The eminent Austrian-born American conductor, Erich Leinsdorf (real name: Landauer), was studying music at a local school by the age of 5. He studied conducting at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and later at the University of Vienna and the Vienna Academy of Music.
From 1934 to 1937, Erich Leinsdorf worked as an assistant to Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini at the Salzburg Festival. He conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1938, being particularly noted for his Wagner; after the sudden death of Artur Bodanzky in 1939, Leinsdorf was named the Met's "head of German repertoire". In 1942 Leinsdorf became a naturalized American citizen. From 1943 he had a brief three-year post as Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, but was absent for much of this tenure because he was drafted into the United States Armed Forces for World War II; the orchestra did not renew his contract. Many years later, in the transition in Cleveland Orchestra from Lorin Maazel to Christoph von Dohnányi between 1982 and 1984, Leinsdorf returned to lead several concerts; he described his role as "the bridge between the regimes".
Erich Leinsdorf was the principal conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1947 to 1955. Leinsdorf came to despair of what he saw as Rochester's insular musical culture, famously remarking that "Rochester is the best disguised dead end in the world!" Subsequently he was briefly head of the New York City Opera, before resuming his association with the Met. In 1962, he was named music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His time in Boston would produce many recordings for RCA, but was also marked by controversy, as he occasionally clashed with musicians and administrators.
More than once Erich Leinsdorf's performances were interrupted by historical events. On November 22, 1963, during a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he delivered this sad news: "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a press report over the wires ... We hope that it is unconfirmed but we have to doubt it ... that the President of the United States has been victim ... of an assassination. [audience gasps and murmurs loudly] We will play the Funeral March from L.v. Beethoven's third symphony." He was referring to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. In the middle of conducting a concert series with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1967, Leinsdorf abruptly fled the country at the start of the Six-Day War; he left so hurriedly that he even forgot to take his tuxedo. Upon Leinsdorf's sudden departure, Zubin Mehta went to conduct the orchestra during the war.
In 1969, Erich Leinsdorf left the Boston Symphony Orchestra post. He would continue to guest-conduct operas and orchestras around the world for the next two decades. He performed and recorded with leading orchestras and opera companies throughout the USA and Europe, earning a reputation for exacting standards as well as an acerbic personality. He was particularly associated with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He also served from 1978 to 1980 as principal conductor of the (West) Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. He died of cancer in Zürich, Switzerland, at the age of 81.
Erich Leinsdorf made numerous recordings throughout his career, including some 78-rpm discs for Columbia Records with the Cleveland Orchestra. He made a number of recordings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for Capitol. In the 1950's, he was conductor for a series of complete stereophonic opera recordings for RCA Victor, made in Rome, beginning with Puccini's Tosca with Zinka Milanov, Jussi Bjoerling, and Leonard Warren (RCA). He continued to record for RCA as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Later he again made additional operatic recordings, including the first complete stereo recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt, with Carol Neblett and René Kollo (RCA). Also under RCA, Leinsdorf conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra with pianist Arthur Rubinstein in recording "The Rubinstein Collection", which included the second complete recording of all of L.v. Beethoven's piano concertos by Rubinstein.
Erich Leinsdorf with the Boston Symphony Orchestra appreared regularly on local broadcasts from WGBH-TV. On August 17, 1967, Leinsdorf conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a two-hour primetime special telecast in color on NBC, a reflection of the days when a commercial network would periodically broadcast a full-length classical concert. The program, entitled "An Evening at Tanglewood", featured violinist Itzhak Perlman as guest soloist. Leinsdorf also published books and essays on musical matters. His notable students include John