FRITZ REINER: A Biography by Philip Hart


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A worthy addition to the small shelf of famous-maestro biographies relying on thoughtful scholarship rather than hype. Hart (Conductors, 1979) was at one time assistant manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he made the acquaintance of its notoriously difficult conductor, Fritz Reiner (1888-1963). The relationship ripened into a long-term friendship, though this book is no hagiography. Hart recognizes that the conductor's blazing musicianship and advocacy of such 20th-century masters as Bartok and Stravinsky have only recently begun to loom larger than his reputation as an odious martinet, feared and despised by generations of musicians. Against his problematic personality, the author sets Reiner's genuine musical achievements, now better known thanks to the rerelease on CD of his greatest recordings. Hart persuades the reader not only that Reiner was capable of humor and warmth, but that the same sternly disciplined perfectionism that made him personally so inflexible allowed him to give phenomenal performances and inspire his students, among them Leonard Bernstein. Born in Hungary, Reiner acquired staggering practical experience conducting in Europe. He emigrated to America in 1922 and remained at the center of the country's musical life until his death; he was music director of the historic Cincinnati Symphony, principal conductor at Pittsburgh and then Chicago, and spent five seasons at the Metropolitan Opera. Hart's careful, non-sensationalistic account of Reiner's working life thus becomes a portrait of the American classical music establishment during its most vital years. His musical judgments are generally sensible, and the book includes a valuable discography and a list of Reiner's extensive podium repertory. This substantial study makes the reader hungry for the same treatment of Reiner's contemporaries: How about Eugene Ormandy, Charles Munch, Paul Paray, or Thomas Schippers, Mr. Hart?

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0810114631
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ. Press