The noted German conductor, Ferdinand Leitner, studied at the Music School in his home city under Fritz Schreker and Julius Prüwer from 1926 to 1931, as well as receiving instruction from Artur Schnabel and Karl Muck.
After completing his studies, Ferdinand Leitner began appearing as a pianist, particularly as accompanist to Georg Kulenkampff and Ludwig Hoelscher. He made his debut in Berlin as conductor during this period. In 1935, Fritz Busch engaged him as assistant at Glyndebourne. From 1943 to 1945, he was director of music at the Theatre on the Nollendorfplatz in Berlin, and from 1945 to 1946 in Hannover, from 1946 to 1947 in Munich, from 1947 in Stuttgart, always in the same function. He became chief musical director in Stuttgart in 1949 and served there until until 1969. From 1947 to 1951, he was senior musical director of the Bach Weeks in Ansbach.
Ferdinand Leitner conducted the rehearsals for the first performance of Igor Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in Venice in 1951, the performance itself being conducted by the composer personally. Composer and conductor then alternated. He succeeded Erich Kleiber as conductor of the German operas at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1956. From 1969 to 1984, he was senior musical director of the Zürich Opera and from 1976 to 1980 principal conductor of the Residence Orchestra in The Hague at the same time. From 1988, he was principal guest conductor of the RAI Symphony Orchestra in Turin.
Ferdinand Leitner became known mainly as an opera conductor. He promoted 20th-century German opera, especially the works of Carl Orff and Karl-Amadeus Hartmann. He also promoted the works of Ferruccio Busoni. His premieres include the operas Oedipus the King by Carl Orff (1959), Don Juan und Faust (1950) as well as Hamlet (1980), both by Hermannn