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Bruno Walter (September 15, 1876 - February 17, 1962) was a conductor and composer. He was born in Berlin, but moved to several countries between 1933 and 1939, finally settling in the United States in 1939. His original name was Bruno Walter Schlesinger, but he dropped his surname in 1911.
Born near Alexanderplatz to a Jewish family, Bruno Walter began his musical education at the Stern Conservatory at the age of eight, making his first public appearance as a pianist when he was nine. However, following visits to one of Hans von Bülow's concerts in 1889 and to Bayreuth in 1891, Walter changed his mind and decided upon a conducting career. He made his conducting début in with Lortzing's Waffenschmied in 1894. Later that year he left for the Hamburg Opera to work as a chorus director, where he first met and worked with Gustav Mahler, with whose music he would later be strongly identified.
After three seasons at the opera houses in Breslau, Pressburg and Riga, Walter returned in 1900 to Berlin, where he assumed the post of Royal Prussian Conductor at the Berlin Royal Opera House; his colleagues there included Richard Strauss and Karl Muck. While at Berlin he also conducted the Berlin premiere of Der arme Heinrich by Hans Pfitzner, a composer who would become a lifelong friend of his.
In 1901 Walter joined Gustav Mahler at the Court Opera in Vienna, conducting Aida as his debut. The following years Walter's conducting reputation soared as he was invited to conduct throughout Europe, in Prague, London (where in 1910 he conducted Tristan und Isolde and Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Covent Garden) and in Rome. A few months after Mahler's death in 1911, Walter led the first performance of Das Lied von der Erde in Munich, as well as Mahler's Ninth Symphony in Vienna the next year.
Although Walter became an Austrian citizen in 1911, he left Vienna to become the Royal Bavarian Music Director in Munich in 1913. In January the next year Walter conducted his first concert in Moscow. During the First World War, he remained actively involved in conducting, giving premieres to Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violanta and Der Ring des Polykrates as well as Pfitzner's Palestrina.
Walter ended his appointment in Munich in 1922, and left for New York, the United States in 1923, working with the New York Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall; he later conducted in Detroit, Minnesota and Boston.
Back in Europe Walter was re-engaged for several appointments, including Berlin (1925, as musical director at the Städtische Opera, Charlottenburg) and Leipzig (1929). He made his debut at La Scala in 1926. In London, Walter was chief conductor of the German seasons at Covent Garden from 1924 to 1931.
In 1933, when the Nazi party began to bar his musical appointments in Germany, Walter left for Austria. Austria would remain the main center of activity for the next several years, although he was also a frequent guest conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1934 to 1939, and made guest appearances such as in annual concerts with the New York Philharmonic from 1932 to 1936. When Hitler annexed Austria, France offered Walter citizenship, which he accepted; however, in November 1, 1939, he eventually set sail for the United States, which became his eventual permanent home. Beverly Hills remained Walter's home for many years, and amongst his many expatriate neighbors include the German writer Thomas Mann.
In his years at United States he worked with many famous American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (where he was musical adviser from 1947 to 1949), and the Philadelphia Orchestra. From 1946 onwards, he made numerous trips back to Europe, becoming an important musical figure in the early years of the Edinburgh Festival and in Salzburg, Vienna and Munich. His late life was marked by stereo recordings with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. He made his last live concert appearance on December 4, 1960 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and pianist Van Cliburn. His last recording was with a series of Mozart overtures with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra at the end of March the next year.
Bruno Walter died of a heart attack in his house at Beverly Hills in 1962.
Walter's conducting is often distinguished by a Viennese-like warmth and humanity which he extracted from his orchestra. Like Otto Klemperer, Walter worked with Mahler, and his performances of Mahler's works are considered outstanding, particularly his recording of the Ninth Symphony, the first performance of which he was privileged to give.
He performed the works of another Viennese composer, Anton Bruckner, and his recording of that composer's Ninth Symphony is also a landmark performance.
Walter was a distinguished conductor of music from the classical period, and his recorded performances of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are well loved. He also directed opera, and gave productions of Mozart operas at the Metropolitan Opera which are now available on CD, together with his performances of Beethoven's Fidelio.
Walter's discography includes:
- Beethoven: Symphonies 1-9, with the Columbia SO
- Beethoven: Fidelio
- Berlioz: Symphony Fantastique, with The NBC Symphony
- Brahms: Academic Festival Overture, with the Columbia SO
- Brahms: Symphony 1 and 3, with the Columbia SO
- Brahms: Tragic Overture, with the Columbia SO
- Brahms: Variations on the St Anthony Chorale, with the Columbia SO
- Bruckner: Symphony No 7, with the Columbia SO
- Dvorak: Symphonies Nos 8 and 9, with the Columbia SO
- Mahler: Symphony No 9
- Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde with Kathleen Ferrier
- Mozart: Symphonies Nos 35, 36, and 38-41, with the Columbia SO
- Mozart: Don Giovanni, with the Metropolitan Opera
- Wagner: Siegfried Idyll
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