Pierre Monteux

Pierre Monteux

[mon-tœ; Fr. mawn-tœ]
Monteux, Pierre, 1875-1964, French-American conductor, studied at the Paris Conservatory. As conductor (1911-14) of Diaghilev's Ballet Russe, he directed the premieres of ballets by Stravinsky, Ravel, and Debussy. He came to the United States in 1916 to conduct the Ballet Russe on its American tour, and he remained for two seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City, and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1919 to 1924. For the next 10 years he appeared as guest conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. He became conductor of the Paris Symphony Orchestra in 1930 and of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1936. In 1942 he became a U.S. citizen. From 1961 until his death Monteux led the London Symphony Orchestra. He was known for the purity and self-restraint of his interpretations.

Pierre Monteux (April 4, 1875July 1, 1964) was an orchestra conductor. Born in Paris, France, rue de la Grange Batelière. Monteux later became an American citizen.

Life and career

Monteux studied violin from an early age, entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of nine. He became a proficient violinist, good enough to share the Conservatoire's violin prize in 1896 with Jacques Thibaud. In his spare time he also played at the Folies Bergères. He later took up the viola and played in the Geloso Quartet which played one of Brahms's string quartets in a private performance for the composer and in the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique, leading the viola section in the première of Debussy's opera, Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902.

In 1910, Monteux took a conducting post at the Dieppe casino. The next year, 1911, he became conductor of Sergei Diaghilev's ballet company, the Ballets Russes. In this capacity he conducted the premières of Stravinsky's Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) – with its famous riot – as well as Debussy's Jeux (1913) and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé (1912). This established the course of his career, and for the rest of his life he was noted particularly for his interpretations of Russian and French music.

With the outbreak of World War I, Monteux was called up for military service, but was discharged in 1916, and travelled to the United States. There he took charge of the French repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1917 to 1919. He also conducted the American première of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Golden Cockerel at the Metropolitan Opera.

He then moved to the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1919-1924). He had a major effect on the Boston ensemble's sound, and was able to fashion the orchestra as he pleased after a strike led to thirty of its members leaving. He also introduced a number of new works in Boston, notably works by French composers.

In 1924, Monteux began an association with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, serving as "first conductor" ("eerste dirigent") alongside Willem Mengelberg. In 1929, he founded the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, which he conducted until 1935. In the year the orchestra was founded, he conducted it in the world première of Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 3.

Monteux then returned to the United States, and worked with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from 1935 to 1952. He began recording with the orchestra for RCA Victor in 1941 and made numerous discs in San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House for the next 11 years. In 1943, he founded a conducting school, The Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians, in Hancock, Maine, the childhood home of his second wife, Doris Hodgkins Monteux, where Monteux was now living. There he taught such future conductors as Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, André Previn, Werner Torkanowsky and David Zinman. In 1946, he became a United States citizen. He made a nostalgic return to San Francisco in 1960 to guest conduct the orchestra and to record Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and Richard Strauss's Death and Transfiguration for RCA Victor, the only stereophonic recordings he made with his former orchestra.

In 1951, Monteux renewed his association with the Boston Symphony as a regular guest conductor. He conducted it in Boston, at Tanglewood, and on a transcontinental tour and on two tours to Europe. Monteux also recorded the Boston Symphony for RCA Victor. He continued to conduct the Boston Symphony until his death in 1964.

From 1961 to 1964 he was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He was 86 when he was invited to take the post, and he famously accepted on condition that he had a 25-year contract, with a 25-year option of renewal. With the LSO Monteux gave the 50th anniversary performance of The Rite of Spring, at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in the presence of the composer. In his last studio sessions, for Philips Records in 1964, Monteux recorded a disc with the LSO and his son, the flautist Claude Monteux, the only gramophone recording Pierre and Claude made together.

Pierre Monteux died in Hancock in 1964.

Musical style

Monteux observed, 'Our principal work is to keep the orchestra together and carry out the composer’s instructions, not to be sartorial models, cause dowagers to swoon, or distract audiences by our “interpretation”'. He advised the young Previn that when orchestras are playing well the conductor should not interfere with them. 'His approach to all music is that of the master-craftsman,' according to an approving critic in 1957. The record producer John Culshaw described Monteux as 'that rarest of beings — a conductor who was loved by his orchestras' and said that 'to call him a legend would be to understate the case.' Toscanini observed that Monteux had the best baton technique he had ever seen.


Monteux made a large number of recordings throughout his career. He himself claimed to dislike them, maintaining that they lacked the spontaneity of live performances. Nevertheless, many of his recordings have remained in the catalogues for decades, notably RCA recordings with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, and Decca recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and his Philips recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra. Some recordings currently (2007) or recently available on CD are:


  • Suite No 2 in B minor (London Symphony Orchestra, with Claude Monteux, flute)


  • Symphonies 1, 3, 6 and 8 (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • Symphonies 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9 (LSO)
  • Symphony No 3 (Concertgebouw Orchestra)



Leo Delibes

  • Coppelia, Suite (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1953)
  • Sylvia, Suite (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1953)

Claude Debussy




Christoph Gluck


Aram Khachaturian

  • Violin Concerto, Soloist: Leonid Kogan (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1958)

Franz Liszt

  • Les Preludes (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1952)



  • Flute Concerto in D major, K314 (Claude Monteux/LSO)
  • Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K414 (Boston Symphony Orchestra) Soloist: Lili Kraus (1953)
  • Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, K456 (Boston Symphony Orchestra) Soloist: Lili Kraus (1953)




  • Havanise, Soloist: Leonid Kogan (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1958)


Richard Strauss


  • Petrushka (Paris Conservatoire Orchestra)
  • Petrushka (Boston Symphony Orchestra)) (1958)
  • The Rite of Spring (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1951)
  • The Rite of Spring (Paris Conservatoire)


  • Symphony No. 4 (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1959)
  • Symphony No. 5 (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1958)
  • Symphony No. 6 (Boston Symphony Orchestra) (1955)
  • Swan Lake, excerpts (LSO)



Notable premières

See also


  • Cosman, Milein (1957). Musical Sketchbook. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer.
  • Previn, André; Foss, Michael; Adeney, Richard (1979). Orchestra. London: Macdonald and Jane's.
  • Culshaw, John (1981). Putting the Record Straight. London: Secker & Warburg.
  • Caranina, John (2003). Pierre Monteux, Maitre. Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press.
  • Morrison, Richard (2004). Orchestra. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Mousnier, Jean-Philippe (1999). Pierre Monteux. Paris: l'Harmattan.
  • The Gramophone, August 1964

External links

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