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Bruno Walter

Music Advisor, 1947–49


b. Berlin, Germany, September 15, 1876
d. Beverley Hills, California, February 17, 1962

While studying the piano at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, Bruno Walter (born Schlesinger, in 1876) was inspired to pursue a career as a conductor after hearing a concert led by Hans von Bülow. In 1894, he made his conducting debut in Cologne and shortly thereafter became an assistant to Gustav Mahler at the Hamburg Opera. From 1901 to 1912, Walter conducted at the Vienna Court Opera, working closely with Mahler for six years. Active as a composer early in his career, he wrote chamber and symphonic works during his time in Vienna, and published several essays on music. After Mahler’s death, Walter gave the premiere performances of Das Lied von der Erde (Munich, 1911) and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (Vienna, 1912). While serving as Director of the Singakademie, a position once held by Brahms, he also gave the Viennese premiere of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony (1912).

In 1923, he came to New York for his American debut with Walter Damrosch’s Symphony Society (which merged with the New York Philharmonic in 1928). As Music Director of the Municipal Opera in Berlin (1925–29), he turned the fledgling company into an organization that could compete with the Berlin State Opera. From 1929 to 1933, he held the position of Gewandhauskapellmeister in Leipzig, his last position in Germany. When Walter found himself exiled from Germany, the New York Philharmonic, like other organizations, reached out to offer him work as a guest conductor.

His debut with the recently merged Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York took place on January 14, 1932. From that year until his final concert with the Orchestra in 1960, Walter championed the works of Mahler in New York. His biography of Mahler, reprinted many times, was first published in 1936. After a brief period in France, Walter moved to the United States in 1939, becoming an American citizen in 1946.

Walter’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera took place in 1941, and he conducted there on and off until 1957. Beginning in 1941, he made the first of many recordings with the New York Philharmonic, the ensemble with which he most often performed until the mid-1950s. In 1945, he led the first performance of Mahler’s Ninth by the New York Philharmonic and, in 1947, made the world-premiere recording of Mahler’s Fifth with the Orchestra. Though offered the position of Music Director of the New York Philharmonic on more than one occasion, Walter, citing his advanced years and weakened health, would only accept the title of Musical Advisor, a position he held from 1947 to 1949; he continued to advise the Orchestra on artistic matters into the 1950s.

Walter was widely regarded as one of the most authoritative interpreters of Mahler’s works; for his final Philharmonic performance, on April 15, 1960, Walter conducted Das Lied von der Erde. He died in 1962.

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