b. Pest [now Budapest], Hungary, May 7, 1850
d. New York, March 28, 1898
After entering the Royal University of Pest to become a priest, Anton Seidl’s love for music prevailed, and he left the university to study at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1870 to 1872. He was then summoned to Bayreuth as Richard Wagner’s copyist to assist in the preparation of the score and first complete performance of the Ring Cycle in 1876. His chance at conducting came in 1879, when, on Wagner’s recommendation, he was appointed to the Leipzig State Opera, where he introduced the Ring tetralogy to Berlin. In 1885, after Leopold Damrosch’s death, Seidl came to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. According to the critic Henry T. Finck, Seidl was a charismatic conductor who could make the orchestra “sing and sigh and whisper, exult, plead, and threaten, storm, rage, and overwhelm.” By the time Seidl took the reins of the New York Philharmonic from Theodore Thomas in 1891, he had won an enthusiastic following in the concert hall as well as the opera house.
During his tenure, the Philharmonic enjoyed a period of unprecedented success and prosperity, leading the US premieres of many Wagner operas, including Die Meistersinger, Tristan und Isolde, Siegfried, and the first complete Ring Cycle. Considered one of the great Wagner conductors of his day, Seidl was also greatly admired for his interpretation of Beethoven, Liszt, and Berlioz, all three of whom were already established members of the orchestral canon. Antonín Dvořák, on the other hand, was still working to build his reputation; Seidl conducted the World Premiere of his Symphony No. 9, From the New World, at Carnegie Hall in 1893. The following year, Seidl conducted the premiere of Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto, with the composer as soloist. Audiences and orchestras alike responded emotionally to Seidl’s flexible sense of tempo and rubato — a freedom of interpretation that startled his listeners. Under his direction, the Orchestra also began to commission regular program notes, mainly from the eminent music critic Henry Krehbiel.
Seidl remained with the Philharmonic until his death in 1898. Two thousand people attended the memorial, held at the Metropolitan Opera House.