Artur Rodzinski’s father, an officer in the army of the Hapsburg empire, was of Polish descent. Artur studied music in Lwów, and then law in Vienna, where he simultaneously enrolled at the Academy of Music; his teachers there included Marx and Schreker (composition), Schalk (conducting), and Sauer and Lalewicz (piano). During World War I he was wounded in action in Russia; and after being discharged he returned to Lwów where he was engaged as chorusmaster at the Opera House, making his debut as a conductor in 1920 with Verdi’s Ernani. The following year saw him conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Warsaw Opera House. While visiting Poland, Stokowski heard Rodzinski leading a performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and invited him to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra; as a result, between 1925 and 1929 he served as Stokowski’s assistant, conducted for the Philadelphia Grand Opera and directed the opera and orchestral departments at the Curtis Institute.
In 1929 Rodzinski was appointed chief conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and after four years he accepted the same post with the Cleveland Orchestra. During his time with this orchestra, 1933–1943, he developed it into one of the foremost orchestras in America, raising playing standards and programming works such as the first performance in America of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which gained the orchestra national attention. Between December 1939 and February 1942, Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra made an extensive series of recordings for the American Columbia label that demonstrated the high standards which he and the orchestra had attained. He appeared with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1934 and 1937, when his stunning concert performance of Richard Strauss’s Elektra (which was recorded) aroused great enthusiasm. At Toscanini’s invitation he was engaged to prepare the NBC Symphony Orchestra for its first concerts with the maestro at the end of 1937, and was also active in Europe, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and 1937.
In the autumn of 1943 Rodzinski replaced Barbirolli as chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Reputed occasionally to conduct with a revolver in his back pocket, Rodzinski did little to endear himself to the players of the orchestra but once again achieved very high standards of performance. He re-entered the recording studios in November 1944 at the helm of his new orchestra, again at the request of Columbia, and recorded an extensive repertoire with the orchestra until October 1946. However his relationship with its manager Arthur Judson and board of directors deteriorated and in 1947 he left New York to take up the post of chief conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Here again, an inability to work with the board resulted in his swift departure after only one season, but one which certainly had a major impact upon local audiences through performances such as his legendary account of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. During his single year with the Chicago Orchestra, Rodzinski recorded several notable titles for Columbia during late 1947.
After his departure from Chicago, Rodzinski’s health began to deteriorate; there was little recording activity and he settled in Europe once more. Here his status as a major musician was recognised and he was invited to lead significant productions of the time, such as the 1953 first performance of Prokofiev’s War and Peace at the Maggio Musicale, Florence, as well as traditional repertoire works. He also worked extensively for Italian radio, conducting powerful readings of Wagner’s Tannhäuser (1957) and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina (1958). He re-established his presence as a recording conductor through a contract with Westminster Records, for whom he recorded extensively with Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London from 1955 onwards, although his final recordings were made for EMI in 1958. By this time Rodzinski had been warned by his Italian doctor that further conducting activity would be tantamount to suicide. However, he returned to Chicago in triumph in 1958 to conduct Tristan once again for the Lyric Opera Company: these were his last performances and he died shortly afterwards.
Rodzinski can be observed conducting the New York Philharmonic in the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in Edgar Ulmer’s film Carnegie Hall. He conducts without a baton, and his movements tend to be similar, if less flamboyant, to those of Stokowski. In general his gestures are economical; at times both arms are used in parallel with a tight sense of vigour to emphasise dramatic points. Rodzinski’s interpretations were frequently highly dynamic, often with very fast speeds. These may have reflected the extremes of his personality, which could veer alarmingly from depression to elation. It has been suggested that at times Rodzinski sought a sense of ecstasy in his performances and much of this intensity of expression is present in his recordings. As his wife Halina Rodzinski has pointed out, he possessed ‘…a profound awareness of and devotion to (his) craft’, giving ‘…attention to each and every smallest detail with the absolute authority born of (his) wisdom and conviction’, characteristics which his recordings well illustrate.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).