Fritz Reiner

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Frederick Martin (Fritz) Reiner (December 19, 1888 - November 15, 1963) was one of the great international conductors of opera and symphonic music in the first half of the 20th century. He was born to a secular Jewish family in the Pest section of Budapest, Hungary. After preliminary studies in law (at his father’s urging), Reiner pursued the study of piano, piano pedagogy, and composition at the Franz Liszt Academy. During his last two years there his piano teacher was the young Bela Bartok. After early engagements at opera houses in Budapest and Dresden (where he worked closely with Richard Strauss) he moved to the United States of America in 1922 to take the post of Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He remained until 1931, having become a naturalized citizen in 1928, then began to teach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his pupils included Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss. He conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1938 to 1948, but it was as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1953-63) that he became an international figure, as the result of the many landmark recordings he made for RCA Victor. He also had many important engagements at the Metropolitan Opera, including a historic production of Strauss's Salome in 1949 with the Bulgarian soprano Ljuba Welitsch in the title role. At the time of his death he was preparing the Met's new production of Wagner's Götterdämmerung. Reiner was especially noted as an interpreter of Strauss and Bartók and was often seen as a modernist in his musical taste; he and his compatriot Joseph Szigeti convinced Serge Koussevitzky to commission the Concerto for Orchestra from Bartók. In reality he had a very wide repertory and was known to admire Mozart's music above all else. Reiner's conducting technique was defined by its precision and economy, in the manner of Arthur Nikisch and Arturo Toscanini. It typically employed quite small gestures - it has been said that the beat indicated by the tip of his baton could be contained in the area of a postage stamp - although from the perspective of the players it was extremely expressive. The response he drew from orchestras was one of astonishing richness, brilliance, and clarity of texture (Igor Stravinsky called the Chicago Symphony under Reiner "the most precise and flexible orchestra in the world"); it was more often than not achieved with tactics that bordered on the personally abusive. He was married three times and fathered two daughters, as well as a third daughter out of wedlock. Reiner died in New York City at the age of 74. Read more on User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.