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Bruno Walter

Bruno Walter: A World Elsewhere

Erik Ryding
Rebecca Pechefsky
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    Bruno Walter
    Book Description:

    Bruno Walter, one of the greatest conductors in the twentieth century, lived a fascinating life in difficult times. This engrossing book is the first full-length biography of Walter to appear in English.Erik Ryding and Rebecca Pechefsky describe Walter's early years in Germany, where his successes in provincial theaters led to positions at the Berlin State Opera and the Vienna State Opera. They then tell of his decade-long term as Bavarian music director and his romantic involvement with the soprano Delia Reinhardt; his other positions in the musical community until he was ousted from Germany when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933; and his return to Vienna, where he was artistic director of the Opera House until he was again forced out by the Nazis. Finally they trace his career in the United States, where he led the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras and in his last years made numerous recordings with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble created especially for him. Ryding and Pechefsky are the first biographers to make extensive use of the thousands of unpublished letters in the Bruno Walter Papers, now in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In addition to interviewing more than sixty people who knew Walter, they examined countless reviews to assess the popular and critical impact he had on his times. Authoritative and even-handed, this biography sheds new light on Walter, one of the great formative influences in musical interpretation.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12927-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. ONE Bruno Schlesinger Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, 1876–1896
    (pp. 1-22)

    Wagner’sRingcycle received its first complete performance in August 1876. The work’s dimensions are huge even by operatic standards, its entire duration sometimes exceeding fifteen hours. A special theater was constructed in the out-of-the-way German city of Bayreuth specifically to stage the tetralogy, and audience members dutifully set aside four days to take in this tour de force, one day for each installment of the cycle. In its richness and scope, the work extended the limits of opera far beyond anything previously imagined, somewhat as Tolstoy’sWar and Peace, written at roughly the same time, reset the boundaries for...

  6. TWO Kapellmeister Walter Breslau, Pressburg, Riga, Berlin, 1896–1901
    (pp. 23-40)

    Almost immediately upon his arrival in Breslau, Walter was unfavorably impressed by what appeared to be indolence, indifference, and general laziness on the part of the singers and directors of the Breslau Stadttheater. The musicians seemed fonder of making cynical jokes than of rehearsing or improving their craft, and Löwe proved more interested in the staging than in the musical aspects of opera, virtually ignoring the young conductor. Walter apparently complained of this to his parents, who wrote back that he should simply speak up for himself; but the prospect of acquiring greater responsibilities within such a depressing work environment...

  7. THREE Mahler’s Second-in-Command Vienna, 1901–1907
    (pp. 41-67)

    In the landscape of history, turn-of-the-century Vienna juts up as a cultural peak. The new and the old thrived in all the arts—in music perhaps more than anywhere else. Shortly before Walter’s arrival in the fall of 1901, Richard Strauss had given the Viennese premiere ofEin Heldenleben; Gustav Mahler, the belated world premiere of his cantataDas klagende Lied. In the same year, the young tenor Leo Slezak joined the opera company at the Hofoper, where he would soon assume many of the leading heroic roles, and before the end of the decade, he would be thrilling audiences...

  8. FOUR Composer and Conductor Vienna, 1908–1910
    (pp. 68-85)

    Although Walter worried that his premieres and new productions would vanish with the change in directorship at the Hofoper, in reality a number of new works that Mahler had slated for performance fell directly into Walter’s lap. Already on January 2, 1908, he found himself conducting the world premiere of Karl Goldmark’s new opera,Ein Wintermärchen, based on Shakespeare’sA Winter’s Tale. Goldmark’s works are little known today, though a handful of his pieces—the aria “Magische Töne,” the Violin Concerto, and the “Ländliche Hochzeit” Symphony—have not been entirely consigned to oblivion. When Walter introducedEin Wintermärchento the...

  9. FIVE Premiere Performances Vienna and Munich, 1911–1912
    (pp. 86-101)

    The year 1911 played a crucial role in Walter’s life in many ways. His close friend Mahler would leave him forever, and he would be left bearing the great composer’s mantle. It was a burden he bore gladly, though it might ultimately have proved an impediment to his composing. A more certain impediment was his assumption of the duties of director of the Vienna Singakademie, a position held by Brahms himself nearly half a century before. One of the singers in Walter’s chorus, Mary Komorn-Rebhan, detailed his methods of conveying ideas to singers and of extracting from them the interpretations...

  10. SIX Generalmusikdirektor Munich, 1913–1915
    (pp. 102-120)

    “But please have somepatience,” an overworked Walter wrote to Richard Strauss after scarcely two months in his new position; “if you could see the way I live—or, more accurately, don’t live—you’d be the first to stop me.”¹ Though it was only the beginning of March, Walter was feeling frayed at the edges. He had become the music director of a leading musical center, and his fame stretched further almost monthly. Later in life he never had any doubts about the importance of his years in Munich: they quite simply represented the “most important epoch” in his career.²...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. SEVEN Delia Munich, 1915–1922
    (pp. 121-151)

    The theater offers ample opportunity for both artists and their admirers to fall in love. A leading heroine or hero in the spotlight easily becomes the object of desire—and just as easily the conductor who wields the baton, magically holding the ensemble together. With his schedule crammed with rehearsals and performances, Walter could not have had much free time to develop a romantic attachment, yet, like many another overworked performer, he managed to find the time. The year 1915 introduced a key player into his life, the lyric soprano Delia Reinhardt. They were brought together when two staples of...

  13. EIGHT New and Old Worlds USA and Berlin, 1923–1925
    (pp. 152-174)

    “On the ocean, we had three stormy days altogether, the worst yesterday. I actually suffered from queasiness and dizziness the whole time, and except for a few moments I never had the emotional composure that would have allowed me to take pleasure in the prodigious grandeur of the ocean in agitation and at rest, the sun, the moon, tempest and calm.” Thus Walter, on board theS. S. Manchuria, wrote to his daughter Lotte, then studying voice in Vienna, as he sailed to America for the first time. He had boarded on January 20, and the journey was taking longer...

  14. NINE A New Opera Company Berlin, 1925–1929
    (pp. 175-200)

    Already in his early career Walter had proved his talent for landing himself in artistically vibrant centers, and now he had done so again. Berlin in the Weimar period was the beating heart of German culture, especially for avant-garde artists. When Walter assumed his position at the Städtische Oper, Max Reinhardt’s German Theater continued to thrive (even if Reinhardt himself was rarely in town), and the original genius of Bertolt Brecht was beginning to make itself known. At the same time, Mies van der Rohe, the future leader of the Bauhaus, was drafting designs for buildings that would be inextricably...

  15. TEN Gewandhauskapellmeister Leipzig, 1929–1933
    (pp. 201-228)

    The position of music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig, one of Europe’s most venerable musical establishments, with its roots in J. S. Bach’s Leipzig collegium, appealed strongly to Walter’s love of cultural continuity. The orchestra’s twofold tradition of keeping alive the great musical works of the past while championing important new compositions was close to Walter’s heart, and he was prepared to commit the rest of his active career to it. “To care for its continued mission and its enduring importance in the musical life of Europe seemed to me, a man of fiftythree, a worthy task for...

  16. ELEVEN Nomad Again 1933–1936
    (pp. 229-248)

    “Germany, in expelling Walter, has made a present of its greatest conductor to the rest of the world.”¹ This was how one London newspaper put it, and it was certainly the opinion of music directors in many countries who, surmising that Walter suddenly had more free time, hastened to invite him to conduct. In fact, Walter was allowed only one day of relaxation in the mountain air of Semmering, outside Vienna. The following day he received a telephone call from Rudolf Mengelberg, who asked him to replace the indisposed Willem Mengelberg (Rudolf’s uncle) for several concerts with the Concertgebouw Orchestra...

  17. TWELVE Dies Irae Vienna and Paris, 1936–1939
    (pp. 249-268)

    By the time he celebrated his sixtieth birthday on September 15, 1936, Bruno Walter was firmly reestablished as a Viennese conductor, living in Vienna, conducting at the Vienna Opera and in concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic. “Once Again in Austria” was the heading for the last chapter of Paul Stefan’s 1936 biography of Walter, the first book devoted to the conductor’s life.¹ One of Mahler’s earliest biographers, Stefan had been involved with Walter as early as 1910, when the author directed the musical activities of the Society for Art and Culture in Vienna, an organization that first made Walter’s Eichendorff...

  18. THIRTEEN Guest Conductor on Two Coasts New York and Los Angeles, 1939–1947
    (pp. 269-302)

    “I am thankful for the sun’s warmth, which beautifies life in this part of America,” Walter wrote the day after Christmas to Chaplain Helmut Fahsel, who had presided over Gretel’s funeral in Lugano.¹ And indeed, living in sunny Beverly Hills, where he and Elsa and Lotte had rented a house on North Crescent Drive, was having a salubrious effect on Walter’s spirits. But, even more reassuring, he was beginning to conduct again; for not long after his arrival in California, he opened the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s season with five concerts—the first time he had raised his baton since Gretel’s...

  19. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  20. FOURTEEN Musical Adviser New York, 1947–1949
    (pp. 303-328)

    It must have come as a shock. At the beginning of February 1947, Artur Rodzinski resigned his position as musical director of the New York Philharmonic, citing irreconcilable differences between himself and the management, especially Arthur Judson.¹ A week later the papers would announce that Walter was assuming the reins at the Philharmonic, but even before that news became public, Rodzinski, happening upon some positive words that Walter had offered about the orchestra’s administration, fired off a letter to his successor. He wrote that he’d always had “tremendous respect” for Walter but considered his colleague ill informed about the “inside...

  21. FIFTEEN Gains and Losses Los Angeles, New York, Europe, 1949–1956
    (pp. 329-363)

    As Walter’s Beethoven cycle in New York was transmitted across the country on the Sunday broadcasts, Delia Reinhardt, her eyes closed, listened to the concerts on a small radio in Hollywood, California, feeling she was present at the actual events.¹ By April 1949 she had found an apartment in Santa Monica, a city near Beverly Hills where she would reside until Walter’s death. Soon after moving to California, she began to give private singing lessons for five dollars an hour—a bargain rate, though a former pupil found Reinhardt’s pedagogic style less than ideal: “She could teach one to be...

  22. SIXTEEN Mostly Mozart 1956–1957
    (pp. 364-380)

    The year 1956, two centuries after Mozart’s birth, opened the sluice gates to a deluge of Mozart fetes and performances around the world. Naturally, as one of the interpreters most closely associated with Mozart, Walter was invited to take part in many of the bicentennial celebrations. But Mozart wasn’t the only musician for whom 1956 had special significance; Walter himself turned eighty that year, and birthday celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic called for his presence.

    Perhaps surprisingly, Walter’s first concerts of the year contained no Mozart whatsoever. These took place in Chicago, where his program consisted of Schumann’s...

  23. SEVENTEEN Columbia Symphony Orchestra Los Angeles, 1957–1962
    (pp. 381-412)

    “The heart attack itself,” Walter commented to Katia and Erika Mann, “was, judged objectively, ‘mild’ (though subjectively unmild); the time in the hospital, a practical lesson in patience; the return to our home, a relief.”¹ He had been taken to Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospitals in Manhattan after the attack and felt greatly relieved to be back in Beverly Hills the following month. Mild or “unmild,” the heart attack forced him to cancel his professional activities for the rest of the year, much to the dismay of agents who had already counted on sold-out houses through Walter’s participation in their...

  24. Recommended Discographies
    (pp. 413-414)
  25. Filmography by Charles Barber
    (pp. 415-420)
  26. Notes
    (pp. 421-470)
  27. Index
    (pp. 471-488)