Damrosch, Leopold , eminent German-American conductor and violinist, father of Frank (Heino) Damrosch and Walter (Johannes) Damrosch; b. Posen, Oct. 22, 1832; d. N.Y, Feb. 15, 1885. He took the degree of M.D. at the Univ. of Berlin in 1854, but then, against his parents’ wishes, embraced the career of a musician, studying with Ries, Dehn, and Bohmer. He appeared at first as a solo violinist in several German cities, later as a conductor at minor theaters, and in 1857 procured, through Liszt, the position of solo violinist in the Weimar Court Orch. While there, he was a close friend of Liszt and many of his most distinguished pupils, and won Wagner’s lifelong friendship; in Weimar, too, he married the singer Helene von Heimburg (b. Oldenburg, 1835; d. N.Y, Nov. 21, 1904). From 1858 to 1860 Damrosch was conductor of the Breslau Phil. Concerts. He gave up the post to make tours with Bülow and Tausig; organized the Breslau Orch. Soc. in 1862. Besides this, he founded quartet soirées, and a choral society; conducted the Soc. for Classical Music, and a theater orch.; frequently appeared as a solo violinist. In 1871 he was called to N.Y. to conduct the Arion Soc., and made his debut, in April 1871, as conductor, composer, and violinist. He continued as its conductor until 1883. In 1873 he founded the Oratorio Soc., which he conducted until his death. In 1876–77 he was conductor of the N.Y. Phil, and then conducted his own orch. in 1877–78, which became the Sym. Soc. of N.Y. in the latter year. He continued as its conductor until his death, taking it on major tours in 1882 and 1883. During the 1884–85 season, he served as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y, dying just 6 days before the close of the season. In 1880 he received an honorary D.Mus. degree from Columbia Coll. Damrosch was one of the most important figures in the musical life of N.Y., during his era, leaving a worthy heritage as performing artist and administrator. He also tried his hand at composing, producing a large output of music of little lasting value.
G. Martin, The D. Dynasty: America’s First Family of Music (N.Y., 1983).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire