked his friends and colleagues to memorialize her husband with a gift to the office. A daughter and niece of two foresters interviewed in the 1960s for ROHO's History of Forestry Series, Mrs. Brown designated the gifts to Felix Khuner's oral history in appreciation of the many years that her husband enjoyed San Francisco Symphony performances.

The Regional Oral History Office was established in 1954 to augment through tape recorded memoirs The Bancroft Library's materials on the history of California and the West. The office is under the direction of Willa K. Baum, and is an administrative division of The Bancroft Library.

Caroline CrawfordInterviewer/Editor

This oral history was prepared by the Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley. Other oral histories with musicians. can be found at the Regional Oral History Web Site

Next Page: Introduction

[Introduction by Tom Heimberg] [Felix Khuner Oral History: Complete] [Donors to Felix Khuner Oral History] [Photo of Kolisch Quartet - CD Cover] [Other oral histories with musicians at Regional Oral History Web Site]

August 1996
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley

Last Update: July 12, 1997, Eliot Khuner