|Wilhelm Furtwängler (January 25, 1886 – November 30, 1954) was a German conductor and composer. Furtwängler was born in Berlin into a prominent family. His father Adolf was an archaeologist, his mother a painter. Most of his childhood was spent in Munich, where his father taught at the university in that city. He was given a musical education from an early age, and developed an early love of Ludwig van Beethoven, a composer with whom he remained closely associated throughout his life. Though his chief posthumous fame rests on his work as a conductor, he was also a composer and regarded himself first and foremost as such, having in fact first taken up the baton in order to perform his own works. |
By the time of Furtwängler's conducting debut at the age of twenty, he had written several pieces of music. However, they were not well received, and that - combined with the financial insecurity of a career as a composer - led him to concentrate on conducting. At his first concert, he led the Kaim Orchestra (now the Munich Philharmonic) in Anton Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. He subsequently held posts at Munich, Lübeck, Mannheim, Frankfurt, and Vienna, before securing a job at the Berlin Staatskapelle in 1920, and in 1922 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra where he succeeded Arthur Nikisch, and concurrently at the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Later he became music director of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Salzburg Festival and the Bayreuth Festival, which was regarded as the greatest post a conductor could hold in Germany at the time. Furtwängler also made a number of appearances as a conductor abroad. He made his London debut in 1924, and continued to appear there as late as 1938 to conduct a cycle of Richard Wagner's Ring. In 1925 he appeared as guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and made return visits in the following two years. Towards the end of the war, under extreme pressure from the Nazi Party, Furtwängler fled to Switzerland. It was during this troubled period that he composed what is largely considered his most significant work, the Symphony No. 2 in E minor. Work on the symphony was begun in 1944, and carried on into 1945. It was given its premiere in 1948 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Furtwängler's direction. Furtwängler and the Philharmonic recorded the symphony for Deutsche Grammophon; the music was much in the tradition of Bruckner and Gustav Mahler, composed on a grand scale for very large orchestra with romantic, dramatic themes. Another important work is the Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, completed and premiered in 1937 and revised in 1954. Many themes from this work were also incorporated into Furtwängler's unfinished Symphony No. 3 in C sharp minor.