Damrosch, Walter

Damrosch, Walter (Johannes)

(1862–1950) conductor, composer, educator; born in Breslau, Prussia (son of Leopold Damrosch). He came to the U.S.A. with his family in 1871 and was largely trained in music by his father. When his father died, he took over his post as conductor of the New York Symphony Society (1885–1903). He also began an assistantship at the Metropolitan Opera (1885–91), during which time he helped to promote German opera. When he left he began his own company, the Damrosch Opera Company (1895–99), mainly to do Wagner's operas. He also produced his own opera, The Scarlet Letter (1896); his second, Cyrano de Bergerac, was done by the Metropolitan Opera in 1913. Meanwhile, he took over as director of a reorganized New York Symphony Society (1903–27), turning away from opera to orchestral works. During World War I he conducted for the troops in France and his contacts led to the establishment of a summer music school at Fontainebleau that would train many American musicians over the ensuing decades. He also took his New York Symphony to Europe in 1920, the first American orchestra to be heard there. When his orchestra merged with the Philharmonic, he retired but from 1927 to 1947 he was the music adviser to National Broadcasting Company radio; among his achievements was the Music Appreciation Hour for young people, which he narrated and conducted after opening each session with, "Good morning, my dear children." Although forgettable as a composer, he retains a special place in America's musical life for introducing generations to the music of Wagner in particular and serious music in general.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.