“For those who grew to musical maturity with the concert life of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, his name may still have an aura,” Halina Rodzinski wrote in her memoirs, nearly twenty years after the demise of her partner, the Polish conductor Artur Rodzinski.
“For those who are younger,” she went on to lament, “my husband is a dry reference in a musical encyclopedia or a name on a record cover in the cut-rate rack of a discount store.”
That was in 1976. And the many years since haven’t been sort to Rodzinski, leaving him remembered, if in any respect, for embodying “all that a real maestro was supposed to be,” a critic once wrote: “preening, arbitrary, dictatorial, unpredictable, driven by ambition.”
Possessing an “enormous vocabulary of Polish profanity” that he unloaded on musicians, as Time journal reported, Rodzinski was additionally rumored to conduct with a revolver in his pocket. True, Halina confirmed in her guide — and it was loaded.
But there was a time when Rodzinski was among the many most lauded conductors within the land. He might have been “no poet of the baton,” because the critic Virgil Thomson put it in October 1943, when Rodzinski turned music director of the New York Philharmonic. But he was “a first-class orchestral craftsman” and a “master trainer,” Thomson wrote later that season.
Arguably no man had extra of a hand in turning American orchestras into the technical marvels they turned within the mid-20th century — whether or not by means of these he led himself, or by means of the instance he set. He jolted up the requirements of a number of the nice ensembles of the radio age: the Philadelphia Orchestra (as an assistant from 1925 to ’29), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (as music director from 1929 to ’33), the Cleveland Orchestra (1933 to ’43), the NBC Symphony (which he created in 1937), the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, because it was then identified (1943 to ’47) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for a single, tempestuous season after that.
Flashier conductors would take these bands additional: Leopold Stokowski, Rodzinski’s boss and booster, in Philadelphia; Otto Klemperer in Los Angeles; Arturo Toscanini, Rodzinski’s mentor, with the NBC; George Szell in Cleveland; Rafael Kubelik in Chicago. Their achievements have been constructed on Rodzinski’s basis, however their fame and industrial success far eclipsed his.
Perhaps Rodzinski’s recordings may change our sense of him. With a rush of latest archival finds, for the primary time because the LP period there’s lots to go on. Pristine Classical launched a sequence of very good remasterings of Rodzinski’s studio work with the NBC, Cleveland and Chicago orchestras, in addition to just a few broadcast tapings from his New York interval.
Weightier nonetheless is a 16-disc field from Sony, which for probably the most half recovers 78s made with the New York Philharmonic from 1944 to ’46, filling a gap within the orchestra’s discography and providing a companion to Sony’s field, issued two years in the past, of the Philharmonic recordings of John Barbirolli, Rodzinski’s extensively derided predecessor.
Compendiums akin to these can bolster reputations, as long-silent work reaches recent ears, or verify legends born long ago. Sometimes, although, these field units merely verify the verdicts of historical past. And that, alas, is the case with Rodzinski.
Here was a conductor able to extraordinary feats of readability and balancing, in a position to deliver the lushest Romanticism to heel, whether or not in a glowing Rachmaninoff Second Symphony, or in brisk, enthralling scenes from Wagner’s operas, together with parts of “Die Walküre” with the soprano Helen Traubel.
Perhaps surprisingly for such a turbulent character, objectivity was Rodzinski’s interpretive intention. He told Time for a canopy story, simply earlier than his firing from the New York Philharmonic, that he hoped that “the music goes from the orchestra to the audience without going through myself.” (The very totally different Stokowski, he mentioned with contempt, “plays music sexually.”)
But if that literalism helped Rodzinski to coach his orchestras in pinpoint precision, and introduced out the perfect in intractable works like Sibelius’s Fourth, it may additionally bore — missing the strain and vehemence of his idol and mannequin, Toscanini.
The New York Times critic Olin Downes admired Rodzinski’s approach, however he wrote in 1943 that he feared “a reticence approaching overrefinement.” Even Thomson — whose approval for Rodzinski surely had nothing to do with the conductor inviting Thomson, who was additionally a composer, to lead the Philharmonic in his “Symphony on a Hymn Tune” in 1945 — needed to admit that visitor conductors like Charles Munch made extra of the orchestra Rodzinski had constructed.
Rodzinski was born on New Year’s Day 1892, in Split, and grew up in present-day Lviv, a city long fought over that was a part of the Hapsburg monarchy and, later, Poland. While learning regulation in Vienna, he educated on the Academy of Music and, after struggling shrapnel wounds on the Eastern entrance in World War I, discovered a job as a cabaret pianist again in Lviv — reduction from days spent inspecting meat retailers. He made his debut main Verdi’s “Ernani,” then moved to Warsaw. Stokowski heard him conduct Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” there, and provided to take him to Philadelphia.
Filling in for Stokowski at Carnegie Hall in 1926, Rodzinski was already in a position to maintain an orchestra “firmly in his grip,” Downes noted. Los Angeles and Cleveland adopted — the latter a spot the place Rodzinski may add operas to the symphonic repertoire, not least the American premiere of Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” in 1935, a coup he scored in opposition to Stokowski’s Philadelphia.
When Toscanini resigned from the New York Philharmonic in 1936, Rodzinski was requested to conduct eight weeks of the next season, and was extensively seen as a believable inheritor to the maestro’s throne. He turned Toscanini’s favored candidate after the Italian conductor heard him on the Salzburg Festival.
But the Philharmonic took a bet on the much less skilled Barbirolli that December, earlier than Rodzinski had an opportunity to show himself, which he did with an “Elektra” of “historic intensity,” Downes wrote, the next March. Furious, Toscanini instructed NBC to have Rodzinski drill the orchestra it was hiring for the Italian’s sensational return to New York.
After the Philharmonic corrected its error (a minimum of as Rodzinski noticed it) on the finish of 1942, Rodzinski had the unanimous assist of the critics; their venom was infinite for Barbirolli, whose extremely subjective aesthetic appalled writers who had been entranced by Toscanini’s lean, pushed model.
“The orchestra needs overhauling in every way,” Downes insisted. Time reported that visitor conductors referred to its “undisciplined and arrogant members as ‘the Dead End Kids.’” When Rodzinski had 14 musicians fired months earlier than his arrival, together with the concertmaster, it was taken as proof of a seriousness that Barbirolli was perceived to have lacked.
After Rodzinski’s first live performance in October 1943, performing Barbirolli’s beloved Elgar in a acutely aware try and exhibit the way it must go, Thomson wrote, brutally, that it was “pleasant” to listen to the Philharmonic play “all together.” By April, he was drolly reporting that the strings “now play in tune.”
Granted this sort of shade, Rodzinski may do little however shine. He centered on music of the earlier hundred years and barely went again past Schumann and Berlioz to Beethoven, Mozart or Haydn. In the Sony field, his Brahms symphonies push on with out fairly turning into overwhelming; his Tchaikovsky Sixth is quite cool — “too conventional, too objective and too civilized,” as Downes put it in a review of its corresponding live performance.
Contemporary music did play a major position within the Rodzinski period, taking a spot on most of his applications. Trying to duke it out with Serge Koussevitzky’s Boston Symphony Orchestra, Rodzinski competed to premiere the works of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, whose Fifth Symphony he was the primary to launch on report. Hiring Leonard Bernstein as his assistant conductor in New York, Rodzinski additionally supported American composers like William Schuman and William Grant Still. Morton Gould’s “Spirituals,” Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and Darius Milhaud’s “Suite Française,” all composed throughout World War II, obtain convincing recordings within the Sony field.
Still, for Rodzinski the Philharmonic finally turned the conductors’ graveyard it had lengthy been reputed to be — way more so than for Barbirolli, who went on to higher issues with the Hallé in Britain. Despite uniform reward for the excellence Rodzinski enforced, his place was by no means safe.
Contract negotiations with the Philharmonic’s supervisor, the highly effective agent Arthur Judson, dragged on so interminably that Rodzinski’s lawyer, the longer term C.I.A. director Allen Dulles, gave up. The conductor was left to debate phrases on his personal, as he grew extra anxious about his lack of management over visitor conductors — his rival Stokowski amongst them — and what they carried out.
The Chicago Symphony, rebuilding after Désiré Defauw’s transient postlude to the 37-year tenure of Frederick Stock, sniffed a chance, and provided a submit round Christmas 1946. With that provide in hand, Rodzinski dressed the Philharmonic’s board down with an hourlong speech about his issues with Judson on Feb. 3, earlier than leaking his resignation to the press that night. The board fired him the next afternoon, amid mutual recriminations.
“New York,” Rodzinski vowed to a reporter, “will go down.”
He lasted simply months again within the Midwest. Critics there gave by-now-familiar reward to the rise within the high quality of taking part in, and there have been operatic successes, however Rodzinski once more got here up in opposition to entrenched pursuits, racking up deficits and discovering far much less willingness to make modifications of personnel. Chicago’s board fired him in January 1948.
There could be no extra distinguished posts for Rodzinski, the perfectionist who set the requirements for the post-World War II period. He would make more recordings within the 1950s, largely with the Royal Philharmonic on the Westminster label, however his well being declined, and he would by no means once more seem with the New York Philharmonic. He died in 1958.