Fritz Reiner

Fritz Reiner

[rahy-ner]
Reiner, Fritz, 1888-1963, American conductor, b. Budapest. After serving as conductor of the People's Opera in Budapest (1911-14) and the Court Opera in Dresden (1914-21), he came (1922) to the United States as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony (1922-31). He was later musical director of the Pittsburgh Symphony (1938-48), the Metropolitan Opera (1948-53), and the Chicago Symphony (1953-62). He was known for his ruthless insistence on precision and clarity.

(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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Frederick Martin “Fritz” Reiner (December 19, 1888November 15, 1963) was a prominent conductor of opera and symphonic music in the twentieth century.

Biography

Reiner was born in Budapest, Hungary to a secular Jewish family that resided in the Pest area of the city. After preliminary studies in law at his father’s urging, Reiner pursued the study of piano, piano pedagogy, and composition at the Franz Liszt Academy. During his last two years there his piano teacher was the young Béla Bartók. After early engagements at opera houses in Budapest and Dresden where he worked closely with Richard Strauss, he moved to the United States of America in 1922 to take the post of Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He remained until 1931, having become a naturalized citizen in 1928, then began to teach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his pupils included Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss. He conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1938 to 1948 and made a few recordings with them for Columbia Records, then spent several years at the Metropolitan Opera, where he conducted a historic production of Strauss's Salome in 1949, with the Bulgarian soprano Ljuba Welitsch in the title role, and the American premiere of Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in 1951. He also conducted and made a recording of the famous 1952 Metropolitan Opera production of Bizet's Carmen, starring Rise Stevens. The production was telecast on closed circuit television that year. At the time of his death he was preparing the Met's new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.

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.

Personal life

Reiner was married three times (one of them was a daughter of Etelka Gerster) and fathered two daughters, as well as a third daughter out of wedlock. In his last years Reiner's health deteriorated as a result of a major heart attack he suffered in October 1960. He died in New York City at the age of 74.

Repertoire and Style

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?"

References

  • Hart, Philip (1994). Fritz Reiner: A Biography. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.
  • Morgan, Kenneth (2005). Fritz Reiner: Maestro & Martinet. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

External links

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