Nikisch, Arthur, famous Austrian conductor of Moravian and Hungarian descent; b. Lébényi Szent-Miklós, Oct. 12, 1855; d. Leipzig, Jan. 23, 1922. His father was head bookkeeper to Prince Lichtenstein. Nikisch attended the Vienna Cons., studying with Dessoff (composition) and Hellmesberger (violin), graduating in 1874. While still a student, he had the honor of playing among the first violins under Wagner’s direction at the laying of the cornerstone of the Bayreuth Theater (1872). He was at first engaged as a violinist in the Vienna Court Orch. (1874–77), then was chorusmaster (1877–78), second conductor (1878–79), and first conductor (1879–89) of the Leipzig City Theater. In 1889 he was engaged as conductor of the Boston Sym. Orch., with excellent success, remaining at this post until 1893. Returning to Europe, he was music director of the Budapest Opera (1893–95). He also conducted the Phil. Concerts there, and from 1895 was conductor of the Gewandhaus Orch. in Leipzig, and of the Berlin Phil. From 1897 he was in constant demand as a visiting conductor, and made a number of extended tours with the Berlin Phil.; he directed many of the concerts of the London Phil. Society, and works of Wagner and Richard Strauss at Covent Garden; in 1912 he made a tour of the U.S. with the London Sym. Orch. From 1902 to 1907, he was director of studies at the Leipzig Cons., and in 1905–06 general director of the Stadttheater. As a sym. conductor, Nikisch possessed an extraordinary Romantic power of musical inspiration. He was the first of his profession to open the era of “the conductor as hero,” exercising a peculiar magnetism on his audiences equal to that of virtuoso artists; his personal appearance, a poetic-looking beard and flowing hair, contributed to his success. His son Mitja Nikisch (b. Leipzig, May 21, 1899; d. Venice, Aug. 5, 1936) was an excellent pianist who toured South America in 1921. He made his U.S. debut in N.Y., Oct. 23, 1923.
F. Pf ohi, A. N. als Mensch und als Künstler (Leipzig, 1900; 2nd ed., 1925); E. Segnitz, A. N.(Leipzig, 1920); H. Chevalley, ed., A. N., Leben und Wirken (Berlin, 1922; 2nd ed., 1925); A. Dette, A. N.(Leipzig, 1922).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis Mclntire