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Leopold Damrosch (Composer, Arranger)

Born: October 22, 1832 - Posen, Prussia
Died: February 15, 1885 - New York, NY, USA

The German-born composer, conductor and violinist, Leopold Damrosch, was preliminary educated at the gymnasium in his Posen. He graduated at Berlin University in 1854 with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Having shown marked musioal taste in early life, he decided then, against his parents' wishes, to abandon medicine and devote himself to the study of music. He became a pupil of Ries, S.W. Dehn and Böhmer, and . made such progress that he appeared the next year as solo violinist in Magdeburg.

After giving concerts in the principal German cities, Leopold Damrosch was appointed in 1857 as leading violinist in the court orchestra at Weimar by Franz Liszt, who was then the director. While here Damrosch became intimate with F. Liszt and many of his most distinguished pupils, and also won Wagner's lifelong friendship. Here, too, he married the singer Helene von Heimburg. In 1850-1860 Damrosch was conductor of the Breslau Philharmonic Society, where his programmes presented, together with the compositions of the older masters, works by Wagner, F. Liszt and Berlioz - music not then widely admired or appreciated. In 1860 he made concert tours with Hans von Bülow and Carl Tausig. In 1862 he organised the Orchesterverein of Breslau, with an orchestra of 80 players, of which he remained director till 1871.

In that year Leopold Damrosch was called to New York to become conductor of the Männergesangverein Arion, a leading German male chorus. He made his debut there, on May 6, 1871, as conductor, violinist and composer. Damrosch's active personality and strong musical temperament soon made themselves influential in the musical life of New York. There resulted from them, and his marked ability as an organiser, the foundation in 1874 of the Oratorio Society of New York, a mixed chorus devoted to the performance of oratorios and other works. In 1878 a further result of Damrosoh's labours was seen in the foundation of the Symphony Society, for the giving of orchestral concerts. Of both of these Damrosch was elected conductor, and occupied that place until his death. In the season of 1876-1877 he officiated as conductor of the Philharmonic Sooiety's concerts. In 1880 Columbia College conferred upon him the degree of Mus.D. In 1881 he conduoted the first great musical festival held in New York, with an orohestra of 250 and a chorus of 1,200. In 1883 he made a successful tour through the western States with his orchestra. Damrosch's compositions, published partly in Germany, partly in the USA, were numerous but unimportant. A list was published in the second edition of the Grove Dictionary.

Leopold Damrosch was also mainly instrumental in the establishment of German opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This opera-house had been opened the previous year with Italian opera, under the management of Henry E. Abbey; the outcome was disastrous failure financially. Damrosch presented to the directors a plan for German opera of which he would assume the management. He gathered a company of German singers, and organised his campaign with a sagacity that led to a brilliant success. The season opened on November 17, 1884, and ended on February 11, 1885. Damrosch conducted all the representations but the last. The previous day he had contracted a coid, and five days later, while all the city was rejoicing at his achievement, he died.

Leopold Damrosch's son Frank Damrosch (1859-1937) was conductor and teacher. His second son Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) was an eminent conductor, music educator and composer. Both were born in Breslau, came to America with their father and made their musical career there.


Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition, Author: H.E. Krehbiel, revised: Richard Aldrich)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2009

Leopold Damrosch: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings of Works for Orchestra

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