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Dimitri Mitropoulos

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Dimitri Mitropoulos
Δημήτρης Μητρόπουλος
Mitropoulos in early 1944
Dimitris Mitropoulos

(1896-02-18)18 February 1896
Died2 November 1960(1960-11-02) (aged 64)
Milan, Italy
Resting placeFirst Cemetery of Athens
Occupation(s)Conductor, pianist, composer
Known forConductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera

Dimitri Mitropoulos (Greek: Δημήτρης Μητρόπουλος; 1 March [O.S. 18 February] 1896[1] – 2 November 1960) was a Greek and American conductor, pianist, and composer.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Mitropoulos was born in Athens, the son of Yannis and Angelikē (Angeliki) Mitropoulos. His father owned a leather goods shop in downtown Athens. He was musically precocious, demonstrating his abilities at an early age. From the ages of eleven to fourteen, when Mitropoulos was in secondary school, he would host and preside over informal musical gatherings at his house every Saturday afternoon. His earliest acknowledged composition – a sonata for violin and piano, now lost – dates from this period. His opera Soeur Béatrice, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, premiered in 1919.[3]

He studied music at the Athens Conservatoire as well as in Brussels and Berlin, with Ferruccio Busoni among his teachers.[3] In 1921 he conducted the inaugural music of the Bavarian Socialist Republic. From 1921 to 1925 he assisted Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera and then took a number of posts in Greece. At a 1930 concert with the Berlin Philharmonic, finding that his soloist was sick he played the solo part of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 and conducted the orchestra from the keyboard, becoming one of the first to do so.[4]

United States[edit]

Mitropoulos made his U.S. debut in 1936 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and he later settled in the country, becoming a citizen in 1946. From 1937 to 1949 he served as principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (forerunner of today's Minnesota Orchestra).[5]

External audio
audio icon You may hear Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting Sergei Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé Suite, Op. 60 with the New York Philharmonic in 1956 on archive.org
audio icon You may hear Dimiri Mitropoulos conducting his orchestral transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach's Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1942 Here on archive.org

In 1949 Mitropoulos began his association with the New York Philharmonic. He was initially co-conductor with Leopold Stokowski and became the sole music director in 1951. Mitropoulos recorded extensively with the Philharmonic for Columbia Records and sought to reach new audiences in the city through appearances on television and by conducting performances at the Roxy Theatre, a popular movie theatre in 1950–51.[6] He expanded the Philharmonic's repertoire, commissioning works by new composers and championing the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. In 1955, Philharmonic's performance under Mitropoulos at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus was the main event of the inaugural edition of Athens Festival.[7] In 1958, he was succeeded as the Philharmonic's conductor by a protégé, Leonard Bernstein. In January 1960, he guest conducted the Philharmonic in a performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, which was recorded.

Work in opera[edit]

In addition to his orchestral career, Mitropoulos conducted opera extensively in Italy, and from 1954 until his death in 1960 was the principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, although the Met never had an official 'principal conductor' title until the 1970s. His musically incisive and dramatically vivid performances of Puccini, Verdi, Richard Strauss and others remain models of the opera conductor's art. The Met's extensive archive of recorded broadcasts preserves many of these fine performances.

Mitropoulos's series of recordings for Columbia Records with the New York Philharmonic included a rare complete performance of Alban Berg's Wozzeck. Many of these have been reissued by Sony Classics on CD, including most recently his stereo recordings of excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. He recorded with the Minneapolis Symphony for RCA Victor during the 78-rpm era. He was also represented on the Cetra Records label, most notably with an early recording of Richard Strauss's Elektra.

Mitropoulos premiered many contemporary works. Examples include the American premieres of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony (1954) and First Violin Concerto (1956) and the world premieres of Barber's Vanessa (1958), Ernst Krenek's Fourth Symphony (1947), and John J. Becker's Short Symphony (1950).

Personal life[edit]

Mitropoulos was noted for having an eidetic memory (which enabled him to conduct without a score, even during rehearsals) and for his monk-like life style due to his deeply religious, Greek Orthodox beliefs.

Mitropoulos was "quietly known to be homosexual" and "felt no need for a cosmetic marriage".[8] Among his relationships reportedly was one with a young Leonard Bernstein.[4] Mitropoulos was a close friend and mentor to William Bast.[9]

Mitropoulos died in Milan, Italy at the age of 64 of heart failure, while rehearsing Mahler's Third Symphony at the La Scala Opera House. One of his last recorded performances was Verdi's La forza del destino with Giuseppe Di Stefano, Antonietta Stella and Ettore Bastianini in Vienna on 23 September 1960.[10] On 31 October 1960, two days before his death, Mitropoulos conducted Mahler's Third Symphony with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. The performance was recorded and later issued commercially.[11]

External audio
audio icon You may hear Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting Zoltán Kodály's Háry János Suite with the New York Philharmonic in 1953 Here on archive.org


  1. ^ The dates 18 February 1896 and 1 March 1896 both appear in the literature. Many of Mitropoulos's early interviews and program notes gave 18 February. In his later interviews, however, the conductor said he was born on 1 March, and most American sources also show this birthdate. The reason for the different dates is that Greece was still using the Julian calendar in 1896, and did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923, when Mitropulos was 27. By then, the calendars were 13 days apart, but in 1896 they were only 12 days apart. The date 18 February 1896 under the Julian calendar corresponded to 1 March 1896 in the Gregorian. The earlier sources used the original Julian calendar date, and the later sources used the equivalent Gregorian date.
  2. ^ Hill, Brad (2005). Classical. Infobase Publishing. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-8160-6976-7.
  3. ^ a b "Dimitri Mitropoulos | Greek conductor | Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b Lebrecht, Norman (1992). The Maestro Myth. New York: Birch Lane Press (Carol Publishing Group). p. 259. ISBN 1-55972-108-1.
  5. ^ "The Legacy of Minnesota Orchestra Music Directors - Minnesota Orchestra". minnesotaorchestra.org. Retrieved 13 March 2024.
  6. ^ "Dimitri Mitropoulous | Music Director, 1949–58". www.nyphil.org. Retrieved 13 March 2024.
  7. ^ greekfestival. "HISTORY". Athens Epidaurus Festival. Retrieved 13 March 2024.
  8. ^ Horowitz, Joseph (2005), Classical Music In America: A History Of Its Rise And Fall, W. W. Norton & Company, p. 323, ISBN 0-393-05717-8
  9. ^ Bast, William (2006). Surviving James Dean. Barricade Books. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-56980-298-4.
  10. ^ Philharmonic, New York (1956). Programs. Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York. p. 7. VIENNA MITROPOULOS BRINGS EXCITEMENT TO PUCCINI THE MOST FASCINATING OPERATIC EVENT IN MANY YEARS Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony, conducted for the first time a performance of the Vienna State Opera, and this festive performance was, without exaggeration, the most fascinating evening of musical theatre that we have heard in many years at the Opera.
  11. ^ Quinn, John (11 October 2011). "Review". MusicWeb International. Archived from the original on 3 June 2023. Retrieved 18 October 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  • Arfanis, Stathis A. The Complete Discography of Dimitri Mitropoulos. Athens: Irinna S.A., 1990. ISBN 960-7110-00-5.
  • Mitropoulos, Dimitri, and Katsoyanis, Katy: A Correspondence, 1930–1960. New York: Martin Dale, 1973. Introductions by Louis Biancolli and Katy Katsoyanis. LC Number 73075338.
  • Trotter, William R. Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1995. ISBN 0-931340-81-0.
  • "Baton for Bernstein", Time, 25 November 1957, archived from the original on 25 February 2005, retrieved 17 November 2007
  • Alessandro Zignani, Dimitri Mitropoulos. Una luce che incatena il cielo, 2008, Zecchini Editore, pagg. 240 con discografia, ISBN 88-87203-67-9