Erich Leinsdorf

Leinsdorf, Erich

(b. 4 February 1912 in Vienna, Austria; d. 11 September 1993 in Züurich, Switzerland), conductor who led world-class ensembles, including the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Leinsdorf, who legally changed his name from Landauer in 1934, was born to Ludwig Julius Landauer, a salesman,

and Charlotte Loebl, a homemaker and trained musician. Leinsdorf received his first music lessons from his mother when he was five years old. From the age of eleven he studied piano with Paul Emerich and Hedwig Kammer-Rosenthal, and at thirteen he began to study cello with Lilly Kosz. He also had private lessons in theory and composition with Paul Pisk, a student of Arnold Schoenberg. Leins-dorf attended the University of Vienna in 1930 and earned his diploma from the State Academy of Music in Vienna in 1933.

Leinsdorf served as rehearsal and solo pianist for Anton von Webern’s choral group Singverein der Sozialdemokratischen Kunstelle in 1933. After a successful audition, Leinsdorf became Bruno Walter’s assistant at the Salzburg Festival in 1934. Impressed by Leinsdorf ’s talent, Arturo Toscanini invited him to be his assistant in the following year. Leinsdorf worked for both Walter and Toscanini at Salzburg from 1935 through 1937. By 1937 Leinsdorf had already established a name in Italy as a conductor of opera. With the recommendations of Toscanini and the soprano Lotte Lehmann, Leinsdorf was invited to be an assistant conductor to Artur Bodanzky, the director of German repertoire at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Leinsdorf made his New York debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 21 January 1938 with a performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre (1856) that was successful and acclaimed. In the same period Leinsdorf was engaged as assistant to Fritz Reiner of the San Francisco Opera. In his debut in San Francisco on 19 October 1938, Leinsdorf conducted the San Francisco Opera’s first performance of Claude Debussy’s Pelléeacute;as et Mé léisande (1902).

In 1938 the Anschluss in Austria, which led to its annexation by Adolf Hitler’s Germany, prevented Leinsdorf from returning home. On 3 August 1939 he married Anne Frohnknecht, with whom he had five children. The marriage ended in divorce in 1968. Leinsdorf became an American citizen in 1942.

When Bodanzky fell ill before the Metropolitan Opera’s 1939–1940 season, Leinsdorf was given charge of the Wagner repertoire. Upon Bodanzky’s death on 23 November 1939, Leinsdorf was instantly named his successor as principal conductor of German operas. He met the challenge with competence and talent. In his first season as the principal conductor he presented fifty-five performances, directing not only the Wagnerian repertoire but also Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélsande, and Christoph Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (1762).

Leinsdorf’s demanding policies in matters of repertoire and rehearsal time made him some enemies. He left the Metropolitan Opera in 1943 to succeed Artur Rodzinski as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra. However, his induction into the U.S. Army in December 1943 interrupted his tenure there. He was assigned to Camp Lee, Virginia, and was discharged for medical reasons in 1944. He then returned to the Metropolitan Opera as a guest conductor from 1944 to 1945. In 1947 he was appointed music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, to which he attracted national attention through a series of recordings for Columbia Records. In 1956 Leinsdorf served as music director of the New York City Opera, where he presented the American premieres of Frank Martin’s The Tempest (1952-1954) and Carl Orff’s The Moon (1939). He returned to the Metropolitan Opera as a guest conductor and musical consultant to Rudolf Bing from 1957 to 1962.

In 1962 Leinsdorf accepted his most prestigious post as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, replacing Charles Munch. Leinsdorf expanded the Boston Symphony’s repertoire by introducing less traditional programs, such as world premieres of Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto (1962) and Elliott Carter’s Piano Concerto (1964-1965). He founded the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in 1964 and was also in charge of the famous summer concerts at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, where he directed the American premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem (1962). On 5 August 1968 Leinsdorf married Vera Graf, an Argentina-born former violinist of the New York City Opera Orchestra.

Tired of endless managerial tasks, Leinsdorf retired from the Boston Symphony in 1969 and devoted himself to engagements as guest conductor. He made appearances with virtually every major orchestra in the United States and Europe. His only stable position after leaving Boston was as principal conductor of the Radio Symphony Orchestra of West Berlin from 1978 to 1980.

In 1981 Leinsdorf published The Composer’s Advocate: A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians, which offers a detailed guide to interpretations for conductors. He urged conductors to study all the works of a composer before performing any. In another book, Erich Leinsdorf on Music (1997), he criticized modern performers’ inability to sight-read and prepare quickly for performances.

Leinsdorf’s many recordings include Ariadne auf Naxos (1971); Salome (1969); Turandot (1960); Die Walkïre (1962); Lohengrin (1966); Aïda (1971); the complete symphonies of Mozart with an ad hoc orchestra, the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of London; and a complete set of the Beethoven piano concertos with Arthur Rubinstein and the Boston Symphony (1963-1967). From 1959 to 1972 eight of Leinsdorf ’s albums received Grammy Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He served on the National Endowment for the Arts and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Rutgers University, Columbia University, Baldwin-Wallace College, and Williams College awarded him honorary doctorates.

Albums Featuring this Artist