Conductor Willem Mengelberg, 1871-1951
Frits Zwart
Acclaimed and Accused
Conductor Willem Mengelberg, 1871-1951
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Frits Zwart
Conductor Willem Mengelberg, 1871-1951
Willem Mengelberg is undeniably the greatest conductor in Dutch music history. To this day, few have even come close to matching his glorious, international career. Mengelberg was not only one of the world's greatest conductors, he had an excellent reputation as a trainer, a builder of orchestral ensembles, responsible for the international reputation of his own Concertgebouw as well as many others including the New York Philharmonic. While in New York, Mengelberg shared his position as Principal Conductor of the Philharmonic with his friend and rival, Arturo Toscanini.

Champion of numerous composers of which Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss are the most illustrious, Mengelberg was also the founder of the now renowned tradition of annual performances of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion in The Netherlands. As Chief Conductor of Amsterdam's (now Royal) Concertgebouw Orchestra, Willem Mengelberg developed the ensemble into one of the world's most illustrious and in doing so, forged a music life of international eminence for its city of residence. Mengelberg's recordings bear witness to a singular musical interpreter.

As of 1920, Willem Mengelberg was even more popular than his own Queen. A mere thirty years later he died in exile, banned to his remote summer chalet in Switzerland. The most successful of all the chief conductors of one of the world's best symphonic ensembles fell from being a global music legend to a despised and disputed target of gossip, jealousy and rebuke. His dubious role during World War II has overshadowed his extraordinary musical career ever since.