Bruno Walter

1876 1962

Bruno Walter

Composer • Conductor


Following his mentor’s death in 1911, Walter honoured him with a premiere of Das Lied vond der Erdein Munich and the Ninth Symphony in 1912 in Vienna. It was during this period that he also became an Austrian citizen.

Walter left Vienna in 1913 for the post of musical director of the Bavarian Court Opera, where he remained until the end of 1922. It was here that Walter would gain his international reputation as a brilliant interpreter of the Wagner and Verdi operas. He also revived Mozart’s operas and premiered new operas by Korngold and Pfitzner.

With the rising influence of the Nazi party in Munich, Walter was increasingly chastised in the media. The Völkische Beobachter Newspaper wrote, “Walter simply was, is, and always will be of a different sensibility. He had no sense for the German way of life; he had always promoted artists from the east; he opposed the artists living in Munich who had German style and sensibility”. This hostility resulted in him being replaced in 1922.

Walter then travelled to the USA in 1923, where he conducted the New York Philharmonic, who invited him to return for the next season. He was also appointed chief conductor of the German Seasons at Covent Garden in 1924, holding the position until 1931. Walter returned to Berlin in 1925 as musical director of the Städtische Oper, Charlottenburg. While in Berlin he also became associated with the Salzburg Festival. After four years in Berlin, Walter went to Leipzig to succeed Wilhelm Furtwängler as director of the Gewandhaus concerts.

Unfortunately, political tension followed Walter in the form of violent threats which led to the cancellation of one concert. Later in the week in Berlin, Walter also felt a similar threat and requested police protection. His request was denied and instead, he attempted to arrange for Furtwängler to conduct the concert. This also proved unsuccessful, and Richard Strauss was chosen to replace Walter. Strauss’ decision to lead the performance deeply offended Walter, who never forgave Strauss. While Strauss insisted that he accepted the position for the sake of the orchestra and its poor musicians, the newspaper Völkische Beobachter boasted that the concert was a “salute to the new Germany”.

He was stripped of his position in 1933, when the National Socialists rose to power and, in order to avoid danger, Walter escaped to Vienna. He found employment as guest conductor with the Vienna Staatsoper from 1935 and as artistic adviser from 1936. He was also named musical director of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1935. During this period he was often the guest conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam (1934-39). He also appeared with the New York Philharmonic annually between 1932 and 1936 and in Florence in 1936.

The legendary German-born American conductor Bruno Walter was one of the leading conductors in Europe and America for more than 60 years. He was mentored by Gustav Mahler and was respected for his interpretations of Wagner and Verdi’s operas. Throughout his career he made countless recordings and conducted orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and also directed at a number of opera houses.

Bruno Walter was born Bruno Schlesinger on 15 September 1876 in Berlin, Germany to a middle-class Jewish family. His interest in music began early, entering the Stern Conservatory at the age of 8. There, one of the teachers joyfully proclaimed that “every inch of this boy is music.” Within one year he made his piano debut. Despite showing promising talent for the piano, Walter was determined to become a conductor after watching Hans von Bülow conduct in 1889 and again in 1891.

Walter’s first appointment was in 1893 as a coach at the Cologne Opera, where he also made his conducting debut with Lortzing’sWaffenschmeid. He moved on to the Hamburg Opera the next year, where he had the unique opportunity of working as Gustav Mahler’s assistant. He also worked in the theatres in Breslau, Pressburg and Riga before returning to Berlin in 1900 to succeed Schalk with the Berlin State Opera. As a champion of Hans Pfitzner’s operas, Walter gave the Berlin premiere ofDer arme Heinrich. Walter’s first recordings come from his time with the Berlin State Opera. This period also marked his first appearance as the conductor of an orchestral concert, in which Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastiquewas performed.

It was in Breslau in 1896 that Bruno Schlesinger became Bruno Walter. He changed his name at the request of the Breslau theatre, which agreed to appoint him musical theatre director if he changed his name. For the sake of his career, he reluctantly agreed.

Mahler and Walter collaborated again at the Court Opera in Vienna in 1901, after Walter accepted Mahler’s invitation to come work with him. Under Mahler’s guidance, Walter’s musical interpretations solidified and he was invited to conduct in Prague, London and Rome. Of these performances, the 1910Tristan und Isoldeand Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers at Covent Garden, are quite notable.

Walter moved again in 1938 in order to remain safe from the increasing threats of violence. Though he was granted French citizenship, he quickly left Europe altogether, setting in the US in 1939. Unlike many other exiled European conductors, Walter did not have trouble adjusting to life in America. He spoke English fluently and was at the height of his career. He went on to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, where he served as musical advisor from 1947 to 1949. He also conducted at the Metropolitan Opera from 1941 to 1959.

After the war, Walter returned to Europe on numerous occasions, becoming heavily involved in the Edinburgh Festival and conducting in Salzburg, Vienna and Munich. Though he continued to travel and often made appearances in New York, Walter remained in Southern California for the rest of his life.

Throughout his long career, Bruno made an impressive number of recordings, especially of Mahler’s music, one of which was made during one of his post-war trips to London--Mahler’s lieder with Kathleen Ferrier, which became one of his favourite recordings. Walter’s authentic interpretations of his mentor’s works led to an overall acceptance of Mahler’s music.

Following a heart attack in 1957, Walter was forced to cut back on his work. He gave a farewell concert in 1960 of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in Vienna, followed by an all-Brahms programme shortly thereafter with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Walter dabbled in composition during his early career, composing two symphonies, a symphonic fantasia, some chamber music (including a violin sonata) and a number of choral works and songs by 1911. No known compositions exist after this date.