Walter Damrosch

The New York Philharmonic

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Walter Damrosch


b. Breslau, Germany [now Wroclaw, Poland], January 30, 1862
d. New York, December 22, 1950

Walter Damrosch was part of a New York musical dynasty. His father Leopold had founded the Oratorio Society of New York, established German opera at the Metropolitan Opera, and conducted a single season of the New York Philharmonic Society. Both Walter and his older brother Frank, a conductor and music educator, directed the Oratorio Society at various times. Frank was chorus master at the Met, and Walter was assistant conductor, at first with his father, and continuing under Anton Seidl after Leopold’s death.

Walter Damrosch was elected to conduct the New York Philharmonic Society’s 1902-03 season in part because the board knew of his good relationship with Andrew Carnegie, their new president. Damrosch defeated his predecessor, Emil Paur, by a vote of 46 to 13. Unfortunately, Walter Damrosch’s season was almost as ruinous as Leopold’s had been a quarter century earlier. Walter, however, was able to plant a seed that would ultimately change the Orchestra’s financial future. Subscriptions were flagging while competition from other ensembles increased; what the Philharmonic Society needed was a permanent orchestra fund. Thus was born the Orchestra’s endowment.

During the First World War, Walter organized a bandmasters’ training school in France for the American Expeditionary Force. In 1914, he received an honorary doctor of music degree from Columbia University (as had his father; Frank received one from Yale). Walter Damrosch was the first person to conduct an orchestral concert broadcast across the United States and in 1927, he was appointed musical advisor to the NBC. He was also a composer; among other works, he wrote four operas, including The Scarlet Letter and Cyrano de Bergerac.

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