Bruno Walter (1876-1962) was one of the twentieth century’s greatest conductors, equally at home conducting an opera or symphonic orchestra. He was also a gifted pianist as well as a recording artist and author.

Walter--who changed his last name from Schlesinger early in his career--showed great musical aptitude at a very young age and was conducting operatic performances by age 17. In 1901 he was appointed to the Court Opera in Vienna where Gustav Mahler was music director. The two developed a close relationship that lasted until the composer’s death in 1911. It was Walter, in fact, who gave the world-premiere performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde.

In 1913, Walter was appointed music director of the Munich Opera, followed by appointments as music director of the Berlin Städtische Opera (1925-1929) and then of the Leipzig Gewandhaus (1929-1933). He made many guest appearances in the 1920s and early 1930s, with performances throughout the Continent and in England--where he revived German opera at Covent Garden after World War I--as well as in the United States.

With the rise of the Nazi party to power, Walter was removed from his post at Leipzig in 1933 and moved to Austria; however, the Anschluss of 1938 forced him to again emigrate, first to France and then, shortly before the German occupation of that country, to the United States, where for years he divided his time between New York and Beverly Hills, obtaining citizenship in 1946.

During his early years in the United States he conducted the NBC orchestra in the absence of Arturo Toscanini, and was guest conductor for the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera, all to great acclaim--his 1941 debut performance with the Metropolitan Opera was greeted with 13 curtain calls. A now-famous and dramatic musical event occurred on November 14, 1943, when Walter, who was scheduled to guest conduct the New York Philharmonic, became ill shortly before the performance, and Leonard Bernstein, then the assistant conductor of the Philharmonic, substituted for Walter on short notice, winning enthusiastic reviews and wide notice as a result.

In 1947, at the age of 70, Walter was appointed acting music director (the title he chose to use being musical adviser) of the New York Philharmonic, following the surprise resignation of Artur Rodzinski. Despite his age and a demanding schedule of guest conducting appearances with many of the world’s prominent orchestras in North America and Europe, Walter remained at the Philharmonic through the 1948-49 season, and continued as a frequent guest conductor with that orchestra until he was 83 years old. Also, his old acquaintance Rudolf Bing persuaded him to return to the Metropolitan Opera to conduct on several occasions during the 1950s.

Walter maintained a demanding schedule of guest conducting engagements and recording sessions, and also continued to write, almost up to his death, at age 85, in February 1962.

For more information about Bruno Walter, we recommend the following book, Bruno Walter: A World Elsewhere, by Erik Ryding and Rebecca Pechefsky, published in 2001 by Yale University Press. Information about the book, including reviews, can be obtained at
This biography was most recently edited by...
steven - 5 Feb 2010