Artur Rodziński (1 January 1892 – 27 November 1958) was a Polish conductor of opera and symphonic music. He is especially noted for his tenures as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in the 1930s and 1940s.
Rodziński was born in Split, the capital of the Kingdom of Dalmatia, on 2 January 1892. Soon afterward his father, of Polish descent and a general in the army of the Habsburg empire, returned with his family to Lwów, Poland, where Artur studied music. He later studied law in Vienna, where he simultaneously enrolled at the Academy of Music; his teachers there included Josef Marx and Franz Schreker (composition), Franz Schalk (conducting), and Emil von Sauer and Jerzy Lalewicz (piano).
He returned to Lwów where he was engaged as chorus master at the Opera in that city, making his debut as a conductor in 1920 with Verdi's Ernani. The following year saw him conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Warsaw Opera. While visiting Poland, Leopold Stokowski heard Rodziński leading a performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and exclaimed, "I have found that rare thing, a born conductor!" and invited him to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Los Angeles and Cleveland
Between 1925 and 1929 he served as Stokowski's assistant, conducted for the Philadelphia Grand Opera and directed the opera and orchestral departments at the Curtis Institute of Music. From 1929 to 1933, Rodziński was the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Rodziński was named the second music director of The Cleveland Orchestra in 1933, following the departure of Nikolai Sokoloff. Although demanding, Rodziński propelled the Orchestra forward. He would frequently endear himself to the public by conducting without a music score or baton. One of his main contributions to Cleveland's music scene was integrating opera into The Cleveland Orchestra's repertoire. In addition, Rodziński sought to feature more contemporary music in Orchestra performances, including Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Alban Berg, Dmitri Shostakovich, Jerome Kern, and the first Cleveland performances of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.
Under Rodziński’s leadership, the Orchestra presented the United States premiere of Shostakovich’s controversial opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, in 1935 — only a year after its debut in the Soviet Union led to a condemnation of Shostakovich’s music by the Soviet press. In his quest to perform the U.S. premiere, Rodzinski was forced to compete with his mentor at the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski. Although Rodziński worried about the Cleveland audience’s reception for the provocative opera, the Orchestra’s performances proved a success. Shostakovich himself had an abiding faith in the Rodziński-led performance: “When you see The Cleveland Orchestra’s presentation of the American premiere of my opera in Severance Hall the last day of January, you will see no traditional opera…I have repudiated all old forms of opera.”
One of the most famous recordings made by the Orchestra during Rodziński's tenure was a performance of Kern's 1927 musical Show Boat. Arranged by the composer himself as Show Boat Scenario for Orchestra, the piece was recorded by the Orchestra in 1941 and conducted by Rodziński 38 times over a three-year period.
Among the more memorable moments of Rodziński's career, he was on the podium as a guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Although Rodziński declined to announce the news — the concert was being broadcast live on the radio — he led the Philharmonic in a performance of the Star-Spangled Banner. Later, he noted that the demands of World War II on young men should inspire orchestras to take the then-unprecedented step of adding women to their ranks. In his view, women would make “an excellent addition to any first class symphony orchestra.”
Between December 1939 and February 1942, Rodziński and The Cleveland Orchestra made an extensive series of recordings for Columbia Records. He also appeared with the New York Philharmonic in 1934 and 1937, receiving positive reviews for his concert performance of Richard Strauss's Elektra. In addition, Rodziński was active across Europe, becoming the first naturalized American citizen to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and 1937. At Arturo Toscanini's recommendation, Rodziński was asked by NBC to select musicians for the new NBC Symphony Orchestra. Later, he trained the orchestra, guided some of its first recordings (issued on the budget label World's Greatest Music with neither conductor nor orchestra identified), and led its concerts before Toscanini's arrival. This engagement inspired Rodziński to depart Cleveland for New York, where he became music director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic beginning in the 1943–44 season.
New York and Chicago
Rodziński was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1943. Although his four-year tenure was marked by struggles with Arthur Judson, the manager of the orchestra, Rodziński achieved high standards of performance. The renowned music critic and composer Virgil Thomson wrote about Rodziński's tenure at the Philharmonic: "We now have an orchestra that is a joy to hear...and we owe it all to Artur Rodziński." During Rodziński's time on the podium the Philharmonic recorded extensively, again for Columbia, performed weekly live broadcasts on CBS Radio, and appeared in the feature film Carnegie Hall.
However, despite the quality of the orchestra's performances, numerous artistic matters such as the prerogative of the music director to dismiss musicians, select soloists and determine repertoire were persistent grounds of contention. Not willing to compromise on these matters, Rodziński resigned in 1947. His reputation as a conductor was so prominent at this time that his resignation was the subject of a cover story in Time magazine in February 1947.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had been wooing Rodziński for some time, and now he decided to accept the leadership of that orchestra immediately, starting with the 1947–1948 season. Here again, an inability to work with the board resulted in his swift departure after only one season. His short tenure still had a significant impact upon the orchestra and local audiences through performances such as an account of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with Kirsten Flagstad.
After his departure from Chicago, Rodziński's health began to deteriorate. There was little recording activity available to him in the U.S., and so he settled in Europe once more. Here his status as a major musician was recognized and he was invited to lead significant productions, such as the 1953 first performance of Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, as well as traditional repertoire works.
He conducted at La Scala and worked extensively for Italian radio, conducting well received readings of Wagner's Tannhäuser and Tristan, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina. He re-established his presence as a recording artist through a contract with Westminster Records, for whom he recorded extensively with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (under the pseudonym "Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of London") from 1955. His final recordings were for EMI in 1958.
By this time, the state of Rodziński's health had become fragile. He was warned by his Italian doctor that further conducting activity would put his life at risk. However, he returned to Chicago in 1958 to conduct Tristan once again, this time with the Chicago Lyric Opera and soprano Birgit Nilsson. His return was a triumph, but these were his last performances and he died shortly afterwards.
Rodziński was married twice and had two sons. In 1917 he married the concert pianist Mme. Ilse, and in 1918 they had a son, Witold, who became an historian, sinologist and diplomat. In 1934, while living in Cleveland, he married Halina Lilpop Wieniawski (1905-1993), who was from a well-known Warsaw family.
Their infant son Richard was the subject of Arnold Schoenberg's amusing canon "I am almost sure when your nurse will change your diapers." Richard served as artistic administrator at the San Francisco Opera and Metropolitan Opera companies in the 1960s and 1970s. He recently retired from his position as president of the Van Cliburn Foundation, and in 2009 became the General Director of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. In 1976 Halina Rodziński wrote the autobiography Our Two Lives, still the most extensive published account of Rodziński's life and career.
Rodziński recorded for Columbia Records (with the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic); RCA Victor (with the Chicago Symphony); Westminster Records (the Royal Philharmonic); and EMI. A few of his later recordings were taped in stereo and have remained in circulation to this day. His complete recording of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker for Westminster was recorded in stereo in 1956.
The stereo version was originally released on 2-track reel-to-reel audio tape. On LP it was initially released only in mono, then later in stereo as stereo record albums became available in 1958. The stereo Nutcracker was re-released in 2001 by Deutsche Grammophon on compact disc.
Live recordings of some of his broadcast performances with the New York Philharmonic and the RAI-Radio Italiana orchestra have also become available on independent labels. Rodziński's highly acclaimed 1937 concert performance of Strauss's Elektra with soprano Rose Pauly and the New York Philharmonic has been restored and was issued on CD by the Immortal Performances label in 2014.
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