Bruno Walter: Conductor

Bruno Walter died on this day in 1962.

The life of this great conductor Bruno Walter centred around music from a young age. His musical mother taught him piano and by age nine he was ready to attend the Stern Conservatory of Music in Berlin. At thirteen his piano playing was such that he was ready to launch a career as a pianist, but attendance at a concert conducted by Hans von Bülow changed his mind. He decided to be a conductor instead.

It wasn’t long before he found himself at the Hamburg Opera assisting Gustav Mahler, considered at the time as one of Europe’s leading interpreters of opera.  After moving on to Breslau, Riga and Berlin, he rejoined Mahler in 1901 as assistant conductor of the Vienna Imperial Opera. They worked closely together for the next 6 years. Consequently he became a leading interpreter of Mahler’s work (whose 7th Symphony is to be played in Christchurch later this year by the NZSO).

His successful career continued until 1933 when Liepzig’s anti-Semitic municipal authorities forbade him to conduct and the Nazis declared him “politically suspicious”. He then moved to Austria where he became principal conductor and artistic adviser of the Vienna State Opera until the annexation, at which point he emigrated to America. The Americans welcomed him with open arms and he lead a distinguished career there.

He recorded extensively right from the 1930s until the days of stereo, so many recordings are still available and you can listen to his characteristically mellow and lyrical style – something more typical of pre-war Vienna than todays more standardised international style. A comparison of his interpretation of the Bartered Bride by Smetana with a more modern one makes the brilliant tone our modern version sound almost shockingly clinical.

Naxos and Music Online contain many of his recordings from throughout his career.

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