The Great Conductors - Whom were They?
History of Conducting
The Great Conductors - Whom were they?
This is a sister article to my other article entitled: “The Great Pianists - Whom were They?” Ah, the typical concept of the mad genius conductor, usually with unruly long hair, though some have no hair these days..., well, nothing could be further from the truth. A conductor is usually the most educated and trained of all the musicians. A conductor has to know orchestration, composition and much more.... Additionally, a conductor’s work is mainly done during rehearsal, not while the actual performance of the piece is taking place. Actually, few people know this, but by the time the concert takes place, an orchestra can play the composition on its own without a conductor - there are some orchestras that play without conductors, but I don’t want to stray away from the main topic of great conductors.
Subsequently, conducting became a big deal with the rise of the Romantic Period in music. Before the Romantics came along, conducting was considered a second rate art. During the Baroque and Classical eras, orchestral compositions were either conducted by the first or concert violinist (this is the reason why today the concert violinist is the second most important person in the orchestra after the conductor - he/she is in charge of tuning the orchestra, etc ), or from the harpsichord - orchestras were also very small back in those days.. The conductor at the podium with a baton was not yet heard of in those days. Furthermore, conductors sometimes get overly dramatic for no apparent reason but to put on a good show for the audience - acting, hand gestures and facial expressions are just some of the things conductors like to do. Nevertheless, this is fun and a good reason for you, the audience to go and see a symphony orchestra at play....
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770 - 1828
Not only the official progenitor of the Romantic Period per se, but also the unofficial father of the modern art of conducting. With music as emotionally charged up as Beethoven’s is, a person was needed at the podium to transcend this massive energy to the audience, and more importantly to the players. Additionally, orchestra size started to grow around the end of the 18th century - modernity was on the horizon!...
Carl Maria von Weber 1786 - 1826
Weber, nor anyone else has been able to hold a candle to Beethoven in composition; nevertheless, Weber was arguably a greater conductor than Beethoven could have ever hoped to be. Weber was also an exceptional orchestrator. Additionally, and unlike Beethoven, Weber conducted the works of other composers as well as his own.
Hector Berlioz 1803 - 1869
The granddaddy of them all - hands down! Berlioz was a writer as well, and wrote the first - some have said, most important book ever written on the field of orchestration: Treatise on Instrumentation. Berlioz was also infamous for being the first to use mammoth size orchestras for his compositions: Romeo and Juliet, Damnation of Faust, and Les Troyen (opera based on Virgil's Aeneid) are among a few of them. To date, he’s to conducting and orchestration what Isaac Newton is to science.
Felix Mendelssohn 1809 - 1847
Mendelssohn was all in one - great composer, great pianist, great organist and great conductor - no wonder he died so you - well, who knows?... Mendelssohn was quite restrained and conservative, and by so, he greatly influenced modern conducting and performance to a great extent.
Franz Liszt 1811 - 1886
Liszt was not only one of the greatest pianist of all times, but he was also an exceptional conductor..., and, to top it all off, a great lover - so they say!?
Richard Wagner 1813 - 1883
Has been called by some (very few) - greatest musical genius of all times, and greatest conductor of all times. He was Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Strauss and Mahler all rolled up into one.
Hans von Bulow 1830 - 1994
One of the greatest conductors of the 19th century and a personal friend of Wagner, as well as Liszt’s son in law.
Arthur Nikish 1855 - 1922
A rival of Mahler, and one of the greatest conductors that has ever lived.
Gustav Mahler 1860 - 1911
Mahler was a nitpicking and fastidious workaholic who stopped at nothing until he got it right. One of the true greats of conducting and, an icon to modern day composers and conductors.
Richard Strauss 1864 - 1949
Richard Strauss, like his contemporary Mahler, was an exceptional conductor. Unlike Mahler and Wagner, Strauss’ approach to conducting was cool and sedated - he was a very calm individual, so they say.
Leonard Bernstein 1918 - 1990
One of the greatest conductors in the history of the USA. Bernstein loved Mahler’s music very much; Mahler and Bernstein were both of Jewish background, and Bernstein always felt a personal attachment towards Mahler’s music throughout his life....
Zubin Mehta 1936
One of the great conductors of Romantic Period music today....
Conducting is loved and revered by many music lovers today. It's exciting to see a person on the podium doing all sorts of acrobats, bodily and facial expressions. Last but not least, Gustavo Dudamel, though young, has been hailed by many today as one of the true greats in the art of conducting...only time will tell....