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Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet

Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet

Kenneth Morgan
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet
    Book Description:

    This award-winning book, now available in paperback, is the first solid appraisal of the legendary career of the eminent Hungarian-born conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963). Personally enigmatic and often described as difficult to work with, he was nevertheless renowned for the dynamic galvanization of the orchestras he led, a nearly unrivaled technical ability, and high professional standards. Reiner's influence in the United States began in the early 1920s and lasted until his death. Reiner was also deeply committed to serious music in American life, especially through the promotion of new scores. In Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet, Kenneth Morgan paints a very real portrait of a man who was both his own worst enemy and one of the true titans of his profession.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09194-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    For forty years musical audiences in America were used to seeing a stocky figure around five feet, five inches in height, with hooded eyes like a falcon, a serious look, and tremendous discipline, conduct operatic and symphonic performances. After a brief handshake with the leader of an orchestra and an almost curt nod of the head to the audience, a hand with a baton almost sixteen inches long gave the upbeat, and the evening’s performance started with perfect discipline, rhythmic vitality, and acute attention to the balance and sonorities of an orchestra. From the auditorium, however, it appeared that nothing...

    (pp. 23-43)

    Fritz Reiner—Reiner Frigyes in Magyar—was born in Budapest on December 19, 1888, the son of upper-middle-class Hungarian Jews who took a cultivated interest in the arts. Ignácx, his father, was a prosperous textile merchant with a wide social circle. Though he was no performer, he had a keen interest in music and could sing most of Schumann’s songs from memory. His mother, Vilma (née Pollak), was an accomplished amateur pianist. With this background the young Fritz Reiner was, not surprisingly, exposed to music at an early age. Chopin’s piano music was played regularly in the home along with...

    (pp. 44-65)

    Reiner was selected as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from a shortlist of four highly respected, European-trained conductors. The other three candidates turned down the position. Serge Koussevitzky lost interest when his salary demand of thirty thousand dollars per season could not be met. Wilhelm Furtwängler and Felix Weingartner decided not to leave their well-established positions in Berlin and Vienna, respectively.¹ The path was therefore clear for Reiner to come to Cincinnati. News of his ability had reached America before his appointment. The father of the orchestra’s concertmaster, Emil Heermann, had written to his son from Geneva about...

    (pp. 66-83)

    In 1931 Reiner was appointed head of the opera and orchestral departments at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, a conservatory that catered to young musical talent of a high order. Founded in 1924 by Mary Curtis Bok, the daughter of a successful publisher and serious music lover, this lavishly endowed institution reflected the philanthropic munificence of the Curtis family. The original endowment was five hundred thousand dollars, but Mary Curtis Bok added $12 million in 1927. At the time this was the largest single private fund ever donated for the advancement of music in America. In the same...

    (pp. 84-105)

    Reiner’s teaching position at the Curtis Institute was a useful vantage point for guest appearances conducting operas and symphonic music in the Quaker City and for keeping in touch with musical developments on the East Coast. It also gave him time to pursue other musical activities on a freelance basis. By the 1930s, Philadelphia already had a long tradition of presenting opera. The Academy of Music, when completed in 1857, was the finest opera house in North America. Later the home of the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company (1924–30) and the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company (1926–43), it was also...

    (pp. 106-127)

    When Reiner became music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he came to one of the grimiest industrial centers in the United States—a city full of smoke and steel, dominated by river and rail traffic, regular floods, and the smell and pollution of factories. Ash and soot were so prevalent that daylight street lighting was needed, and sewage was regularly dumped in rivers. Reiner also arrived in Pittsburgh at a crucial point in the orchestra’s reorganization. An orchestral society in the city dated back to 1873, but the Pittsburgh Orchestra, as it was first called, was not formed until...

  11. 7. AT THE MET
    (pp. 128-146)

    Reiner made his Met debut with a sensational triumph on February 4, 1949, when he conducted Richard Strauss’sSalomewith Ljuba Welitsch as the acclaimed interpreter of the heroine. This was truly one of the red-letter days in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, for the performance was greeted with a fifteen-minute standing ovation, which was almost unprecedented in the history of the company. Nothing like such applause had been heard at the Met for a generation, and the impact of this production was talked about for years afterwards.¹ The end of Reiner’s career at the Met came four years...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 8. CHICAGO
    (pp. 147-174)

    Reiner came to Chicago after a turbulent decade for the orchestra that followed half a century of stability. From its foundation in 1891 until 1942 the Chicago Symphony played under only two chief conductors, Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock. Both were German-born, and both gained a reputation as orchestral builders and contributors to the civic life of Chicago. After the death of Stock several music directors came and went in quick succession. Désiré Defauw lasted four years (1943–47). Artur Rodzinski stayed for only a single season (1947–48). They were followed by two years of guest conductors. At this...

    (pp. 175-206)

    Until the age of fifty, Reiner’s recording career consisted of false starts and dashed hopes. His debut as a recording artist came before the First World War when, at the age of eighteen, he played the piano into an acoustic horn to accompany a soprano singing German lieder for reproduction on a cylindrical record.¹ While he washofkapellmeisterin Dresden the singers of the Saxon State Opera House undertook some recordings, but they were made in Berlin with an anonymous orchestral backing and unnamed conductors: it is unlikely that Reiner was involved.² In 1925 and 1926 he took part in...

    (pp. 207-228)

    Reiner’s quest for technical perfection in music making and his catholic taste meant that he was an exacting and significant interpreter of a wide range of music, from baroque concerti to Stravinsky’sAgon.His insistence on thorough preparation, total knowledge of scores, and an awareness of different musical styles underpinned the re-creative methods he mastered. A book on Reiner would be incomplete without an examination of the skills he brought to musical interpretation and recording, and this chapter investigates his approach to these matters. Reiner’s musical aesthetic can yield insights into his re-creative ability. This can be achieved by taking...

  16. Appendix: Timings of Recordings by Reiner
    (pp. 229-230)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 231-270)
  18. Discography: Reiner on Compact Disc
    (pp. 271-278)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-298)
  20. Index
    (pp. 299-310)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-316)