Walter, Bruno (1876-1962)

views updated May 23 2018

WALTER, BRUNO (1876-1962)

The celebrated conductor and composer Bruno Walter was born in Berlin on September 15, 1876, and died in Los Angeles on February 17, 1962.

Born German, Bruno Walter Schlesinger was naturalized as an Austrian citizen in 1911, took French citizenship in 1938, and became an American citizen in 1948. Dropping his surname in favor of "Walter" represented an identification with Walther von Stolzing, the hero of Wagner's comic opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Walter's musical training took place in Berlin, Cologne, and Hamburg, where he met avant-garde composer Gustav Mahler, who became his mentor and whom he followed to Vienna. There he began a brilliant career as conductor and pianist, and was also Mahler's staunch defender.

Walter was an active participant on the unique and complex intellectual scene in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and his introduction to psychoanalysis occurred in 1906, while a young conductor and Mahler's protegé.Thenata crucial stage in life, he suffered from a paralyzing neuralgia and, after consulting a number of specialists, he decided to seek help from Freud. From Walter's autobiography we know the course and outcome of their meeting, which has been the subject of a small number of studies. Freud's work with Walter was unusual in that he operated less as psychoanalyst than as a psychiatric consultant.

Indeed, while the young Walter expected months of psychological investigation, Freud, after a physical exam and a single visit, prescribed sojourns in Italy and Sicily. The impact of the consultation had such an effect that Walter obeyed immediately. His subsequent treatment with Freud resembled therapy by suggestion such as was common in the nineteenth century. When Walter asked Freud if he would be able to play in front of an audience because he feared a relapse, Freud took upon himself the responsibility, assuming the role of a protective paternal figure and inducing an almost hypnotic effect upon Walter, traces of which were still discernable forty years later.

The case history of Bruno Walter was discovered by the Austrian analyst Richard Sterba, who also emigrated to the United States and was a great music lover. Since his 1951 publication, this unusual affair has come regularly under scrutiny, whether for purely historical value, as a key example of brief therapy, for Freud's use of a somatic approach, or even as a method of treating the so-called "actual neuroses."

The close-knit Viennese artistic milieu fostered fortuitous encounters. Mahler, for example, also had a therapeutic consultation with Freud; and Ernest Jones, in the second volume of Freud's biography, mentions that it took place to the intervention of Viennese neurologist Richard Nepallek, who also happened to be a relative of Mahler's wife, Alma. Others have suggested Walter as the source of the consultation, but have not been able to prove it. It is true that during the 1930s Walter collaborated with Herbert Graf, better known in psychoanalytic circles as "Little Hans." Whether these experiences intensified Walter's powerful admiration for Freud, as revealed by Sterba, is not known.

Nicolas Gougoulis

See also: Music and psychoanalysis; Suggestion.


Chesire, Neil M. (1997). The empire of the ear: Freud's problem with music. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 6, 1127-1168.

Garcia, Emanuel E. (1990). Somatic interpretation in a transference cure: Freud's treatment of Bruno Walter. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 17, 83-88.

Gougoulis, Nicolas, and Kapsambélis, Vassilis. (1996). Recherches sur le concept freudien des névroses actuelles. Topique, 61, 493-502.

Sterba, Richard F. (1951). A case of brief psychotherapy by Sigmund Freud. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 38, 75-80.

Walter, Bruno. (1946). Theme and variations. An autobiography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Walter, Bruno

views updated May 23 2018


WALTER, BRUNO (Bruno Walter Schlesinger ; 1876–1962), conductor. He was born in Berlin, where he studied at the Stern Conservatory. At 17 he became voice coach at the Cologne Opera and the following year assistant conductor, under Gustav *Mahler, at the Municipal Theater in Hamburg. He conducted in various German towns until 1900, when he became conductor at the Berlin Opera, but he left after a year to become Mahler's assistant at the Vienna Opera, where he remained until 1912. In 1917 he was engaged as general director of the Munich Opera, which gained a brilliant reputation for its fine repertory and high standard of performance. From 1922 he worked as a guest conductor, making his American debut and conducting at the Salzburg Mozart Festival. In 1925 he became conductor of the Municipal Opera in Berlin-Charlottenburg, and in 1929 of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In 1932 he was a guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic and was reengaged for the next three seasons under Toscanini. Meanwhile, the Nazis came to power and he lost his German engagements. In 1936 he accepted the post of musical director of the Vienna Opera, but when the Nazis overran Austria in 1938 he moved to France. On the outbreak of World War ii he emigrated to the United States, settling in California, and from 1947 to 1949 was conductor and musical adviser of the New York Philharmonic.

Walter was equally eminent as a conductor of orchestral and operatic music. A classicist among conductors, his interpretations were characterized by a contemplative, lyrical quality and by sensitive color and phrasing. He excelled as an interpreter of Mozart and above all of Mahler, with whom he had worked in close friendship for so many years. He conducted the first performances of Das Lied von der Erde and of Mahler's ninth symphony, and remained a lifelong champion of his music. Walter was also a composer, but discouraged the performance of his own works. A man of wide culture, he wrote several books: Von den moralischen Kraeften der Musik (1935); Theme and Variations (1947; autobiography); Gustav Mahler; ein Portraet (1957); and Von der Musik und vom Musizieren (1957; Of Music and Music-Making, 1961).


P. Stefan, Bruno Walter (Ger. 1936); T. Mann, in: Musical Quarterly (1946), 503–8; A.L. Holde, Bruno Walter (Ger., 1960); mgg, s.v.; Riemann-Gurlitt, s.v.; Grove, Dict, s.v.; Baker, Biog Dict, sv.; H.W. Freyhan, in: ajr Information 25 (Aug. 1970), 5–6.

Walter (Schlesinger), Bruno

views updated Jun 11 2018

Walter [Schlesinger], Bruno (b Berlin, 1876; d Beverly Hills, Calif., 1962). Ger.-born conductor and pianist (Amer. cit.). Coach and ass. cond., Cologne Opera, 1893–4, Hamburg 1894–8 as ass. to Mahler, Riga 1898–1900, Berlin 1900–1, Vienna 1901 (with Mahler till 1907)–1912, Munich Opera 1913–22. Disciple of Mahler and cond. of Das Lied von der Erde, Munich 1911, and 9th Sym., Vienna 1912. Cond. f.p. of Pfitzner's Palestrina 1917. Amer. début 1923. Cond. Berlin Municipal Opera 1925–9, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch. 1929–33. Mus. dir., Vienna Opera 1936–8. Assoc. with Salzburg Fest. 1925–37, and 1949, 1950, 1953, and 1956. Emigrated to Fr., and became Fr. cit. 1938, and then moving to USA., where he became Amer. cit. London début 1909, Phil. Soc. concerts, CG 1910. From 1924 to 1931, cond. regularly at CG, incl. memorable perfs. of Der Rosenkavalier, Die Fledermaus, and Le nozze di Figaro. After Second World War returned to London to cond. LPO 1946. At first Edinburgh Fest., 1947, cond. legendary perf. of Das Lied von der Erde with Kathleen Ferrier and Peter Pears. Accompanied (pf.) Ferrier at recitals in Edinburgh and Salzburg and recorded Das Lied von der Erde with her in Vienna, 1952. Cond. at NY Met 1941–6, 1950–1, and 1955–6. Prin. cond. NYPO 1947–9. Last visit to Eng., 1955. One of greatest conds., especially of Beethoven, Bruckner, Schubert, and Mahler. His warm, expansive approach was at opposite pole to Toscanini's precision and brilliance. Comp. 2 syms., str. qt., pf. quintet, pf. trio, and songs. Wrote biography of Mahler (1936, Eng. edns. 1937 and 1958) and autobiography Theme and Variations (1946).

Walter, Bruno

views updated May 17 2018

Walter, Bruno (1876–1962) German conductor, b. Bruno Walter Schlesinger. After a series of posts in Europe, he went to the USA in 1939. From 1941 to 1957, he worked with the Metropolitan Opera Company, New York. He was highly regarded for his interpretations of Richard Strauss and Mahler.