Karel Halíř was born in Hohenelbe, Bohemia (now Vrchlabí, Czech Republic), and studied with Antonín Bennewitz in Prague (1867-73) and with Joseph Joachim in Berlin (1874-76). For the next four years (1876-1879) he was part of Benjamin Bilse’s Kapelle in Berlin. He was concertmaster of the orchestras at Königsberg (1879), Mannheim (1881) and Weimar (1884–94). He first started getting attention as a soloist with his playing of the Bach Double Concerto with Joachim at the Bach Festival at Eisenach in 1884. In 1893 Halir took over as concert master with the Berlin opera orchestra, the Königliche Kapelle, and joined the faculty of the Berlin Königliche Hochschule für Musik. At that time he started his own quartet in Berlin with Carl Markees, Adolf Müller, and Hugo Dechert. Later he also founded a Piano Trio group with his Hochschule colleague Georg Schumann on piano and Hugo Dechert on cello. Halir became the second violinist of the Joachim Quartet in 1897, joining Joachim, Emanuel Wirth on viola, and Robert Hausmann on cello.
Halíř maintained his career as a soloist while playing in orchestras and ensembles all his life. He toured the United States in 1896 and 1897. He was renowned for his playing of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, and he played the work at his American debut on 13 November 1896, where it was described as "one of the most interesting and admirable pieces of violin playing that have been heard in New York". The performance was compared favorably to the previous performance of the work in New York by Eugène Ysaÿe, and the review concluded "To hear Herr Halir play ... is to understand what is meant by classical violin playing". On 4 December 1896 he gave the first performance in Carnegie Hall of Louis Spohr’s Violin Concerto No. 8, with the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch.
Although not the soloist at the premiere (that was Adolph Brodsky), Karel Halíř championed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, which was not popular in its early years. When Tchaikovsky attended a performance of the work by Halíř in Leipzig in 1888, he called it "a memorable day". In 1905, Halíř premiered the revised version of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor in Berlin, under the baton of Richard Strauss. That same program had Halíř playing the premiere of Charles Martin Loeffler’s Divertissement for violin and orchestra, which Fritz Kreisler and Eugène Ysaÿe had declined to play owing to its technical demands. He premiered other works, such as the Violin Concerto by the Danish composer Eduard Lassen, which was dedicated to him, in Frankfurt in 1889. He gave the European premiere of Amy Beach’s Violin Sonata in Berlin on 28 October 1899, with Teresa Carreño. He wrote a cadenza for the Brahms Violin Concerto in D major.
By 1900, the Joachim Quartet was touring extensively and receiving accolades wherever they went.They played a series of concerts every year in London, and were regulars at the bi-annual Beethoven Haus Festival in Bonn. In 1905 they performed the complete Beethoven Quartets on five successive days in London, Paris, and Rome. The Quartet disbanded after Joachim’s death in August of 1907. Less than two years later, in January 1909, the group’s cellist Hausmann died of a heart attack while on a concert tour. Halir died suddenly on 21 December of that year, at age fifty.
Halir’s successor at the Hochschule was the Joachim student Willy Hess, who also took over Halir’s Quartet and Trio ensembles.
- W. L. Hubbard, The American History and Encyclopedia of Music
- New York Times archives
- "New York Philharmonic Program 13,14 November 1896". New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives. 1896. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- New York Times: THE PHILHARMONIC CONCERT.; American Debut of Carl Halir -- A Fine Programme
- John Warrack, Tchaikovsky, p. 211
- Madison Symphony Orchestra program notes Archived 2009-05-04 at the Wayback Machine.
- Charles Martin Loeffler: A Life apart in American Music[permanent dead link]
- The Violin Sonata of Amy Beach Archived 2010-07-17 at the Wayback Machine.
- Adrienne Fried Block, Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian
- Cadenza Collection Archived 2008-12-29 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Kritik". Die Musik. IV. 15.: 46, 223. 1905.
- Theodore Baker, A Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
- The Violin Site
- Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed.
- Hugo Riemann. Riemann Musiklexikon 1919. Accessed August 27, 2018. http://archive.org/details/RiemannMusiklexikon10tea1922. p. 453.