cover image Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet

Fritz Reiner: Maestro and Martinet

Kenneth Morgan. University of Illinois Press, $34.95 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-252-02935-6

A gifted musician and a brilliant technician with the baton, the Hungarian-born Reiner never became a star like some of his contemporaries, and, as Morgan documents in this absorbing biography, Reiner's prickly personality, his stubborn refusal to promote himself, his frequent clashes with orchestra managers and backers and his icy relationship with the press sabotaged his ambitions time and again. As a result, one of the finest conductors of the twentieth century is widely respected by musicians, but comparatively neglected by the public. A product of the opera houses of central Europe, Reiner enjoyed stormy yet artistically fruitful tenures with the Cincinnati Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony and Chicago Symphony orchestras as well as the Metropolitan Opera. He spent a decade as the leading conducting teacher at Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute, where his pupils included a young Leonard Bernstein. Morgan offers fascinating insights into Reiner as teacher and interpreter-his small but precise beat, his fanatical attention to balances and phrasing and his strong feelings about new music. (Reiner was a champion of the works of fellow Hungarian Bela Bartok.) At the same time, Morgan delves into the Reiner's darker side, noting the ""sarcasm and withering contempt"" the conductor leveled at musicians who failed to meet his standards. Union rules and changing conceptions of a conductor's role make it unlikely that we will see another martinet at the helm of a major orchestra, but this book makes it clear that Reiner is worth remembering.