Damrosch, Walter Johannes


Talented conductor, Wagnerian lecturer and composer, a son of Dr. Leopold Damrosch. He was born in Breslau, Prussia. He showed a fondness for music at an early age and was instructed by his father in harmony and also studied under Rischbieter and Draeseke at Dresden. He came to America with his parents in 1871, and in 1884, when his father began his season of German Opera in New York, Walter was made the assistant conductor. After his father's death he held the same post under Seidl, and also became conductor of the Oratorio and Symphony Societies. For his father's musical festival, in 1880, he trained the Newark Harmonic Society, of which he then became conductor. As an operatic impressario he showed good judgment and business sense. In 1895 he made an effort to re-establish German Opera in New York and gave a season of it at the Metropolitan Opera House and in some of the larger cities, bringing over from Europe several noted singers, among them Alvary, Gadski and Sucher. During his second season he produced his own opera, The Scarlet Letter, founded on Hawthorne's novel of that name. German Opera having been crowded out of the Metropolitan Opera House a few seasons later he organized a company from such material as he could engage, turned Carnegie Hall into an opera house and gave several Wagnerian performances, among them the first performance of The Ring of the Nibelungen in New York. After another season, however, interest seemed to have declined and German Opera as an individual enterprise ended.

As a concert conductor Damrosch has produced several important novelties in America. Among them were Tschaikowsky's Sixth Symphony, Liszt's Christus and Parsifal (in oratorio form), which were first given in this country under his baton. As a composer he wrote beside The Scarlet Letter, another opera, Cyrano, with the text by W. J. Henderson after Rostand's play; the Manila Te Deum, in honor of Dewey's victory; a violin sonata and several songs. He is best known as a composer through his setting of one of Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads, Danny Deever. He has also introduced many famous artists to the American public, including Milka Ternina, Brema, and Lili Lehmann, besides those mentioned before. He is at present the conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, one of the ablest and best organizations of its kind in this country, numbering some fifty-five players, whose training has been long and thorough. Mr. Damrosch is a man of many winning personal traits and is well-liked by the musicians under him. He married in 1890, Miss Margaret Blaine, a daughter of the late James G. Blaine. Their home is in New York.