Mengelberg, (Josef) Willem

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Mengelberg, (Josef) Willem

Mengelberg, (Josef) Willem, celebrated Dutch conductor, uncle of Karel (Willem Joseph) Mengelberg and Kurt Rudolf Mengelberg; b. Utrecht, March 28, 1871; d. Chur, Switzerland, March 21, 1951. He studied at the Utrecht Cons., and later at the Cologne Cons, with Seiss, Jensen, and Wüllner. He was appointed municipal music director in Lucerne in 1891, and his work there attracted so much attention that in 1895 he was placed at the head of the Concertgebouw Orch. in Amsterdam, holding this post for 50 years (resigning in 1945); during his directorship, he elevated that orch. to a lofty position in the world of music. In 1898 he also became conductor of the Tonkoonst choral society in Amsterdam, and from 1908 to 1921 he was director of the Museumgesellschaft concerts in Frankfurt am Main. He appeared frequently as guest conductor in all the European countries; in England he was an annual visitor from 1913 until World War II. He first appeared with the N.Y. Phil, in 1905; then conducted it regularly from 1922 to 1930, with Toscanini serving as assoc. conductor in 1929–30. In 1928 he received the degree of Mus.Doc. at Columbia Univ. (honoris causa); in 1933 he was appointed prof, of music at the Univ. of Utrecht. During the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans, Mengelberg openly expressed his sympathies with the Nazi cause, and lost the high respect and admiration that his compatriots had felt for him; after the country’s liberation (1945), he was barred from professional activities there, the ban to be continued until 1951, but he died in that year in exile in Switzerland. Mengelberg was an outstanding representative of the Romantic tradition in symphonic conducting. His performances of the Beethoven syms. were notable for their dramatic sweep and power, if not for their adherence to stylistic proprieties. He was a great champion of many of the major composers of his era, including Mahler and Strauss; both men appeared as guest conductors of the Concertgebouw Orch., and became Mengelberg’s friends. Mahler dedicated his 5thand 8th syms. to Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orch., and Strauss dedicated his Ein Heldenleben to the same forces. Mengelberg was the first to lead a major cycle of Mahler’s works, in Amsterdam in 1920.


H. Nolthenius, W. M. (Amsterdam, 1920); A. Van den Boer, De psychologische beteekenis van W. M. als dirigent (Amsterdam, 1925); E. Sollitt, M. and the Symphonic Epoch (N.Y, 1930); idem, M. spreckt (speeches by M; The Hague, 1935); W. Paap, W. M. (Amsterdam, 1960).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Mengelberg, (Josef) Willem

views updated May 18 2018

Mengelberg, (Josef) Willem (b Utrecht, 1871; d Zuort, Switz., 1951). Dutch conductor. Mus. dir., Lucerne 1891. Appointed permanent cond. of Concertgebouw Orch. of Amsterdam 1895, remaining until 1945 and making it one of the great orchs. of the world. He particularly championed works of Mahler and Strauss in early years of 20th cent., winning friendship and admiration of both composers, who went to Amsterdam to conduct the orch. in their own works. Strauss ded. Ein Heldenleben to Mengelberg and the orch. In 1920 Mengelberg held a fest. in Amsterdam at which all Mahler's syms. and other major works were perf., the first such proclamation of faith in the composer. Amer. début NYPO 1905, London 1911. Cond. NYPO, 1921–9. Prof. of mus., Utrecht Univ. from 1933. Salzburg Fest. début 1934 (Vienna PO). Frequent guest cond. of Eng. orchs. In 1945, because of alleged collaboration with the Nazi conquerors of Holland, was forbidden by Dutch govt. to ‘exercise his profession in public in any matter whatever for a period of 6 years 1945–51’. He died in exile in the 6th year of this ‘sentence’, the justice of which is now questioned.

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