Bruno Walter, Conductor, 1876 – 1962

Bruno Walter, Conductor, 1876 - 1962

Photograph of Bruno Walter with a dedication to Genevieve Viot dated June 18, 1922, LBI Archives

One of the many rare items in the LBI Collections linked to the German and Austrian émigré communities is the guest book from Café Éclair, a Viennese Café on the Upper West Side.  By itself, it might amount to so much ephemera, but in the context of the Institute’s archival holdings, it is like a pocket-sized card catalog for the enormous artistic and intellectual contributions of German-speaking Jewish émigrés to American culture.  Many of the names that appear on its pages appear over and over again throughout various collections in the archival holdings.

On January 11, 1943, the conductor Bruno Walter signed the book. His signature appears just below the stage and film director Max Reinhardt’s, while those of Franz Werfel, Hugo Steiner Prag, and Klaus Mann appear on nearby pages.

At the time he made this entry, Walter was at the height of a career that spanned nearly seven decades on both sides of the Atlantic and provided the blueprint for the role of the conductor as an interpreter of music.  Starting with his mentor Gustav Mahler’s late works, which he premiered after the composer’s death, Walter left an enduring stamp on the way that works by Mozart, Wagner, and other composers are performed.

His influence is evident from remarks made by Kurt Masur, who eventually took up the baton at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Bruno’s last employer in Germany.  “My real idol was Bruno Walter,” Masur has said,  “[…] you must listen to his Mahler Ninth. This is philosophy in conducting; this is leadership among friends.”

After the Nazis forced him out of his position at the Gewandhaus in 1933 (a job once famously also held by Felix Mendelssohn), Walter settled in the United States in 1939 and split his time between Beverly Hills and New York.

In New York, Walter worked with Siegfried Altmann, the director of the Austrian Institute in New York, on a benefit to raise funds for the reconstruction of the Vienna Opera.  Altmann had been the director of the Israelitisches Blindeninstitut in Vienna, where Walter had once worked as an assistant to Gustav Mahler. Walter wrote Altmann to enlist his assistance in tracking down a portrait of his daughter Greta, which he had been forced to leave behind in Vienna.

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