(born Dec. 19, 1888, Budapest, Austria-Hungary—died Nov. 15, 1963, New York, N.Y., U.S.) Hungarian-born U.S. conductor. After piano studies with Béla Bartók, he conducted opera in Budapest (1911–14) and Dresden (1914–22). In 1922 he immigrated to the U.S., where he conducted orchestras in Cincinnati (1922–31) and Pittsburgh (1938–48). From 1953 to 1962 he led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which under Reiner first won international acclaim. He also taught conducting at the Curtis Institute (Leonard Bernstein was among his students). A stern taskmaster, he inspired devotion on the part of many players.
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In 1947, Reiner appeared on camera in the film Carnegie Hall, in which he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as they accompanied violinist Jascha Heifetz in an abbreviated version of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto. Years later, Heifetz and Reiner recorded the full Tchaikovsky concerto for RCA Victor in Chicago.
Even though his music-making had been American-focused since his arrival in Cincinnati, Reiner became active in Europe after the Second World War. When he became music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1953 he had a completely international reputation. By common consent, the ten years that he spent in Chicago mark the pinnacle of his career, and are best-remembered today through the many landmark, stereophonic recordings he made in Chicago's Orchestra Hall for RCA Victor from 1954 to 1962. His last concerts in Chicago were in the spring of 1963.
His last recording, released in a special Reader's Digest boxed set, was a performance of Brahms' fourth symphony, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London's Kingsway Hall. This recording was later reissued on LP by Quintessence and on CD by Chesky.
He also appeared with members of the Chicago Symphony in a series of telecasts on Chicago's WGN-TV in 1953-54, and a later series of nationally-syndicated programs called Music from Chicago. Some of these performances have been issued on DVD.
Reiner was especially noted as an interpreter of Strauss and Bartók and was often seen as a modernist in his musical taste; he and his compatriot Joseph Szigeti convinced Serge Koussevitzky to commission the Concerto for Orchestra from Bartók. In reality, he had a very wide repertory and was known to admire Mozart's music above all else.
Reiner’s conducting technique was defined by its precision and economy, in the manner of Arthur Nikisch and Arturo Toscanini. It typically employed quite small gestures - it has been said that the beat indicated by the tip of his baton could be contained in the area of a postage stamp - although from the perspective of the players it was extremely expressive. The response he drew from orchestras was one of astonishing richness, brilliance, and clarity of texture. Igor Stravinsky called the Chicago Symphony under Reiner "the most precise and flexible orchestra in the world"; it was more often than not achieved with tactics that bordered on the personally abusive.
Chicago musicians have spoken of Reiner's autocratic methods; a leading trumpeter told National Public Radio that Reiner often tested him and other musicians. Nevertheless, as Leonard Bernstein discovered, Reiner had a quick and rather sarcastic sense of humor. When Bernstein dared to call Reiner "Fritz" during a class at the Curtis Institute, Reiner quickly retorted, "Yes Mr. Bernstein?"