Friday, September 30, 2011

Charles Munch

Charles Munch was a French violinist, conductor, and teacher born (in Strasbourg, when it was German territory) on September 26, 1891.  Today, nobody remembers him as a violinist.  Although he conducted many great orchestras, he is best known for his tenure at the Boston Symphony, from 1949 to 1962.  He first studied violin at the Strasbourg Conservatory (inaugurated in 1855.)  His first job as a violinist was in an orchestra conducted by his father (an organist), playing in the second violin section.  In 1912, at age 20, he graduated from the conservatory and moved on to Berlin for further study with Carl Flesch.  He also studied with Lucien Capet at the Paris Conservatory.  In 1920, he was appointed professor of violin at the Strasbourg Conservatory while he was also playing as assistant concertmaster of the Strasbourg Philharmonic.  He was 29 years old.  Later on, he was concertmaster of the Gurzenich Orchestra in Cologne.  (The Gurzenich Orchestra is really not to be trifled with.  It played the world premieres of Brahms’ Double Concerto (1887), Strauss’ Till (1895), Strauss’ Don Quixote (1898), Mahler’s Third Symphony (1902), Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (1904), and Max Reger’s Variations (1907.)  He then served as concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1926 to 1933) under Bruno Walter.  In 1933, he left Germany for Paris.  He had already made his conducting debut there in November, 1932.  He was 41 years old at the time of his debut.  As far as I know, after 1933, he never again touched the violin in public.  In 1938, he helped found the Paris Philharmonic.  He had already begun teaching conducting at the Paris Conservatory (1937-1945.)  During the war years (1939-1945), he conducted the Paris Conservatory Orchestra.  For this, he was later accused of being a Nazi collaborator, though the charge did not stick.  The Boston Symphony he first conducted in December, 1946.  His legacy with the Boston Symphony is well-known and documented in dozens of recordings.  Heifetz recorded the Beethoven concerto with Munch and the Boston Symphony in November of 1955.  I don’t think Heifetz recorded it ever again.  If Munch ever recorded anything as a violinist I don’t know where that recording might be found.  After 1962, Munch conducted European orchestras and guest conducted all over the world.  He once owned (from 1925 to 1960) a violin which had been stolen from Eugene Ysaye in Russia - a 1734 Stradivarius - which had been earlier played by Hugo Heermann.  That violin ended up with Henryk Szeryng who left it to the City of Jerusalem who then let the Israel Philharmonic borrow it.  He died on November 6, 1968, in Richmond, Virginia, at age 77.  Here is one of his many YouTube videos. 

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